At the end of October, with winter closing in, “Frank’s Marriage Proposal In Central Park” was posted to YouTube.
The video mixed romance with technology, claiming to capture a marriage proposal from different angles on the iPhones of the suitor and his friends.
The story was picked up in over 150 publications, from the geeky CNET to the glossy Glamour to the cheeky Perez Hilton.
Last week the story was revealed as a hoax, and that, says creator James Percelay, is precisely why the video was so successful.
“It’s that uncertainty which makes people pass it around, probe into it more, really gets them hooked,” he told The Observer by phone. “We don’t like the term viral video, because viral sounds accidental. The real trick is user engagement, which in most cases means getting the user to ask, ‘how the fuck did they do this?'”
Percelay, a former producer at “Saturday Night Live,” founded ThinkModo earlier this year along with social media maven Michael Krivicka. “It’s a new kind of ad firm,” says Percelay. “The old agency model is dying. We’re lean and mean, the special forces to their Defense Department.”
The widespread attention that Frank’s Marriage Proposal attracted, along with several other viral videos ThinkModo released to test its approach, has led to a steady stream of clients.
“I can’t reveal anyone yet, because we don’t open our doors officially until July 10th,” said Percelay. “But we’ve had interest from major film studios, big PR firms, personal care products, you name it.”
But will an online hoax really attract the right kind of attention for these client’s brands?
“I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a Red Lobster, but it’s not like the shrimp actually looks as good in real life as they do on TV,” says Percelay. “We’re confident that there won’t be a whole bunch of disgruntled people who will refuse to buy these products as a result of our games. What works for us is embracing the uncertainty, rather than playing it safe.”
With millions of views on their videos so far, ThinkModo’s strategy seems to be working.
bpopper [at] observer.com | @benpopper