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Toyota "Terrorizes" Consumers With Creepy E-mail Campaign, Faces Lawsuit

If you thought someone was stalking you, wouldn't you want to buy a Toyota Matrix?

A bizarre "terror marketing campaign" for the vehicle, produced by Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles and creative studio Mekanism, harassed consumers via personalized e-mails. One target is taking Toyota to court.

Last year, Amber Duick received a series of nine e-mails from a fictitious character dreamed up by the campaign (complete with a MySpace page). The character told Amber he was coming to stay at her house to avoid the cops, and even sent her a motel bill for $78.92. According to AdAge, Duick was so frightened that she slept with a machete and mace near her bed.

The last email Duick received included a video that notified her how she had been fooled, and explained that this was an effort to market the Matrix. The campaign, which targeted thousands of consumers, invited people to nominate their friends to be victims of the prank, which is how consumers' personal information was acquired.

Maybe it's just me, but those who were nominated as a target might want to find some new friends. The video invited viewers to "Pick one of our maniacs to mess with their heads for five straight days while you sit back and watch it all go down." Sweet. Did Toyota really think the prank would inspire people to purchase the Matrix? Harassment really doesn't equal brand loyalty for me.

It's hard to say how far the gimmicks featuring the other "maniacs" took it, and we can't assume that everyone who was a target of the campaign reacted as Duick did. But shouldn't Toyota have anticipated that this could seriously freak some people out?

Last month we wrote about an ad created by DDB Brazil, aimed at winning some business with the World Wildlife Fund. The ad, meant to inspire care for the planet, offered up an unsettling image of planes flying at the World Trade Center in Manhattan. Are you kidding me?

As it becomes harder to get the attention of consumers, it makes sense that advertisers are taking risks. Aggressive and personalized ads may seem like the only way to reach consumers. And especially in the world of social networking, using someone's personal information seems like a necessity. But advertisers need to be careful not to offend, upset, or harass the consumer. We all know what happened to Facebook Beacon, and even ads as mild has Burger King's, featuring the weird and silent king, have been cited as creepy—and a potential turnoff to consumers.

What do you think? Do off-beat campaigns catch your attention and keep it, or turn you away in disgust?

[via AdAge]