Max Prank 2008–Fail

Before I get to the meat of why my pranks failed for the most part, let me give a quick review of MAX 08.  It was great.  It’s always great–even if I’m the first to complain… it’s great.  This one had the best party ever and the venue supported the kind of density and opportunities necessary to encourage socialization–which, really, is the main reason I attend.  MAX could be improved greatly if the market-speak were removed from the birds-of-the-feather sessions (at least the one I attended) and the sneaks.  That experience, along with the first day keynote makes me believe the process to completely eradicate any lingering Macromedia spirit is now complete.  Seriously, that’s where they have the most to improve.  Naturally all the technology is awesome (well, excepting services and consulting projects that effectively compete with their customer).  Anyway, I wanted this post to be about the pranks.

So, I had two: “call and response” at the day-one keynote and a “salutation paranoia” thing targeting specific Adobe employees.  In the call and response I had a list of key phrases or topics that I knew the presenters would hit.  When they did, the instructions were to yell out the predefined response.  For example, if they referenced “the economy” you were to hiss… if they said “thermo” you cough.  Anyway, I had several people in my facebook group that printed out handouts… and I had ~1500 more business card sized handouts that I physically handed out just before the keynote.  It was amusing when one Adobe employee grabbed my badge and asked my name and whether I had permission to do this.

It turned out that word reached Adobe and each speaker was GIVEN a copy of the list and was encouraged to play into it!  It also turns out that 5000 geeks in the audience of this huge room are either unwilling to play along or too chicken or it’s just too difficult.  I understand when the speaker says “mobile mobile” (and you’re supposed to go “Ha ha”) that you may not have enough time to look up the response.  However, what totally boggled my mind was when the instructions called for yelling out bingo periodically towards the end of the keynote.  There was a pause while Kevin Lynch was trying to make some non-functioning phone to do a trick and I yelled “BINGO”.  I guarantee everyone heard this… more than 1000 people had the instructions… but for whatever reason they all became immobilized and no one else took the cue to keep going!  I’ve heard all kinds of reasons why… and, really, that’s fine.  I thought it would be fun and a way to “build community”.  It’s sad however to hear some reasons such as a fear of ruining their relationship with Adobe or fear of getting kicked out.  I made a real effort to think of something that would have no negative impact, no one getting hurt etc…   The particularly saddening part of the fear that appears to be present in A LOT of people (at MAX and around the country and world) is that some people got signals from some Adobe employees who honestly (I can only assume it was honestly)believed that Adobe didn’t want this kind of thing to go down.  First I heard they didn’t like the fact they didn’t know what was planned–though I am on Adobe’s side, I have a vested interest in Adobe, I said it was innocuous, and besides, Adobe folks found out… and they certainly could have contacted me as I was in contact with many anyway.  Some said it would have been bad to pull this stunt in front of the press at the conference.  I don’t know but that just sort of shocked me considering it was attendees who paid to attend.  (I should note that after I purchased my discounted ticket, Adobe asked if I would make some of my satire videos about MAX and for this they kindly refunded my admission–though I still had a regular admission)  Finally, I suppose if someone who paid to attend felt that I would ruin the whole thing for you then I’m sorry… but can only say–that’s why I designed such a minor prank.

Now… the OTHER prank I figured had absolutely no chance of upsetting anyone but I was wrong. The way this worked was whenever you see Mike Chambers you were supposed to do a military salute… when you see Mike Downey do two taps of the fist on your chest (respect)… and so on for 9 employees–all of which were notified they were a target–here’s both prank handouts (link) and a demo video (link).  Anyway, the only rules I applied to selecting the gestures was that they had to be easy and likely for people (in on the prank) to go along with.  For example, I removed the curtsey from my initial list as no one would do that. I also included the index finger/pinkie thing for Richard Galvin because I had a photo of him doing that gesture.  The others had on rhyme or reason.  I mention this because of the second lesson I learned. (Lesson 1 was easy: don’t put anyone on the list that I don’t know personally… I should have included someone else in Mark Anders spot because I didn’t really know him.) The reason I point out that there was nothing implied about the salutations was that at least one person came up with quite a conspiracy theory about this prank and communicated it to Adobe or one of the targets and it ended up turning sour for them.  In fact, those who were upset with it (I’ll explain how next) communicated their concern to enough people that it spread and turned out to be a message that “all Phillip’s pranks are to be frowned upon”.  I really can respect other opinions even when I don’t agree but this was saddening not only because the concern was completely unwarranted but worse was the fact that any “anti prank” feelings grew to apply to anything to do with the pranks (which as I mentioned above, were generally welcomed by Adobe).

So the theory (not my intent AT ALL) went like this:  I created this prank to make target employees do the various gestures and I would then film them and then use that footage to create videos that show the company or such employees in objectionable or otherwise untrue positions.  This is shocking to me on so many levels it’s a bit mind boggling.  First, I’m on Adobe’s side–I have a vested interest.  Second, I said the pranks were harmless.  Third, I had no such plans. Fourth, if I HAD had such plans, I wouldn’t need the real footage–I mean, just look at how rough my vids are.  It was so surprising to me that at first I thought it was some kind of retaliation prank on me.

