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Toyota and Saatchi on the defensive over viral prank

A California appellate court has handed a defeat to Toyota and Saatchi & Saatchi, its ad agency, in a lawsuit stemming from a viral “prank a friend” campaign that went awry.

The court ruled that Los Angeles resident Amber Duick can proceed with her suit, which alleges that she was victimized by a “terror marketing campaign.” For the campaign, aimed at promoting the Matrix, the agency allegedly arranged to send a series of emails and texts from “maniacs” who said they were planning to visit.

Duick said in her court papers that she grew increasingly alarmed by the messages, which arrived over the course of several days starting in late March 2008 and included statements like: “Amber mate! Coming 2 Los Angeles Gonna lay low at your place for a bit. Till it all blows over.”

Duick was apparently targeted because someone she knew provided her email information to the agency.

Toyota and Saatchi argued that Duick’s lawsuit should be dismissed because the first email sent to Duick spelled out terms and conditions, including information about the campaign and a statement that all disputes stemming from the initiative would be resolved in arbitration.

But the appellate court rejected that argument because the initial terms and conditions were titled “Personality Evaluation Terms and Conditions.” That title “led Duick to believe that she was going to participate in a personality evaluation and nothing more,” the Second Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal wrote in an opinion issued late last month. “In particular, a reasonable reader in Duick’s position would not have known that she was signing up to be the target of a prank.”

A Saatchi representative said the agency was not commenting because the case is in litigation. When the lawsuit was filed, however, Toyota and Saatchi said in a joint statement that the lawsuit was without merit. “The person who made this claim specifically opted in, granting her permission to receive campaign emails and other communications from Toyota,” they stated.

Jeez, it was just a little thing ffs!

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