Link - article by Pixelsmith and Avi Abrams

The Long Tradition of "Trolling" Big Corporations, One Hilarious Letter at a Time

We have not have a humour article on DRB for a long time, mainly concentrating on visually interesting and, well, weird and wonderful. But here is something funny today: "dead serious" prank letters sent to "dead serious" corporations who don't like to be trolled, or made fun of. All to the delight of writers and collectors of such correspondence (presented by Pixelsmith for Dark Roasted Blend):

Clunk. Flop. A chunk of mail through the letterbox. Between the bills and promotional waffle there's this:

"Dear Mr Bradley - we are unable to use your recipe within our advertising or promotion. Having tried your recipe, we have discovered a rather unfortunate side-effect, which was borne out by three hours in Accident & Emergency and the complete loss of eyebrow hair."

Rewind one week and Mr Bradley was writing to the British Egg Information Service with a ridiculous idea:

Glue two cardboard tubes to your eyes, tilt your head back, lower three uncooked eggs into each tube then eat some cheese. He wasn't expecting a reply.

I wrote my first silly letter as Chad Bradley seven years ago. "Dear Brylcreem," it said. "There's a man in my hair wax". The company sent me a postage sticker and told me to mail him back.

Since then:
- I've told IKEA that their sofa teleported me to Paris... (read it here)
- complained about a shark in my mineral water... (read it here)
- applied for a job as the "Sandwich Creative" executive of a sandwich company... (read it here)
- asked about life insurance coverage in case of being killed by ants... (read it here)
- wondered if Crispy Snacks are really crisp... (read it here)
- and told MB Games about my amazing new idea for a game called Connect 1. (read it here)

Little did I know that my weird hobby was part of a long tradition, upheld by men far better and funnier than I.

"Timewaster Letters"

Heard of Henry Root? The alter ego of English writer and eccentric playboy William Donaldson, Root penned satirical letters to the rich and famous, like this note to a senior tutor at Cambridge University:

"Yours is a college at which brains are neither here nor there, I'm told... This being the case, I'm prepared to send my boy to you... He's 15 now and shows every sign of needing all the advantages that money can buy. You'll have seen many like that. I enclose a small cash advance (this is for you personally, you understand)...". Root often included a £1 or £5 note with his letters. It was a decent investment - The Henry Root Letters (1980) and its follow-up books made Donaldson a fortune.

Yet Root's letters weren't the first to hit the bookshelves. In America, Saturday Night Live comedian Don Novello had been writing to figureheads and companies since the early '70s, as concerned citizen Lazlo Toth. The Lazlo Letters (1977) include this 1974 note to then vice-president Gerald Ford:

"Dear Vice President Ford: I was a vice president of a lot of organizations myself so I know how you feel. Keep up the good work! Stand by our country!"

That was the whole letter. He didn't get a reply.

These letters might look silly, but the influential nature of their establishment targets bestows them with an edge of political commentary. I wish I was that smart. These satirical sideswipes can make for the sharpest comedy going, but it's the mundane stuff I love the most. Take Lazlo's letter to the president of the company behind Preparation H:

"Dear Mr. President, I have seen commercials for your product on television and I have but one question - What does the "H" stand for?"

The world-weary reply: "Dear Mr. Toth: Thank you for your recent letter concerning Preparation H. Please be advised that H stands for hemorrhoids."

There's a beauty in this dullness. Read a couple of letters and it's not just the writer you picture chuckling to himself - you start to imagine the character too. And you're not alone. Somewhere out there, a bunch of recipients actually believe this person exists. That almost brings them to life.

"I am a keen lover of all things clarinettal..."

