A video of pantomime animals simulating vigorous and varied sex acts is being quietly circulated on the internet in an attempt to boost environmental business for Richard Branson's Virgin Trains company.
As part of a new "viral marketing" campaign, bloggers are being offered money to post the unbranded video on their blogs. Called "sex party", it features actors dressed up as wildlife complaining that global warming has made species copulate more early and more often.
The video ends by suggesting that one way to help stop all this excess mating is to cut pollution by travelling on the train instead of by car or plane. But there are fears that the message could be counterproductive, with one media expert describing it as as "tasteless" and "offensive".
In the 90 second video an owl complaining that everyone is "at it" is interrupted by two white birds loudly having sex against a tree. A wildlife inspector talks about "inappropriate pollination" while three sheep and a bumblebee have group sex on the grass behind him.
A robin redbreast with an English accent complains about "tourists" flying in and "nicking all our birds". A multicoloured bird with a Scandinavian accent says how wonderful it is.
"I can't get enough of the English tits, they're so randy," he says. Then the action gets even ruder, with quickfire scenes of oral sex, masturbation and more.
According to the company that is marketing the video, Unruly Media, its sponsor is "supposed to be a secret". But the Sunday Herald has established that it is part of the 'go greener' advertising campaign recently launched by Virgin Trains.
Unruly Media is contacting environmental bloggers and offering to give them £10 if they "embed" the video on their blogs, plus £25 for every 1,000 hits the video gets. The aim is to get it posted on as many as 100 blogs.
Viral marketing is a new and indirect way of promoting commercial products via the internet. The hope is the video clips will catch on, and news of their existence will be spread via online social networking sites and email, thereby boosting brand awareness.
But Virgin's foray into the viral underworld has prompted very mixed reactions. "This is primarily a tasteless and not very funny advert," said Sonia Livingstone, a professor of social psychology at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
"If children can see it, some will find it offensive. I don’t think it has the wit or quality to become a successful fad circulated widely, and so would be inclined to disregard it as of minor interest. I may be proved wrong, of course."
Colin Howden, from the sustainable transport campaign TRANSform Scotland, was slightly less negative. "Some people might think this comes close to the bounds of taste," he said, "but if it gets Daily Sport readers interested in climate change then that's okay with me."
The video was defended by Virgin Trains, however, as a "humorous campaign with a serious message". It was an entertaining way of communicating with a "sophisticated modern audience", a company spokesman told the Sunday Herald.
"This is a new style of campaign using the internet to target the computer-literate generation," he said. "It is aimed at getting the message across to young adults who may not otherwise see it."
The spokesman denied that the video was offensive, and suggested that the animal antics shouldn't be taken too seriously. "We haven't had any complaints about it so far," he said.
A series of other online videos featuring the same collection of pantomime animals are available on Virgin Trains' website. But none of them are nearly as explicit as the unbranded video, though the animals are more insistent about the environmental benefits of VIrgin Trains.
Though this may be the crudest attempt so far to use sex to sell climate change, it is not the first. A video posted on YouTube five months ago by Friends of the Earth in England featured an overweight man in his underwear and socks tied to a bed with an orange stuffed in his mouth.
A young leather-clad dominatrix stands over him and starts to tease him with a red whip and tell him he's been a bad boy. But she is interrupted by an elderly cleaning lady who fiercely upbraids the man with a feather duster for failing to do enough to cut the pollution that is disrupting the climate.
Viewers are urged to join Friends of the Earth's 'BIg Ask' campaign demanding major cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. And the cleaning lady storms out muttering: "Who does he think he is - an MP?"
The Virgin 'sex party' video can be viewed here.