Pushing the boundaries of stunt marketing, Gawker Media convinced members of the trade press that it acquired a blog by and for vampires named Blood Copy. The ruse was part of a larger marketing effort around the second season of HBO's "True Blood" vampire series, and orchestrated by boutique agency Campfire.
"Gawker Media announced last night that it acquired BloodCopy.com," Silicon Alley Insider reported Saturday morning. "It's a blog about vampires. Really."
A day later, the industry news blog apologized for the error, adding: "We also think that HBO, Gawker, and the marketing agency crossed a line ... We're all for experimental online advertising, viral marketing, etc. ... In our opinion, however, this campaign is designed to trick people."
Gawker Media, however, denies deliberately misleading anyone. "We market our audience as being intelligent," said Chris Batty, head of ad sales at Gawker Media. "For us, it wasn't really a stunt ... It was about drawing people in and keeping them active."
Jeremiah Rosen, a partner at Campfire, said that while deceiving the news blog was not part of the plan, his agency intentionally walks a fine line between provocation and deception.
"We're very cognizant of where that line is when we're trying to figure out what an audience will get turned on by," said Rosen.
Until the new season of "True Blood" debuts on June 14, Gawker Media staff have signed on to maintain a blog ostensibly written by vampires at BloodCopy.com. For its work, HBO is paying Gawker south of half a million dollars, according to Batty.
Rosen would not say how well Campfire is being compensated -- only that HBO's marketing budget for the series is "not nearly as robust" this year as it was last year. "The production load is not as heavy."
Last year, to promote the first season of "True Blood," HBO -- along with And Company and PHD -- created and placed print and outdoor ads for "a synthetic blood nourishment drink."
The series -- about vampires living among the living, created by Alan Ball -- also had its own online prequel created by Campfire and HBO.
"True Blood" was promoted to a niche following of vampire lovers via mailings, written in dead languages like Babylonian, that led people to various Web sites on a mission to translate their messages.
To stay relevant and edgy, Campfire's Rosen said with regard to crossing lines: "I hope that we do occasionally."
He also admitted feeling "a little nervous" when Silicon Alley Insider posted the faux news as fact. "It's a really bad idea to try and trick audiences."
According to Batty, the real risk was not misleading press, but boring readers. "The risk is more about burnout with our audience," he said. "We've done these sorts of advertorials before, but it's not something that is highly replicable."
This is not the first time that Silicon Alley Insider has fallen victim to fake news. Late last year, it published false reports that Apple CEO Steve Jobs had been rushed to the hospital after a heart attack.