Real or Staged?
A few days ago I was at this new bakery downtown. They had hired one of those guys dressed like a clown to stand in front and spin one of those signs around, to try and get traffic to come inside. It had caused quite a commotion, and there were plenty of people there for the grand opening. They had been advertising heavily beforehand, so they were going for a big splash on the first day rather than a slow spread through word of mouth.
I suppose that the slow spread through word of mouth marketing approach is more of a organic method, meaning they donâ€™t really expect to have people running around town talking about their shop, it just kind of happens that way. Depending on word of mouth is a tricky marketing ploy, and I’m sure not too many small businesses rely on it exclusively.
There’s always those “engineered” word of mouth marketing plans, usually for movies, but sometimes for other things, although for movies they are primarily done on the Internet, and are referred to as “viral” marketing. A couple that stand out in my mind are “The Blair Witch Project,” and “Cloverfield.”
“Blair Witch,” although they did have several trailers in the theaters, had quite a big online presence. And “Cloverfield” took it a step further, going so far as to have fictitious myspace and facebook pages for the characters in the movie.
Another example of a “viral” marketing plan is that several million times viewed video “Where the Hell is Matt?” Now before I go bursting your bubble, let me say that the following is only my opinion, I have absolutely no inside information on the subject. Perhaps this has already been debunked in other sources, as the video is a few years old, but let allow me to share my opinion on the subject, despite how obvious it may seem.
The video is presented as a naturally occurring journey by this guy “Matt,” and whoever went along with him to hold the camera. It starts out with him giving directions to some “random” stranger to hold the camera in a specific spot, and then various clips are edited together, and whoever is holding the camera in the various spots is not clearly defined.
In many of the spots, it’s quite obvious it took some hiking to get there, and even in one place he’s underwater. So at the very least he had to enlist the support of a cameraman for more than just a few minutes.
There has been a few theories floated out there that the video is fake, and there are various special effects employed to make it appear he is in place where he really isn’t. While I don’t doubt that this “Matt” character actually went to all these places, I do doubt that it was as spontaneous as we are led to believe. I believe to be just as engineered and corporate financed as any viral movie marketing effort.
I believe this for a couple of reasons. The first is that international travel is not cheap, especially if you are winging it as you go along. It’s one thing to show up in a country and kind of make your way around, deciding each day where to go, but it’s quite different to travel from country to country in the same manner.
For one thing, not too many countries allow for a “landing visa.” This is where all you do is show up, and they stamp your passport with a 30-day visitors visa. Many countries require that you get a visa prior to visiting the country, and this requires a visit to that particular countries consulate, and in many cases an extensive itinerary, and proof of sufficient funds, as well as an air ticket leaving the country. You can’t just hitchhike down to the airport and buy a one-way ticket to some African country, for example. Before selling you a ticket, they’ll ask for to see your passport and visa.
So any trip to as many countries that were visited in that short video would require a huge amount of planning, and a lot of upfront cash to pay for all the airline tickets up front.
The story presented in the video, or about the video was some guy got laid off, had some cash, and decided to travel.
Of course, I could be totally wrong, but having been to a few countries, it’s been my experience that it requires a little bit more effort and planning than just hopping on a plane to some random destination. At the very least I believe that video was some kind of viral marketing effort backed by a big company with big money. For what reason, I have no idea. There is a blurb at the end of the video indicating some kind of sponsorship, but I’m not sure what that actually indicates.
My point in all of this is that word of mouth advertising is a powerful way to spread he word of any business, as it is much more believable and reliable than paid advertising. When we see a paid advertisement, we know they have a stake in whatever they are advertising. But when somebody that we know, or somebody that we suspect has nothing to gain by convincing us to buy some product or service, we are much more likely to believe them.
Because most successful word of mouth advertising plans are completely spontaneous and organic, it can be hard to consciously duplicate them. If you look at some popular Internet “memes” (Corey’s glasses, Chocolate Rain, Star Wars kid, etc.) which have spread over the past years, they don’t have much in common. People have tried to reverse engineer them, and then build new ones, but only with varying and seemingly random degrees of success. Even recent successful memes owe their success in large part to big media corporations picking them up and propagating them.
Even political campaigns, which try very hard to have a “grass roots” feel to them, are completely planned and engineered.
One thing is certain, thought, there are certain “memes” which spread much quicker and more readily than others, and some of the ones that have done so have literally changed the course of human history. Communism is one example. The idea was developed by some nobody in some small library, and then later propagated by a couple of opportunist politicians, and it literally changed the face of Europe within a few decades.
I suppose if it were possible to consistently engineer successful meme after successful meme, that would mean that human nature was completely predictable, and we would be at the mercy of marketers and social engineers who wanted nothing more to make us into obedient servants, like in “The Matrix.”
Luckily, human nature is not so predictable, and those that would control us aren’t always successful in their efforts. So long as videos of laughing babies and sneezing pandas spread around the world and are viewed by millions and millions of people, the human race is safe from exploiting itself into obedient slavery.
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