Falling for a phony iPhone cup holder

An iPhone case that doubles as a cup holder? Looks positively ... well, ludicrous, doesn't it? Yet that detail didn't dissuade a fair number of journalists from covering the contraption's funding appeal on Indiegogo in an entirely too serious manner.

First a Los Angeles Times reporter wrote a straightforward account of the gadget, called UpperCup, but left himself an escape hatch in the eighth paragraph of an eight-paragraph piece: "It's not clear if this is a publicity stunt for (Dutch marketing firm) Natwerk or if it is a legitimate business idea. The company is, after all, a marketing firm."

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Yes, it wasn't bet-your-bottom-dollar clear, but it was pretty darn obvious. And asking Natwerk the question was an option, too, which we'll get to in a moment.

Next the UPI news service took the Times piece and rewrote it - without including the "publicity stunt" possibility; in fact, without a hint of skepticism.

Cult of Mac did what blogs (including mine) do routinely these days: Passed along the oddball item. Cult of Mac at least cautioned that the concept might make you "scratch your head."

On Buzzfeed, the headline read: "This iPhone Accessory Will Make You Hate Yourself For Wanting It."

A WebProNews writer picked up the Buzzfeed item and opined: "This is admittedly a little ridiculous. But I can totally see it selling."

And so on and so forth.

While this was going on, I had mocked UpperCup as a publicity stunt on Buzzblog, and sent the alleged would-be makers three questions: "Is this a joke?" "Is this a publicity stunt?" And, "Are you telling me the truth?" When I hadn't heard back in a few days, I sent the email again, this time getting a reply from a Natwerk spokeswoman. Here's how that went:

Is this a joke?

"Yes, pretty much. For instance, the fact that we've made the whole thing about 3 times as thick as necessary we hoped would give away we weren't all that serious. Nevertheless, we really think it is a cool device and we would really want to have it produced so we can walk around and be cool with it attached to our iPhones."

That desire to have it produced is also a joke, since the Indiegogo crowdsourcing crowd - apparently more skeptical than a bunch of bloggers - has pledged only $900 of the $25,000 Natwerk said it needed.

Is this a publicity stunt?

"It actually isn't a publicity stunt. We didn't expect it to get so much attention. We have a range of products we develop in between jobs. It is a good practice and keeps the creativity flowing in our company."

Allow me to translate: "It actually isn't a publicity stunt" means "It actually is a publicity stunt."

Are you telling me the truth?

"Yes. Can't be more honest. I think a dumb idea like this wouldn't really make a good promotion for our company."

That depends on how you feel about the old any-publicity-is-good-publicity thing.

Have a comment? The address is buzz@nww.com.

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