Pepsi Shows Us The Wrong Way To Fake A Viral Video

One of the most popular ways for brands to reach huge audiences with online video is to create a clip that begs the question, "Was that real or fake?" When an event in a video is so amazing and so unbelievable that audiences aren't sure whether or not they can believe it, then the brand has reached viral nirvana. Audience members are far more likely to share videos like these with friends, regardless of which side of the debate they land on.

Pepsi created an ad showing one of their athlete spokesman, David Beckham, executing some amazing soccer shots on the beach,  the only problem is... no one is buying that it's real, and it's easy to tell why. There are many things wrong with this fake video - Beach Bin Shots with David Beckham - let's take a look at the evidence:

The Latest Faked Viral Video - Feat. David Beckham

Faking videos isn't a new trick. It's been going on almost as long as YouTube has existed. Heck this is what magicians have been doing for decades--show us a stunt or a "trick" that we know in our hearts is probably faked, but do it in a way that feels as real as possible... and you maximize audience interest by stirring up debate.

Microsoft reached huge numbers of viewers with their long-distance water slide video, which ultimately was faked. Gillette got millions of views when they had Roger Federer do some tennis tricks--which were also fake. Let's not forget the Head Blade shaving helmet and the iPhone that controls the Times Square video screens--both were fake, and actually from the same creative agency (thinkmodo).

The reason brands love this approach to viral marketing is that it gets fans talking. It stirs up debate, discussion, and even passion. And those things are fantastic triggers for sharing behavior, as believers and skeptics alike begin forwarding the video to friends for confirmation of their opinions. This can often result in high brand awareness and tons of free publicity--at least, when the video is executed well.

So, why is the Beckham ad an obvious fake?:

  • Overzealous audio. The audio is too clear. If those trash bins are as far away as they look, we shouldn't hear them rattle that much when the ball goes in.
  • Poor editing. The third kick actually changes direction mid-air (and off camera). It starts out clearly heading wide left, but then when the ball comes back down it is magically back on the right trajectory.
  • Too well shot. The footage is entirely too nice. It's too crisp and clean and... high quality. That tells the audience to be suspicious right from the start--most of the best faked viral hits have featured footage that is handheld or feels otherwise "behind the scenes." This feels too professional.
  • Bad acting. I'm not buying much of any of this, from an acting standpoint. If Beckham really hit all three of those shots, he would probably not be so nonchalant about it. But Beckham aside, it's the way-too-enthusiastic cheers of the nearby spectators that prove to me this clip is fake.
  • Too unbelievable. If I told you Roger Federer was a good enough aim that he could knock a can off your head from 100 feet away... you might believe that. But if I told you he could do it three times in a row without missing? That would be harder to swallow. Pepsi went too far here in giving us three shots in a row. It's too much of a good thing, and it sets off red flags in our "reality sensors." The best basketball free-throw shooters in the world don't hit 100% of their foul shots, and they're only a few feet away... using their hands. And we're to believe that Beckham is perfect... from much further away... with his feet? I don't think so.
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Lessons from Faking a Video?

Ultimately, it doesn't really even matter that the Pepsi fake is so poorly made. The joke's on us... they're already over a million views in just three days. And yes, there are commenters on YouTube that swear it's real, but the overwhelming majority of viewers aren't fooled. But they still watched. At the end of the day, Pepsi still got their free publicity and extra exposure. And producing a poorly-made fake viral video isn't the kind of "sin" that consumers are likely to hold against a brand when it comes time to make a purchase.

No wonder faked viral videos are all the rage right now. It doesn't even need to be very convincing in order for it to go viral.

  • Luke Frohling

    Of course it's fake! See what he's drinking?!
    Give Pepsi a break for trying something "new" :)
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  • Drops

    About the "poor editing" ...... do you ever watch soccer? Look at the ball movement on these 2 videos: and the ball clearly goes to one direction and then goes to the other, I'm not saying the video is great or anything, just saying that it is possible, and no I don't believe it's real either.

  • CoreyLesland

    Although not a Manchester United fan, my family home is near Old Trafford and I watched Beckham practicing set pieces into the night when he was but a kid. He could have placed these shots then, and over the years since we have all watched him place the ball on the heads (smaller than the bins, believe it or not) of both club and England teammates - from similar distance at least, whilst under defensive pressure and the target moving.
    As to the third shot, it may well be fixed as it leaves the frame, but not because it "changes direction in mid air," that's what all great free kicks do in order to bend around the wall.
    Obviously this is a professional shoot, so the candid part is certainly faked, and poorly acted as well. But the footy shots may not be.
    Anyway, its a testament to the skills required, day in and day out, of the best players, that the debate goes on. Beckham is a specialist in this shot, but there are of others who could have done the same. He says he had several hours on the beach to practice them (puts pay to the candid implication) but, like those other players, he's had a lifetime as well.