I should sum up by saying again that I think I’m sensitive to people’s feelings but I can also now see how fear spreads.  I’m concerned that beyond my dumb pranks that people are so wrapped up and stressed about things that they can so quickly assume the worst.  When possible, I think it’s best to confront the fear or the problem person (say, me doing the prank) and let the concern be known.  For my part, I can honestly say that I’m always and will continue to be a straight shooter.  Except in my videos… there you can hear messages that I may not believe simply as a way to demonstrate a feeling I really do have.

Anyway, I had to make video about the first prank, so here it is:

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5 Responses to “Max Prank 2008–Fail”

  1. Nate Chatellier Says:

    Although I wasn’t at MAX this year, I thought the pranks would have been fun and I definitely would have shouted BINGO right after you! I think Adobe normally does a pretty good job of community involvement and not being too uptight. In-fact, I think the community would appreciate Adobe even more if they had played into the prank. That’s too bad things didn’t go off smoothly… Thanks for trying to organize this.

  2. admin Says:

    You’re welcome Nate. In fact, Adobe DID play into the keynote pranks… at least as far as having all the speakers get notified of the keywords. Also, I heard that in a later Thermo breakout session, they asked the audience to cough any time they said “Thermo” (which was another keyword on my list). The point there was they wanted to help remembering to say “Flash Catalyst”.

    It was the “salutation paranoia” prank that got some uptight. The sad part was that their concern spread out to get communicated to many that the keynote prank was also of grave concern.

  3. Stephanie Sullivan Says:

    Guess I’m a little late to the party here. :) I thought I’d give you another perspective on the “other side” of why some people didn’t participate since I had conversations with several community leaders that didn’t over the course of MAX.

    Though I realize your perspective is that “attendees paid to attend” and thus should be able to do anything they want — the reality is, this is Adobe’s party. Yes we help pay for it, but in truth, it’s Adobe’s biggest marketing/training event of the year — and as such, an enormous amount of work goes into it to make it appear seamless. To be transparent, I have a bit more of an “inside view” since my fiance was in the day 2 keynote. And I can tell you that keynote rehearsals happened daily for over 2 weeks. Greg came off the road and went straight to SFO without even coming home. So I saw the number of hours that went into making an exciting keynote that showed their products in the way they wanted to.

    To be honest, I respect the fact that Adobe is a large, publicly traded company. And though we that lead in the community know many of the leaders in that company personally, and understand it’s all a big jest, that’s not necessarily how something like that would be seen “from the outside.” From the attendees that don’t know any of us/them and yes, from the press. In order not to distract the people demoing the products to 5,000 people with very limited time constraints, I simply wouldn’t do things in the audience to distract them. Out of respect that this is their time to shine — and their time to show their products to the best of their ability. Not because I’m fearful of any of them or afraid to piss them off. I, and many others I heard talking about it just didn’t think it was appropriate in that venue. We didn’t have any other ulterior motives or fears.

    Sure, we could have done it and it all could have come off being funny (I’d do it in a heartbeat at something like the community summit) … but it also could have been distracting from an event that cost, I’m sure, well into the 6 figures and cost an enormous amount of man hours. I didn’t feel like the event was about me. It was about them. So I kept quiet. No other reason. :)

  4. admin Says:

    That’s cool Stephanie. As mentioned, I considered the “wasting others’ time” issue–which is why the keynote prank was designed to be as low-impact as possible. Also, the keynote prank wasn’t supposed to be about me but rather about the attendees–it was supposed to give them some involvement.

    As an Adobe sanctioned community member I sincerely thought this would help Adobe. In fact, I considered my work organizing it was part of my job as a community member. (And, for what it’s worth, many inside Adobe have thanked me for attempting this.) I thought hard about this prank and figured the absolute worst case would be someone trying to present and getting so distracted they couldn’t finish or couldn’t get everything out. That was the worst case and an edge one at that. If that had happened I don’t think I’d feel too terrible and I don’t think it would reflect poorly on Adobe nor would it cost Adobe anything. In fact, I totally believe there’s no such thing as bad publicity–so, say the prank caused havoc and the press reported this. I’m pretty sure Adobe shareholders would be very thankful.

    The thing that still remains interesting to me was that those VERY involved in the keynote thought the keynote prank was great but found the gestures prank objectionable. And, as mentioned, the Thermo/cough thing was explicitly encouraged by Adobe (for good, not evil) in a breakout session.

    Finally, I’m not personally upset with anyone who didn’t participate. I wish more had been involved but not everyone has to go along with me.

  5. Phillip Kerman blog » Blog Archive » Adobe MAX 2010 review Says:

    [...] As always, MAX was a load of fun. I didn’t bother with any pranks this year—see 2008. This year I had a performance “Handbills Delivered” (see my earlier post containing a [...]

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