McKinney’s “Viral” Slapped Down By Hall

Steve Hall of Adrants is not diggin’ on the new viral effort from Durham, NC-based McKinney Silver.
“Doctor” Myra Vanderhood

We’re sure all the McKinney folks are huddled around their computers today laughing at all of us writing about their cute little effort, waiting patiently for the right moment to reveal the client behind this ploy. While you’re all reading this you sneaky little McKinney truth-benders, remember, people don’t like liars. The law doesn’t like doctors who aren’t doctors claiming they are doctors and, ever so coincidentally, BuzzAgent, the former master of deception, just released a study that says people hate stealth marketing, are offended when lied to and, get this, a brand fares far better when all is honestly presented upfront than when it’s not. Do your homework guys. The days of trickster marketing are over.

A look at McKinney’s client list reveals that they have Qwest. Perhaps the Pherotones site is meant to support Qwest in some strange way.
[UPDATE] Jack Schofield on the Guardian’s Technology blog, posits that this is the first case of a brand purposefully distorting information on Wikipedia, but that it likely won’t be the last. I didn’t mention the Wikipedia thing above, but now that I have, I feel McKinney has gone too far. We all know we can’t trust every web site we come across, but we want to trust Wikipedia.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. One quick comment…
    As you know, Wikipedia is self-correcting, that is to say if pherotones are debunked, the reference will be removed.
    The purpose and beauty of Wikipedia is that it allows for the full airing of issues like these.
    Experts from many fields will weigh in on the pherotones phenomena, and over time, the truth will emerge.
    A wiki is a truly beautiful thing.
    In my opinion, debating the validity of the Pherotone Hypothesis is precisely what the Wikipedia is for, and I take full responsibility the ideas presented in that entry.
    Dr. Myra Vanderhood

  2. Oh great, now “the character” responds.
    I must say, McKinney knows what they’re doing. If they should be doing what they’re doing is still up for debate, but at least they do know what they’re doing, and that puts them light years ahead of most marketers who merely fumble all over themselves in the bloatosphere.

  3. I’m not sure they do know what they are doing. That is a blatant misuse of Wikipedia. It goes completely against its purpose. The doctor’s lame comment about the whole self-correction thing is a giant backpeddle for blatant dishonesty. I hope this work is for some large client so that when the truth comes out, the industry takes notice leading to a delicious, internal blame game.

  4. I mean they know enough to do the dance, to work the system. to abuse it. That’s all.

  5. Carl LaFong says:

    Question for Dr. Vanderhood: Lately, I have been plagued by a series of intensely erotic dreams in which I make mad, passionate love to Bea (“Maude,” “Golden Girls”) Arthur. Does that make me gay?
    As to the larger issue at hand, while I think Steve may be overreacting just a tad in this case, I share his concern.
    What McKinney is doing is, in and of itself, innocuous enough (although I think Steve makes a valid point about their “blatant misuse of Wikipedia”). But how can customers trust you if you trick them?
    As I said in another recent post, if everything is turned into a sales pitch or a marketing gimmick, then what can you believe? Stealth marketing may be all the rage now. But the more consumers are manipulated and misled, the more immune they will become to our blandishments. Instead of trying to pull the wool over their eyes, we should strive for transparency. If you make your message entertaining enough and compelling enough, they will pay attention.
    Remember what the Great God Gossage once said: “People read what interests them — and sometimes it’s an ad.”

  6. They are also violating copyright by copying forums and websites that post about it. Read the comments section at

  7. I strongly agree with Carl on almost all points. And I agree with Steve and David that the Wiki thing surely goes way over the line. What’s worse about that particular offense is that it weakens a bit of devil’s advocacy I’ve been chewing on. And that is that I don’t believe McKinney thinks that this marketing is steath at all. They don’t believe any of this is actually pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes. They think consumers are smart enough to know that all this is an invitation to play a game. A game you can choose to play or not. I say this because it does not seem to me that a reasonable person could mistake the site as something genuine. Note, I said reasonable. Should the medium of the blog be immune to a send-up? Well, Spinal Tap didn’t exactly kill the credibility of all documentaries. But then again, Spinal Tap wasn’t being used to advertise a product. So…should fake blogs clearly carry an “advertising” badge the same way “news story ads” do? Maybe. In the end, consumers will make that decision with the currency of their attention. Don’t get me wrong, I think mistakes have been made. Not the least of which is insulting their critics. But, in the end, I believe McKinney set out to do something more fun than nefarious. And many of us are still learning where the edges are in this new world. Lash me if you must Mr. Burn!

  8. Hilarious! Am I really that didactic? Yuck.
    For the record, I’m not for purity of the bloatosphere, or any other place.
    Of course, blogs will be used for commerce. Great. I love commerce. But it’s not anarchy. There are best practices.

  9. Dr. Otto von Stupenheimer says:

    Fair point AC. I think that’s one thing to remember here. This is clearly a joke. It’s not trying to sneak in and sell you something like Coke’s god-awful ‘Zero-movement.’
    To me this falls into the same category as the ‘Lacuna Inc.’ stuff done to promote ‘Eternal Sunshine.’ So long as the client is revealed in an open and honest fashion in the end – no announcements from Dr. Myra that she’s ‘just discovered that pherotones only work on Qwest. Sign up for Qwest and they should work!’ – and it’s all good fun.
    Even the Wiki post. Though they should have to decency to repost ‘pherotones’ as ‘a hoax created by ad agency McKinney & Silver for their client, ____________.’
    Unless maybe it’s all just to promote themselves…

  10. Glitch Tybalt says:

    Something to consider here is the fact that this could become what is known as an “ARG,” or, “Alternate Reality Game.” Several times in the past, this technique has been used as a marketing campaign. One of the most memorable is “ilovebees,” a site that was “taken over” by a sentient computer. This was all just a big interactive ad for the game Halo 2. When it’s used in such a manner, the core audience gets into it. It’s a game. They love it. Much like Mr. Copywriter said, you can play if you want to. The nature of these games is to create a believeable world that the player can get lost in. This requires not “letting the strings show.” The fact that they made a wiki is questionable, but it was an attempt to create another layer of believeability. Obviously, you’re not going to be looking into Pheretones unless you’ve heard of them before, and that’s just going to be another hook into the game. And, as to what Dr. Otto said, they should repost. Just not yet. After the game has run its course, then they can. Reposting during the run would break the “atmosphere.” All in all, it’s most likely going to be a fun romp that means little. And if it is an ad, at least it’s not a boring tits and beer hook.

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