  • Evan

    This is pretty much everything you can ask of a "viral" video. Do we know the agency/production company behind this?

  • vidiSEO

    Knew it was a fake as soon as I saw the can. Those shots are only possible when drinking a Pepsi Max.

  • Akinakinfolarin

    i dont get, it why is the criticism so pronounced..r u sure this isn't i like the advert its entertaining..i dont care if its fake or not..

    • JeremyScott

      Yeah, as I said in the article, the video succeeds virally regardless of whether or not the audience is fooled. But it is a pretty poor attempt at realism, if you ask me.

  • jonesygal

    Another indicator that it's fake is that there are people near the trash cans - one even walks toward the second can as he "makes the shot" and that guy doesn't react at all. Clearly faked.

  • Rick Hardman

    Hey, no one cares whether it is fake or not - it has gotten over a million views with their brand obviously part of it. I would say, success with a viral video may be to make it even somewhat plausible, but out there far enough that you would think, "no way". When you do that, people watch it over and over to see if they can tell. This equals success.

    • Mark Robertson

      "Ultimately, it doesn’t really even matter that the Pepsi fake is so poorly made. The joke’s on us… they’re already over a million views in just three days."

  • Grant Crowell

    Of course it's a fake. I could spot that 30 seconds into the video. But in the words of Russell Crowe playing General Maximus in Ridley Scott's movie, Gladiator: "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED???!!!"

    Most videos with the label of "viral" are mostly just about that - entertainment. I would ascribe any other business value to them other than to get eyeballs. If you're not a huge brand already, then the only other benefit is to hope that people will click on the overlay add that annoying pops up in the video, or the annoying pre-roll if there is one.

    Hey, they got you blogging about it, too! Score one more for Pepsi's creative agency - KA-CHING!

    • Mark Robertson

      Do you ever comment in a positive way on Jeremy's articles or just have it out for him.

      • Grant Crowell

        Yes, read above, please. (Also read my other comments in previous articles. I think it's good that writers and contributors offer feedback with each other, as long as it's thoughtful and not mean-spirited.)

        • Mark Robertson

          I guess you're not aware of how your comments come across.

    • JeremyScott

      I'm not 100% clear what you're saying. Are you saying there's no value in viral video for brands beyond people clicking the overlay ads? Because I would respectfully disagree.

      But if you're saying the point of the video wasn't to appear real, but merely to entertain, then I agree completely.

      • Grant Crowell

        Yes, that was my point and I think you did a good job showcasing that a video doesn't have to be authentic with what it's portraying to go viral. I'm just saying I think too much value is being placed on the idea that viral = success. Views work best for big brands who like lots of wide range visibility, so viral is what they tend to go for. Unfortunately I think that takes away from them spending more time on actually engaging with users and existing customers, or not focusing on the right metrics. A good example elaborating on that is Kevin Nalty's book, "Beyond Viral," which we're both familiar with and have covered here.

        I like viral videos mostly because they mostly tend to have a proven entertainment value, or at least an initial consumer interest. We can definitely learn from that. Personally, I'm more interested in finding out if that initial interest actually does have business results, either purpose-drive or accidental. Fair enough?

        • JeremyScott

          Yeah. Totally. I just don't think we agree on the ultimate value of a viral video success for the brand. Doesn't make either of us right or wrong.

          Let's take it out of video for a moment. In the world of sports... is there any business value in a corporation buying stadium naming rights for $50 Million? It's not likely to result in any direct sales, but I'd argue there's still a ton of value for the brand over the long haul.

          So yes, I think we agree that viral videos don't often lead to direct sales--even though there are plenty of examples of that happening (Will It Blend?, HeadBlade, etc.). But I don't think direct sales have to be achieved for a marketing effort to be considered successful. I think these brands produce viral videos for reasons that have nothing to do with viewers immediately buying a product or service.

        • Grant Crowell

          I agree with you on that, Jeremy. Your articles are thoughtful and that matters a lot more than agreeing on how much value there is in doing, or attempting to achieve, a "viral video." Clearly enough businesses think there is, so it's good that you're around to make the argument that's more favorable than I would. (That's what a good publication should have, a diversity of perspectives that make their case.)

