Marc Scibelli

Pills, Limitless and the Art of the Viral Con

The Internet loves to be conned—pwned, if you will. From rickrolling to 4chan to various hacks, the Internet is fraught with scams, frauds and pranks. For better or worse, the Internet’s discussion boards are filled with people arguing the plausibility of videos, images, and audio bytes—the most granular of discussions. Usually, the conversation doesn’t go much farther than “FAKE,” labeling the OP a “TROLL,” but sometimes there are a few brave souls who are willing to forgo sleep to scour the web and dissect the object in order to prove whether or not it is real. Take, for example, last week’s brilliant Times Square viral con.
In “how to hack video screens on times square,” a man with a thing-a-ma-jig “hacks” into the screens of Times Square and plays recordings from his iPhone. Three days, over a million views, and thousands of “is it real?” demands later, it turns out he “…took NZT. It’s a pill that allows me to use 100% of my brain…One pill a day and you are limitless :) .” “Limitless” is, of course, the movie the viral video was created for. Cleverly enough, the movie’s own trailer appeared for a few fleeting seconds in the original video on the Times Square jumbotron; in the reveal video, a full trailer for the film is played afterwards. Smart work, or pure genius? As an explanation for the freak stunt, the word “Limitless” was now on everyone’s tongue.

The original:

This isn’t your shameless publicity stunt of yesteryear. It doesn’t appropriate memes like this relentlessly meta viral video produced for Smart Water. And it doesn’t make you feel like any one’s selling out. It’s successful because it plays the “is it real?” game the Internet has come to know and love. By relying on more than hype and meme theft, by getting deep down into themes and by creating an activity, it’s a #winner.