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Media organizations were left red-faced by a concocted story about "Austrian International Sex School."
MALMO, Sweden — A hoax story about an Austrian sex-school was designed by Swedish guerrilla marketers Total Studio, the agency admitted on Tuesday. The "news" was reported across the world, without basic journalistic due diligence.
The story reported on the existence of an Austrian International Sex School in Vienna, whose Swedish born headmistress Ylva-Maria Thompson gave 'hands on' lessons in sexual technique for £1,400 a term. It was widely reported in the UK, North American and Indian media before Austria’s national newspaper, Die Presse, discovered in December that it was a hoax.
Yesterday, Studio Total, a Swedish advertising agency admitted that they had cooked up the story as part of a campaign funded by the usually staid Federation of Austrian Industries.
"It was fascinating to see how newspapers from around the world wrote about a school that no one had seen," Tomas Mazetti, one of the agency’s two founders, told DN, a Swedish newspaper. Around 300 million people had read the story, he estimated.
Perpetrators of the hoax took steps to make it appear convincing. The school had a website, and some media outlets, such as the ABC News blog, reported that they contacted the school and spoke to a woman proporting to be a spokesperson.
As well as providing publicity for his client, he argued that the campaign had helped reveal some of the failings of the modern media.
"I think it's good if people question what's in the media. Journalists have a pretty tough job today. There is not much time to look through things, so it's probably a timely discussion to have."
Martin Amor, the managing director of Young Industry, who commissioned the campaign, told GlobalPost that he had wanted to start a discussion on serious topics such as education, demography and the Austrian pension system, but that the hoax had been discovered a month early, reducing the campaign's impact.
Regarding how exactly the campaign would have achieved its objectives, Amor said: ""The idea... was to tell people that we have a problem there with pensions, and it seems to be easier to solve the problem of the pensions if Austrians have more sex, and have more children, then there's someone to pay the pensions. We didn't mean that. It was a joke.... But it was blown before [its] time."
"It wasn’t really expensive: If you have two or three inserts in Austrian newspapers, you would actually have to pay more for that," he added.
Studio Total made its name for launching the Kulturpartiet, a fake political party, in 2005, ahead of Sweden’s national elections. It was contracted to design a series of hoax stories by the Austrian agency, Men on the Moon.
The website of the sex school can still be found here.