Robert Popper is the master of this. The English TV comedy writer - he's worked on Peep Show and Look Around You - has been penning his "Timewaster Letters" since the turn of the millennium. His alter ego, Robin Cooper, is milder-mannered than Root and Lazlo and all the more charming for it. He writes to a Mr Bennett, of the Clarinet Heritage Society:

"I am a keen lover of all things clarinettal. The lull of reed against palette, the rasp of tongue against mouthpiece are something I have always cherished. You are a lucky man, Bennett, working amongst such fine instruments. In some ways I envy you." He goes on to ask for help locating 200 professional clarinet players for a party. An intrigued Bennett replies requesting further details but smells a rat when Cooper tells him where the musicians will stand ("30 in the living room, 40 on the first floor landing, and 34 in my daughter's bedroom...").

Need something to do between your pranks? Try Thumb Wrestling or the Art of Doodle (see more awesome "doodles" by Andrea Joseph here):

(image via)

The CUT-PASTE in landscaping:

(image via)

"The owner of thousands of ants" asking hotel if his pets may roam free inside his room

Then there's Ted L Nancy. Rumoured (though this is frequently disputed) to be the handiwork of Jerry Seinfeld, Nancy's forte is flinging absurd requests at the hotel industry. He has been a 2ft high circus performer requesting a tiny dresser; an 8ft high circus performer demanding a huge bed; the owner of thousands of ants asking if his pets may roam free inside his room; and a man seeking his misplaced bag of otter hair. The hospitality industry is usually polite enough to reply, even if only to say no, you may not fill our hotel with ants.

Root, Lazlo, Cooper and Nancy are just the tip of the iceberg. The title of the first fictional correspondent was claimed at least three decades ago, but it doesn't stop writing silly letters from being amazingly good fun. Few feelings can rival the sheer hilarity of opening a reply to discover that someone took it seriously. And sometimes - and this is a rarity - you get a truly heartwarming one. Somebody who gets the joke, hops on board and joins in.

Chad's new friend from the British Egg Information Service did that. It's my favourite ever response. Instead of lampooning the pomposity of high society, mocking the corporate machine or just winding up a group with a funny name (all of which are, it must be stressed, extremely worthwhile pursuits) Chad wound up contacting somebody who twigged he wasn't real but liked him enough to reply anyway.

And, more importantly, sent him a free inflatable egg cup. (The full correspondence is here)

Pixelsmith's real life alter-ego works in the UK regional newspaper industry as a news editor and columnist. You can read and subscribe to his weekly email, the RollZero Electric Letter and read the full Chad Bradley archive here.

Also, make sure to check out this site Write the Company, dedicated to exactly this kind of fooling around with mighty serious corporations.





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Blogger Steven Van der Werf said...

the landscape should be CUT-PASTE

Anonymous Steve Hester said...

My favorite is Hunter S. Thompson's "Debt Letter" that he sent to companies he owed money to. He insisted after reading it-many never contacted him again. Find it in "The Proud Highway" or at this link. http://darylburnett.wordpress.com/2009/01/13/hunter-s-thompson-the-debt-letter/

Blogger Buff Tan Honky said...

Read 'Dear Mr. Mackin' if you like this kind of stuff

Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a special irony because this page is appearing on my computer with Best Buy ads. Best Buy emphatically did not like being pranked when dozens of members of a guerrilla theater group showed up at one of their stores all wearing blue shirts and khaki pants. They didn't do anything just strolled around the store politely till security rounded them up and threw them out

Blogger Kraeg said...

I'd like to add Paul C. Rosa to the list. And while he tended to use his own name, the personalities he adopted and populated his fictional life with were no less than brilliant. While i've read most of the others, i believe Mr Rosa should top this list.

Blogger Unknown said...

I took the Root system a stage further in the 90s with 9 characters writing in part to local papers. At one time four were passing comment on the same subject for a month in the unsuspecting paper. They ranged from a semi literate farm labourer, a former military personage, to a retired missionary. Rev Sebastian Benet (one n one t) and his wife Hursuta.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do a search for 'The Vlad Letters.' A musician named Tonio K composed fake letters to corporations and signed them Vlad Theimpaler. Very funny stuff. Tonio K is a brilliant, overlooked musician who, among other accomplishments, played with Buddy Holly's Crickets.


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