Candid Camera was an American TV show that began in 1948.
Its creator, Allen Funt, had worked as a research assistant to influential social psychologist Kurt Lewin, and many of the show's sketches reflected Funt's interest in psychology.
For example, the famous 'Elevator Conformity' scene demonstrates the psychological principle of 'social proof'.
Funt's idea has since been copied many times, but usually without the same psychological depth, and played purely for comedy; notable examples include Trigger Happy TV and The Jamie Kennedy Experiment.
Sometimes, it's unsettling. 'Ghost in the Elevator', from a Brazilian TV show, was doing the rounds of the internet just last week.
Occasionally, the format has been put to serious purpose. In this Egyptian candid camera show, actors playing talk show hosts pretended to be Jewish, and got attacked by their guests.
And very often, especially in recent years, Funt's idea has been used as the basis for ads.
LOTS of ads.
One agency alone - Duval Guillaume in Antwerp, Belgium - seems to be responsible for many of the most famous examples, such as 'Unlock the 007 in you' for Coke Zero (9 million YouTube views), 'Amazing Mind Reader' for safeinternetbanking.be (6 million views), and 'Push To Add Drama' for TNT (39 million views).
Last week, saw the release of the newest installment in the genre - 'Music in the Corner Shop' for Red Stripe, made by KK Outlet, the London branch of Dutch agency KesselsKramer.
The release of this latest exemplar has prompted the usual two questions:
1) Aren't we sick of this kind of ad now?
2) Is it fake?
Personally, I don't like the Red Stripe ad, because I think it's cheesy. And yet, much as I love original stuff and don't like tired stuff, I wouldn't say I'm sick of the genre as a whole yet. Since it's a form that's inherently based on surprise, it's quite easy for each new execution to still be surprising, even if the form as a whole is not.
The question of whether it's fake is a debate which is simmering (if not actually raging) at places like Ben's blog.
My own view is that the reactions are real. If the piece feels fake to some, it's because the reactions we see are so conveniently what the film-makers were looking for. The reason for this is that they have simply edited out the reactions that displeased them.
But Allen Funt himself was apparently a ferocious editor. Only a small portion of the public reactions to his stunts - those that reflected the perfect combination of dismay, confusion and surprise – were broadcast. Funt left the openly-suspicious, and those who spoiled the joke by guessing it too early, on the cutting room floor.
He heightened the humour, with a little judicious editing. And I think we can forgive that, can't we?
Exclude that one piece of artifice, and what we are left with, whether in an ad or a TV show, is a creative examination of the disruption or violation of rules, people’s real and spontaneous reactions, and - sometimes - surprising insights into human behaviour. All worthwhile stuff, I reckon.