Virality

Viral Marketing Triumph: The Guys Behind the Staten Island Clown Stunt Speak

It was a prank, of course.
The production company and their new BFF. (Photo via Facebook)

The production company and their new BFF. (Photo via Facebook)

An unlikely antihero crept into overactive imaginations throughout the New York area — and the world — last week in the form of the Staten Island Clown.

This Horrifying Clown Is Haunting Staten Island,” our sister site, the New York Observer, announced. Countless other websites and newspapers followed suit. Nobody understood where the clown came from, what it wanted or who was responsible. For a brief, creepy moment, “How ’bout that Staten Island Clown!” became New Yorkers’ go-to phrase for filling in awkward silences.

Then, the hoopla started to die down and the guys responsible for the stunt doxxed themselves with an appearance on Elvis Duran’s Z Morning Zoo. It turns out the clown was part of a clever viral marketing stunt by Fuzz on the Lens, a Staten Island-based video production company that has had a lot of luck at festivals but, until now, wasn’t really known to the average person.

We caught up with Michael Leavy, a member of the Fuzz on the Lens team, to find out how the Staten Island Clown became a reality.

He and his colleagues dreamed up the stunt as a viral marketing gimmick from day one, he said. They knew having a creepy figure haunting Staten Island would be irresistible to the Internet. They knocked out other contenders like the Staten Island Sasquatch and Staten Island Grim Reaper (imagine those headlines!) before settling on the clown.

“We figured there’s a 50-50 split of how people feel about clowns,” he said. “If we used this, people would create the buzz and argue amongst themselves. All social media is is people talking back and forth and creating a buzz.”

And it worked — Mr. Leavy and his friends thought it would take a month or so for photos of the clown to go viral, but it only took three days. The prank really took off when they planted the clown in the path of their comic friend, Vic Dibitetto. He saw the clown, got confused, then posted a video about it, which caught the Observer’s attention.

The New York Post soon realized that some of the people posting the original photos and videos were affiliated with Fuzz on the Lens. They broke the story on the connection, prompting some people to feel duped. And getting mad about something like this is pretty silly; getting mad that the Staten Island Clown was a guy in a clown suit with a real job only proves that you thought it was an actual murderous clown. Just admit you were tricked and hand it to the Fuzz on the Lens guys: they got us. And they got publicity out of it.

And it’s not like the Fuzz guys made much of an effort to hide the fact that it was a stunt. Our own Observer post unwittingly used a photo from Mr. Leavy’s own Instagram account as the first bit of evidence that the Staten Island Clown existed:

The guys, who range in age from 20 to 24, are also glad to see that their stunt entertained people.

“We showed we can reach the world and create a splash,” Mr. Leavy said, adding that they heard reports of press attention for the Staten Island Clown in Australia, the U.K., Italy and Russia.

Fuzz on the Lens is now working on a few new projects while Mr. Leavy is getting ready to act in the upcoming film Fear Clinic in Los Angeles.

“The whole point of this was to get our company’s name out there, which is Fuzz on the Lens productions,” Mr. Leavy said. And it worked — he reports that follower counts on their company’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages, as well as traffic to their webpage, have exploded.

Follow Molly Mulshine on Twitter or via RSS. mmulshine@observer.com