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The Bic Prank: Uncommon marketing for a common pen

OK, so we know this is a little old, but it recently showed up as a marketing case study, and we just had to share the Bic Prank with all you who may not have seen it.

The story is this: BIC Cristal is a top-selling pen all around the world, with more than 100 billion sold as of 2004, but apparently writers in Germany weren't getting the message. Bic decided to step up its marketing there, but with a low budget, there was only so much that could be done.

Some marketing genius came up with an idea for what became the Bic Prank.

Celebrities will sign anything put in front of them when they're in autograph scrums, the thinking went, so why not prank them with silly statements signed with a Bic Cristal? All they had to do was plant some autograph-seekers in crowds around certain celebs, hand the celeb a piece of paper and a Bic and ask for a signature.

And it worked.

  • Tom Cruise used an autograph hound's "lucky pen," a Bic Cristal, to sign a paper declaring that the vertically challenged movie star has to order booster seats whenever he's in a restaurant.
  • Robert Downey Jr., promoting the movie "Sherlock Holmes," used a Bic Cristal to unwittingly sign a job application to become a store detective.
  • Actor Til Schweiger accepted a Bic from a fan and signed his name to a sales contract to buy a used car.
  • Even Helen Mirren fell victim at the premiere of "The Last Station," using a Bic to sign a form in which she declared that she was the real queen of England.

Of course, it helped that all of the papers were written in German, so the actors weren't likely to understand them. Except for Schweiger, who is German himself.

You can see all of the videos at the Bic Prank YouTube channel.

We don't know whether the campaign actually worked, but we're trying to find out from the folks at Bic.

Meanwhile, the Bic Cristal turned 60 years old last year. Two details we found interesting: One, according to Bic, the pen is a part of museum collections around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and two, Salvador Dali and Jimmy Carter, among others, both used Bic Cristals.

By the way, if you've ever wondered why Bic pens are called "biros" in the U.K., we have the answer.

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