Press, bloggers fall for iPhone cup holder ‘joke’

L.A. Times, UPI among those taken in by Dutch marketing firm’s publicity stunt

Hate to say I told you so ... No, wait, I'm fine with saying I told you so: That combination cup holder/iPhone case that was mocked here on Friday is indeed a joke, or a publicity stunt if you prefer (and I do), according to the Dutch marketing firm that pitched it to reporters and the crowdsourcing site Indiegogo.


On Thursday, a Los Angeles Times reporter wrote a straightforward account of 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 Natwerk or if it is a legitimate business idea. The company is, after all, a marketing firm."

Yes, it wasn't bet-the-house 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" escape hatch; 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."

(They said the iPhone would flop.)

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."

At PhonesReview, UpperCup was called "just stupid," but not a figment of marketing imagination.

And so on and so forth.

On Friday I had sent the alleged would-be makers of the alleged UpperCup three questions: "Is this a joke?" "Is this a publicity stunt?" And, "Are you telling me the truth?" When I hadn't heard back by this morning, I sent the email again, this time getting a reply from Natwerk spokeswoman Kristian van Kuijk. 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 crowdsourcing crowd - apparently more skeptical than a bunch of bloggers - has pledged only $790 of the $25,000 Natwerk said it needed. And that $790 includes a single $605 pledge from an anonymous joker.

Is this a publicity stunt?

It actually isn't a publicity stunt. We didn't expect it to get so much attention as it does now. We have a range of products we develop in between jobs. It is a good practice and keeps the creativity flowing in our company. On top of that we really like having a laugh over stupid ideas. We did this for the fans who follow us, they will understand it is a joke. When we came up with the idea, we thought it would be extra funny to tell people that we have been walking around with this great concept for a long time, but now, thanks to internet crowd funding it was finally possible to make it into reality.

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.

(Update, Jan. 28: Some are still falling for it today, such as the Phoenix New Times.)

(Update: Reader says this reminds him of the "Team Duct Tape" gag from way back in 1978. We find the pictures.)

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