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1 post from November 2008

Does the scary "cell phone popcorn" viral marketing hoax video go too far?

Having had several people send me links to various postings of the "cell phone popcorn" video (like this one) where it purports to show several people simultaneously ringing cell phones and thereby popping corn through the microwave transmissions coming from the phones, I admit to having wondered how real this risk was or whether this was some clever trick.

Turns out... no risk whatsoever. It was a hoax done in the name of "viral marketing".

The perpetrator? None other than the maker of a Bluetooth headset.

As shown here in the embedded video (at least until CNN requests YouTube to take it down), the CEO of the company responsible is very happy with how well the video has "succeeded":

Essentially they dropped popcorn into the scene and then digitally removed the existing kernels. They do this in several scenes with different people speaking different languages.

Now the CEO claims that it was all meant to be "hilarious" and that "people found it to be funny" and that it wasn't at all meant to be "scary".


So if I understand correctly, the central premise is NOT "Cell phones can fry your brain like they do this popcorn if you hold them up to your head - so buy our headset and stay safe" but that it's just a "joke"?

I'm sorry, but knowing the kinds of forwarded email messages that I keep receiving from people over the years, I think there WILL be a lot of folks out there who will be scared by this and will promptly forward this to all of their friends. (And after having been online for 20+ years, I've pretty much given up trying to point the forwarders to sites like It doesn't seem to matter... people just hit "Forward" without really thinking about it.) And like most of these hoax emails that get forwarded, the person forwarding it will usually NOT go back and send out a message to everyone receiving it saying that is a hoax if they figure it out... and so the original email gets forwarded on to others who forward it on...

And the reality is that with the long memory of Google, such hoaxes will live basically forever - and long after the original video may be taken down, it will by that point have been reposted and remixed onto other sites.

Do we really need more urban legends floating around out there?

Do we really need more people scared? [1]

I'm all for viral videos that are fun or amusing, but there's a line somewhere in there that this video seems to cross. It kind of reminds me of the Turner Broadcasting hoax two years ago where there were devices under bridges that looked like bombs... again, it wound up scaring a lot of folks. Now, granted, that was something completely different in that it was a physical advertising gimmick versus an online video. Still, there's a line there between what is a good marketing campaign and what sows unnecessary fear.

Did this video go too far? Will it cause people to be unnecessarily scared? Or do I simply not have enough of a sense of humor to appreciate it?

[1] And yes, I do realize that there are multiple different studies out there weighing in on the different sides of the debate about whether there are in fact serious concerns about radiation impacts from having your phone next to your head. But do we really need videos like this out there scaring people more?