Category Archives: paid posts

Reebok ungets the viral thing

This Reebok video is making the rounds in ad circles as an example of what not to do in the viral space. You know, create an amateur video with crazy happenings, launch it on YouTube and watch the viewers scale to millions — except in this case it is blatantly professionally produced. For complete details on the mistakes made trying to show a guy stumbling across Ralph Macchio to showcase sneakers, see the post by Angela Natividad, who filed it under heavy wincing.

The deeper question is, if this is a mistake, what is a brand to do? You can’t sit back and hope amateurs create something superbly authentic that will rise up the viral charts … yet if you leadenly produce something that almost looks real, but is fake, you get trashed by all of us who are wise to your manipulative moves. This may sound strange when the entire world of advertising is based on manipulating opinion, but it actually makes sense — because the problem here is the source of the information has been disguised. Humans make judgments based on where they think data is coming from; if your best friend tells you Toyotas still lead in quality, you may believe her, but if a salesperson says the same, you take it with a grain of salt. Advertising for decades has been put in boxes that are cleared marked as “source: someone trying to sell you,” so you can sit back during commercial breaks knowing there is an agenda. But hiding the source creates confusion — a level of cognitive dissonance, a failed ability to score the data with a key metric, the point of origination that tells you the motive of what is coming in.

Polluted ecosystems

Follow this logic, and quasi-marketing-almost-authentic material ticks people off because they don’t know how to judge it. Are the shoes really being worn by a former Karate Kid movie star? Is this knowledge something true that we can use for future reference? Um, no. This is why we vote paid posts and sponsored conversations are failures of communication, because they manipulate people without being clear, and end up polluting the entire information ecosystem. Advertising works because it’s potentially useful information with the source clearly identified. Social media works because it’s helpful references from people you trust. Blend the two, and you seed confusion and potentially irritation. This is why the usually helpful blogger Chris Brogan got spanked by his followers over a paid Kmart Christmas post.

So how does any marketer solve the viral puzzle? David Armano has suggested that to become remarkable, you must do something that people will remark upon. Rather than fake a creative encounter, do something truly creative with your business that others can’t help but talk about. It’s not easy building real authentic news that others will report on, but hey, that’s why they call the news new.

Chevy vs. pollution in the stream


Very few people who work in the ad industry have the balls to question the ethics of a campaign — ethics, in advertising? — because doing so could burn a bridge from a potential client. But what the hell — we’re not here to play nice, we’re here to advise our clients about what works, and that includes not making mistakes that damage their future reputation.

So let’s take a look at, oh, perhaps Chevy’s current SXSW campaign. Say hypothetically you’re a car company trying to boost sales among a younger demographic, and the MRI data shows these people are avoiding TV and spending more time in social media listening to peers. It’s really hard to buy advertising against that demo. And then your agency guru walks in wearing a black T-shirt talking about SIM scores suggesting there’s a way to “earn media” — and NOT pay for it — by letting a handful of young people borrow cars and drive to an uberhip conference, say SXSW Interactive in Texas, and broadcast their Chevy adventures along the way. And they’ll use a “hashtag,” something like #chevysxsw, that appears at the end of every tweet. A handful of cars, a dozen people times their few thousand followers, and suddenly you have an organic loudspeaker spraying Chevy messages to hundreds of thousands of people inside Twitter every day … for almost no marketing budget.

Is this a good idea? Does it help the Chevy brand? Do the thousands of people exposed to non sequitur messaging and strange #chevyreadthis symbols like the promotions creeping into their communication stream, and then think, heck, it’s high time to test drive a Chevy? And what about the broader ecosystem issues of what happens if such campaigns take off, and one day every other tweet from your own personal online community has a #brandmention attached because someone is getting a little free gift from a car or stereo or condom company? What happens to the value of the network then?

Is anyone thinking about the adverse impact of the people annoyed by messaging vs. the people who respond?

We’ve seen this before in the 1990s with telemarketing. For you young readers out there, telesales actually used to be a part of most business operations and worked well … until the aggregate calls got to be too much. Do Not Call lists were created, most Americans signed up, the government imposed heavy fines for any marketer who didn’t avoid calling DNC homes, and suddenly shilling via phone did not work anymore. You’ll still get calls from politicians or nonprofits who are exempt from DNC (love that, don’t you?), but even they have challenges making telemarketing work, because the only people who respond tend to be the less educated, less wealthy, less desirable consumers who haven’t figured out how to sign up for DNC.

The Scobleizer’s take on ethics

About a year ago we had the fortune to interview Robert Scoble for a BusinessWeek column, and he said something very smart. We paraphrase: Rules in business about conflicts of interest or partitioning advertising, he said, were not invented because businesses are run by altruists. The rules evolved because businesses screwed up, overstepped their bounds, lost customers, and realized they needed rules to keep operations in order. Advertising works best when it is kept in its box and labeled as such, because people know where it is coming from. Letting it creep into the stream makes the source hazy, adds a layer of confusion, and diminishes the value of the network.

So, dear #chevytweeters on Twitter and the ad agencies who promote such hoopla. We hope your campaign is a rousing success. We’re sure your social-media sentiment score will click up this week, and the metrics will look great in PowerPoint. But are you really thinking about the direction your car is headed?

Chevy campaign details here.