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“A friend of ours is a frequent business traveler. Let’s call him Dave. Dave was recently in Atlantic City for an important meeting with clients. Afterward, he had some time to kill before his flight, so he went to a local bar for a drink. He’d just finished one drink when an attractive woman approached and asked if she could buy him another.

He was surprised, but flattered. Sure, he said. The woman walked to the bar and brought back two more drinks—one for her and one for him. He thanked her ad took a sip. And that was the last thing he remembered. Rather, that was the last thing he remembered till he woke up, disoriented, lying in a hotel bathtub, his body submerged in ice. He looked around frantically, trying to figure out where he was and how he got there.

Then he spotted the note: DON’T MOVE. CALL 911. A cell phone rested on the small table beside the bathtub. He picked it up and called 911, his fingers numb and clumsy from the ice. The operator seemed oddly familiar with his situation. She said, “ Sir, I want you to reach behind you, slowly and carefully. Is there a tube protruding from your lower back?”

Anxious, he felt around behind him. Sure enough, there was a tube. The operator said, “Sir, don’t panic, but one of your kidneys has been harvested. There’s a ring of organ thieves operating in this city, and they got to you. Paramedics are on their way. Don’t move until they arrive.””

This is how the first chapter begins. It goes on to say that this is a famous urban legend. I don’t feel ashamed to say that I totally fell for it. After I read it, I wanted to tell my friends and see if they’d fall for it. Not to mention, what an epic way to begin a book. If this doesn’t hook you, I don’t know what will.

What works here is the element of surprise. You don’t expect it. The more you don’t expect something, the more likely it is to stick in your mind.

This past year, IKEA released this commercial for it’s custom kitchens.

What makes this a great ad is the unexpectedness of it. You don’t expect a couple to be cheering on inanimate objects, like kitchen appliances. Surprising commercials and ads are innately stickier.


This past January, right after the holiday, Mini Cooper, placed empty boxes all across the streets of Amsterdam. They wanted an attention-grabbing ad to be shown locally. After Christmas, giant cardboard boxes with the Mini on the outside and wrapping paper on top and around the boxes were places throughout Amsterdam giving the appearance that someone had received a Mini for Christmas. While the ad was intended to advertise to a local audience, it eventually became a social media campaign overnight. Locals took pictures on their camera phones and tweeted the pictures all over the world, launching an international social media campaign.

When launching a campaign, it’s easy to stick with what’s safe and been done before. But with consumer trust declining, word-of-mouth exposure for your brand it more important than ever. When you see a compelling ad or a surprising angle for a campaign, you’re more likely to tweet it of tell a friend.

Additionally, the interesting aspect of this urban legend is that it combines two very effective tools in communication: story telling and surprise. When you use a story to communicate an idea, your audience can picture themselves in the situation, feeling the panic of waking up in a bathtub fill of ice.

In the IKEA commercial allows the audience to imagine themselves having just thrown a wonderful dinner party for friends and loving their function kitchen to make the task easier after a long day. Being able to put yourself in another person’s shoes is a powerful thing and should never be dismissed as you assemble a communications plan.