There’s a right way and a wrong way to go ‘viral’… here’s the wrong way

LANGUAGE WARNING: If you’re offended by a word that has four letters and is often used as a shortened version of ‘Richard’, don’t read on 🙂

Anyway, I have a new viral video mantra for y’all that I think should be an industry standard –”Don’t be a dick”. It isn’t hard (pun sort of intended). Treating your audience with respect is probably the most important thing you can do as a marketer. So many campaigns end up with companies / agencies being dicks to their customers. Conversation and substance are the name of the game in this new marketing world that we live in, yet  cheap tricks pulled in order to ‘go viral’ continue to pop up and (A) sully the name of marketers everywhere and (B) make Internet users more cynical by the day.

I’m sure everyone has seen by now the numerous articles about the fake tattoo video submitted for the Island Reef Dream Job campaign  (one of the original stories here, one of the revelations it was a fake is here). Sure, it’s given the Island Reef campaign a massive boost in publicity all over the world. But it’s also left a sour taste in the  mouth of many who were paying attention. When you’re trying to lure people back to Australia for tourism, but your campaign is revealed to be at least in part smoke and mirrors, it reduces how effectively your message comes across. There is no question about this.

Now, again today we have the ‘real life Cinderella’ story that SMH ran yesterday which has also been proven to be a fake. It’s actually a ‘viral’ campaign for a fashion retailer that I haven’t been able to find the name of yet (and major publications seem to be putting a blanket ban on even mentioning the name – here’s another tip, making a monkey out of report/s with fake press releases will piss off the media). Anyway, back to the Conderella story…the video is below if you’re interested.

Viral tripe

Faking video can be good creative. The Marc Ecko ‘Still Free‘ campaign involving footage of Air Force One getting tagged up was a pretty good example of this, where they did something so ridiculously crazy that you could only be left asking “Damn, did they really do that?” (I never actually saw confirmation either way if the video was real or not). The video engaged with social issues that Marc, his target audience and his brand hold near and dear, and sparked controversy and speculation, which it was designed to do so. It was not designed to deceive people, but to spark a dialogue and point people to a microsite. It was transparent in trying to do this.

Mark Ecko – Still Free

The line is to be drawn when you deliberately try to deceive your audience, with no real intention to cause dialogue, but simply to deceive in order to create traffic. This is no different to spamming. In fact, it is probably getting closer to phishing than spamming, as it is deliberately misleading and getting viewers to engage with video / messages they wouldn’t otherwise if they knew it was not genuine. Sneakiness in this regard always come back to bite you on the butt and can actually be quite annoying to the people who see your campaign… monitoring twitter, I found quite a few negative comments about the campaign. So if you’re going to ‘make a viral video’ as part of your next campaign (hmmm), do marketers the world over a favour, and don’t be a dick… respect your audience.

EDIT – 21/01/09: Today, the second video was released, featuring smug actress acting like no wrongdoing has occurred. There’s a much better account of this whole shebang in some of the posts over at Mumbrella… all I can say is it sucks that this campaign is proceeding and that I will never buy anything from Witchery man, or hire Naked as a strategy firm (if you want to know more about Naked, they have a blog here). Crap job all around.

UPDATE 5th Feb 2009 – Mumbrella, always on top of these things, discusses how the overall effect of the campaign makes it a failure at http://mumbrella.com.au/2009/02/05/exclusive-despite-nakeds-survey-their-witchery-campaign-was-a-social-media-failure/#comment-685


10 Responses to “There’s a right way and a wrong way to go ‘viral’… here’s the wrong way”

  1. January 21, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    Right on Nick! And let me just add that respect is a three letter word spelled “F-A-X”. The sooner Naked learn that the better.

  2. 2 marketingisadirtyword
    January 21, 2009 at 7:22 pm

    Hehe, er OK Mike. Thanks for the comment, I think 🙂

  3. February 13, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Interesting points you raised, but my question is where do you draw the line between a campaign that is authentic and one that has a shock and awe effect on the viewers?

    The biggest problem with ‘going viral’ is that what might appear as witty and creative to one can be seen as cheap and insulting to another. Given the youthfulness of social media in Australia, there’s still a lot of trial and error on what works with your target market.

  4. 4 marketingisadirtyword
    February 13, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    Hi Ryan

    Thanks for the comment. Since I first wrote the above post, there’s been a whole bunch of others write about Witchery. We’ve seen the full spectrum of lovehate in their reactions… anything extra I have to say has probably already been written by someone else, somewhere else 🙂 Some people said the campaign was successful because the aftermath (well, the media / blogosphere coverage thereof) hit so many eyeballs. Others (like me) felt it was a bit cheap and nasty…

    Your point about where to draw the line hits the nail on the head… this whole debate is a matter of personal taste. And everyone has different tastes. As such, there’s no line. There’s no way to be objective about resolving this, and I can’t pretend for a second that my above post is anywhere near objective.

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