As a sort of grossout performance art-cum-protest, an internet documentarian and trickster once dubbed the "Donald Trump of TripAdvisor" collected bottles of Amazon delivery driver urine and resold them as an energy drink — on Amazon's own eponymous online marketplace.
In a Vice feature about his endeavor, British prankster Oobah Butler described how he got "Release Energy," which he listed on Amazon as "the world's first fully reusable energy drink," to become a bestseller on the site that technically created the uric beverage itself.
Best known for a 2017 stunt in which he created a fake and highly-rated restaurant in London in an old shed that reheated microwavable meals and revealed the hype machine at the heart of the online reviews ecosystem, in his latest project Butler interviewed Amazon delivery drivers who described the harsh conditions that led them going number one in water bottles while on the job.
"I only do this because I have no other options," one Los Angeles-based driver told him. "Other people who go slower just end up getting fired."
"It’s honestly degrading, you know?" the man, who was once a pro soccer player in El Salvador, told the e-harlequin.
As part of his forthcoming BBC documentary titled "The Great Amazon Heist" about the near-comically dystopian nature of the e-commerce giant, Butler learned that in the US, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain — and likely in other places, too — drivers not only end up having to pee in bottles so they can meet their performance metrics, but that they also end up discarding them outside of distribution centers, too.
The self-described "professional chancer" was intrigued, and after setting up a trash can with a sign that read "designated urine collection point" at another Amazon center in Essex, England, he began his journey "taking the piss" out of the company.
It does not appear, from his first-person account in Vice, that Butler actually shipped the urine to anyone.
Instead, in one of his characteristically elaborate pranks, he set up an Amazon listing for the yellow-labeled "caffeine-free" drinks. Though he initially sold it under the "refillable pump dispenser category," the phony beverage that promised "infinite refills" was moved via the company's sales algorithm to the energy drink category without having to work around its food and drink licensing standards.
"I smell an opportunity," Butler wrote. "If only I could get it shifted across into the less competitive 'bitter lemon' drinks category, then my dream of having a #1 drink on Amazon made out of drivers’ urine could come true."
Getting the bitter lemon designation wasn't easy, but Butler managed by sending Amazon a pissed-off message and posing as a frustrated small business owner. Soon, it was listed as a "bitter lemon" drink and quickly beat out Schweppes after the false reviews from the jokester's friends were joined by real reviews from real people who seemed in on the joke.
Again, nobody was actually shipped the bottled urine, and Amazon restricted the reviews to "verified" testimonials. To find out whether and when it shut Butler down entirely, we'll need to tune in to the documentary's premier — but Butler was right to point out that it's a "dangerously powerful platform that is oblivious and ignorant of its own inner workings."
"I set out to discover if Amazon marketplace was blind and insecure enough to let me list bottles of its own driver’s piss as an energy drink," the merry prankster wrote. "I couldn’t have predicted how easy it would be."
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