Last weekend the political chattering classes, PR community and mainstream media got very excited about a brilliant campaign initiative by Norwegian Labour Party prime minister Jens Stoltenberg. It was a simple, but effective idea. Put him in a taxi driving around Oslo listening to what normal voters had to say and film it with a secret video camera. I was one of those tweeting “I like it!”
BBC News – Norway PM Jens Stoltenberg works as secret taxi driver http://t.co/hXIYr6MG8a I like it!
— Stuart Bruce (@stuartbruce) August 11, 2013
Unfortunately all wasn’t what it seemed. Today it emerged in a BBC news report that far from trawling the streets of Oslo for passengers some had actually been chosen in advance and paid to take part! I couldn’t have put it better than one of Microsoft’s top PR heads:
What are his people thinking? Jebus MT @stuartbruce: Norwegian PM’s taxi ‘brilliant’ taxi ride a fake http://t.co/yZSllxwi03 Passengers paid
— Tom Murphy (@tpemurphy) August 16, 2013
When I saw the video I assumed the scenario was that once the passenger rumbled it was the PM then there would be an explanation of why it was being done and the passenger would be asked to sign a disclaimer saying they were happy for the video to be used.
I can’t for the life of me think why Stoltenberg’s PR people allowed the advertising agency to select and pay people 500 kroner (£55; $85; 64 euros) in advance. The fact that nine of the 14 passengers were genuine, but five were fake make it even more inexplicable as it shows that it would have worked without faking it.
What’s not actually clear from the BBC report is if the PM and his PR people knew of the fake passengers. I suppose it is possible that the advertising agency did it without informing them, but if so I’d have expected a robust statement firing it. If the PR people did know then it should be them facing the high-jump.
Faking is never acceptable. Because it is ethically wrong. But even if you don’t have any scruples it is wrong… because chances are you’ll get found out!