Lifeless, shiny, efficient: Astroturf, the hoax which fools no one. (via)
Here’s the situation: You’re sitting in a meeting with your client when they ask you to write up some glowing reviews of their wonderful new widget. Let’s be clear: they want you to make stuff up. Do you accept your mission? Or do you graciously turn the creative writing exercise down? Before you make that choice, consider a couple of instances where this practice – what might loosely be described as astroturfing – went terribly awry.
Just last month, The Daily Background caught computer hardware manufacturer Belkin in the act of hiring people to write flattering reviews about their products. Belkin utilized Amazon’s site Mechanical Turk, where users complete micro-jobs for micro-payments, to solicit for folks both to write reviews of and to vote negative reviews down on Amazon.com and NewEgg. Needless to say, when these job postings were discovered, Belkin had to engage in some serious damage control. Belkin’s president posted an apologetic note to the company’s website, but critics were further perplexed when it appeared that Belkin’s Business Development Rep, who created the job postings, had not been fired.
Similarly, Australian marketing agency Naked Communications ran into trouble when they launched a viral video campaign last year. Presented not as an ad, but as a user-generated YouTube clip, it featured a pretty girl trying to track down her crush, some handsome guy she met in a café. Fortunately, the young stud had left his jacket behind, which she described in some detail as “beautiful.” “It’s got a silk lining,” she continued, “It’s got beautiful striped interior. Smells good, like him.” She then offered an email address to which the jacketless gent could reply. As the video began to circulate, social networking commentators caught on pretty quickly that the clip was not a true confession, but an engineered campaign for Witchery, an Aussie clothing company. Problem is Witchery denied any link to the video and controversy quickly ensued. The resulting backlash spiraled so intensely that Naked’s CEO eventually quit as a result of the exposure.
Individual consumers might have markedly different reactions to these two incidents. Some might consider the former more deceptive, the latter a harmless marketing stunt. That the problem was how Naked handled the controversy, once it erupted. Nonetheless, the end result of these incidents is that many people felt deceived by and disenfranchised from all of the companies involved.
Suffice to say, even if you don’t have a problem with these practices, you should consider your brand. It may come out a little tattered if your fictitious romps are ever uncovered.