In my apartment I have a basket full of magazines, and the other day, I found a strange insert that had fallen out of one of the magazines, though I'm not sure which one. It was an excerpt from a soon-to-be-published book by Rowland Samuel called "Men of Metal: Eyewitness Accounts of Humanoid Robots." You can download the excerpt from the publisher here.
Its a sort of conspiracy yarn for Area 51 types, except instead of aliens, it describes a string of humanoid robot sightings in Oxford, England, in which endangered motorists are seemingly rescued by robots. But there's always a bright flash of light, and no one is quite sure what happens. The book is written in the first person, as the writer describes his attempts to get to the bottom of the sightings. After discovering a Mini Cooper tailpipe at one of the scenes, and stumbling upon an eccentric but AWOL robotics professor who helped developed the new Mini Cooper, he theorizes that the doctor is building robots in his garage out of car parts. Turns out the professor's home consumes 10 times more electricity than most homes its size.
It seemed ridiculous, and the excerpt was so skeletal I couldn't imagine there'd be enough information for a book. But the excerpt looked just like a legit book excerpt, and the fact that I couldn't locate the magazine it came from was sort of freaking me out. So I turned to Google. There I found the professor's web site, the writer's web site, and the publisher's site. I also found a BMW message board where users had posted awestruck links to the professor's web site and wondered, why haven't we heard about this? As I scrolled through the discussion, the posters revealed the truth. They'd all gotten the excerpt in recent issues of various auto magazines, and it was a hoax.
But not just any old hoax. A big ol' marketing ploy brought to you by the geniuses at Crispin, Porter + Bogusky, who handle the Mini account. At least, I think it was them, though none of the fake evidence they've constructed on the web—the prof's site, the page for Casson Publishing—ever indicates that CPB or the Mini Cooper is behind the whole thing.