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.
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.