          The issue you're talking about with the sports stadium sponsorship is visibility. As a long-time SEO professional before I even got into video, I can certainly appreciate that metric. Just being able to get your brand in front of people (eyes, ears, etc) is the first important step – getting awareness of who you are. Viral videos can be a considerably cheaper way of getting that attention than big ad spends, but the chances of that happening for most people are still closer to our chances of winning lottery tickets – if not the PowerBall chances, certainly the Pick-4 chances.

          When I spoke in New York two weeks ago on Social Video Marketing, I mentioned that there are 3 goals of why people get into business that still apply today with video – Fame, Fortune, and Happiness. I would count visibility and the Viral Video as definitely achieving the first goal - Fame. The question is if it's only short-lived (since there are so many other videos that go viral these days), or is it built on consistently with fresh, interesting content; backed up by actual participation in the social media space on an equal level with consumers. (This is where Gary Vaynerchunk, in his book "The Thank You Economy," went on's "Morning Joe" to tell the audience that Old Spice's Viral Video campaign failed in many ways because they focused too much on initial visibility, and not harnessing that visibility for real customer engagement.)

          We do agree that direct sales don't have to be achieved for a viral video to be successful. What I'm saying is we should see the other metrics and goals for other purpose-driven marketing, because the market has matured enough with video (including high-visiblity video) to allow for that. This can even include an increase in customer satisfaction, an improvement in employee morale, raising awareness for a cause that's part of the company culture – just to name a few. I realize things things aren't about immediately conversions – they take time. I'm just saying we should be focusing more on those conversions that are more suitable, otherwise we'll be going "What happened??"

          I'm no viral video expert. I only have one video that's gotten over a 100,000 views on my YouTube channel, and that was from ripping off Burger King footage. Clearly there are many videos that have gone viral and have reaped business rewards we can measure. I'm hoping those will get more attention and we can show our audience what is obtainable for us to achieve as well.

        • Grant Crowell

          I would add 2 more motives for create a social video – promoting a cause, and creating a community (which can naturally follow from the other business strategic goals). That's why I've been saying for a long time now that it's only responsible of us as professionals to place measurable, relevant business expectations on videos beyond just going "viral." It's a matter of showing what a cause-reaction situation will compound to over time, towards a macro level business goal. Now if you can't wait many months or years for that to happen (and it may not have anything to do with the bottom line of revenue), then you need to put a lot more of your efforts into already-proven video strategies. I love to experiment, but I don't have a giant budget for a creative agency, a celebrity, and an huge ad spend to show someone kicking a ball into a trash can on a beach while they briefly show my brand. I'd say that applies to 99.9% of the companies out there, too. (Now if you can show how a typical company can benefit from this, and for business goals more akin to what they need to do to prosper, then I support you all the way!)

        • beenyweenies

          As a video producer myself, I have to agree with this comment. Viral videos are all about racking up a bunch of random views and sparking "conversation" as the author put it, even if the conversation has absolutely NOTHING to do with the brand that is paying for said video. In the end my response is "great, but how many of them ultimately became paying customers?"

          In the Pepsi video above, the brand value to the sponsor is that Beckham is holding a known, recognizable brand in his hand, the Pepsi can, and it's prominently displayed for 5 or more seconds. If he were holding the can of some new, unknown soda brand, would that brand benefit at all? No one would have even noticed it. It's the existing prominence of the brand that made it even remotely worthwhile, and in the end the video is nothing more than a standard commercial vehicle for saying "David Beckham drinks Pepsi, so should you." Even for Pepsi, I sincerely doubt this video will convert many people to their product.

          In the Microsoft example (and many others) the brand is never shown or even hinted at until much later in the viral "cycle." Some random fakie website is set up to receive curious viewers, and again my response is "great, but how many became paying Microsoft customers?" Is there compelling data to suggest the connection [viewer watches random video>viewer visits website>viewer thinks "that was funny, might as well buy a copy of Microsoft Office while I'm here."] I doubt it. Is there brand lift? Sure (maybe), for a known brand, but if XYZ Corp Widgets tried to do the Megawoosh thing, it would have failed spectacularly.

          I realize that the author of this article is the founder of a viral marketing agency so he'll probably take exception to my comments, but I'm just curious - is there any data that supports viral video and its ability to convert viewers into customers for ANY brand, much less those that aren't deeply established and well recognized?

  • HighDesertPeople

    One more thing - a real man doesn't use a straw.

    • JeremyScott

      I thought the straw was odd as well.

  • Mark Robertson

    I always preferred coke. Pepsi makes my stomach ache

    • JeremyScott

      Wild Cherry Pepsi is awesome.