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Perth agency makes hoax ad encouraging students to stay in school

The hoax advert encouraging students to stay in school. WARNING: This video may be confronting for some viewers.

PT1M48S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-31s9w 620 349

You might have seen the ad – a bizarre public service announcement with the slogan ‘stay in school’.

It’s attracted more than 3 million YouTube views in just two days, and has made worldwide headlines, calling it a "bizarre Australian commercial",  for its graphic depiction of four teenagers dying.

It seems unbelievable that Learn for Life Foundation WA would approve the Perth agency Henry & Aaron to release it.

That’s because it’s a hoax.

The Learn for Life Foundation WA website, created in 2014, is a single, sparsely populated page with no contact details and only features a link to the YouTube video.

The supposed not-for-profit is not listed on the WA Department of Commerce licensed charities register.

Learn for Life Foundation Australia Ltd was registered in 2004, but a listed website is no longer active.

While a producer for the advert admitted all was not what it seemed, creator Henry Inglis was keen to continue the joke, saying Learn for Life was a “fledgling organisation” that was launching with the ad.

“[A hoax] is definitely something that’s being talked about and a lot of people have different theories and we’re happy for people to have their own interpretations,” Mr Inglis said.

“It’s got a lot of attention because advertising can’t be this provocative or extreme.”

It’s not the first time Inglis and co-creator Aaron McCann have created a viral ad – in 2012 they created an ad for the Central Institute of Technology that won them 3 million YouTube hits and representation in the US.

“I think that it fits very well into that new marketing, self promotion strategy that small companies are getting into of making bits and whatever that can go viral,” said Curtin University cultural studies professor Jon Stratton.

“And in that way, getting themselves publicity.”

The ad is extremely similar to Love Actually creator Richard Curtis’ 10:10 climate change ad, in which two children are blown up by their teacher in a packed classroom.

“One of the things about both ads is that were supposed to be funny,” Professor Stratton said.

“This is B-movie schlock horror comedy stuff, that only works if you’re into B-movie horror comedy stuff.

“It hits a specific audience and the other audience is just going to go jaw-drop-oh-my-god, this is horrendous, including piles of parents who have no real knowledge of that genre.

He said it was a clever piece of promotion for the creators.

“It’s very much a genre piece and it’s a piece that successfully promotes the writers and directors and cinematographer that put it together,” he said.

“The more you start thinking about it, the more it doesn’t work.

“In terms of the narrative, it doesn’t work because it doesn’t address the issue.”

But he also said that the applause for their creativity would be lessened by those who saw the idea was first used by Curtis.

In 2009, the team behind the ABC show Hungry Beast successfully hoaxed much of the Australian media – including Channel Ten’s The Project, Fairfax Media and News Limited – with research from a falsified ‘Levitt Institute’ gaining national headlines.

AAP editor Mike Osborne told MediaWatch at the time: “While this incident has caused us to review our verification procedures,... any fair-minded observer would understand how this hoax, with supporting website, 10-page report, and PR people spruiking the results could deceive a busy reporter facing rolling agency deadlines... No-matter what the rationale behind this hoax, it is cheap and mischievous.”

Professor Stratton said it wasn’t surprising that in this similar case, it had also been picked up all over the world.

“It says something about the 24 hour news cycle where stuff comes in and you’ve constantly got to keep on top of it,” he said.

“And that’s really hard with so many news sites.”