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Sign up to sell out: astroturf net marketeers

Mr_ChetPerson was signed in when posted
10:34 AM ET (US)
I actually have clients that do this sort of thing, and to a real extent it simply provides a rallying point or organization for genuine support that's already out there. What Gary says seems right to me -- sure, it's annoying to have the full power of Label A behind Yet Another Boy Band, but unless there's some genuine affection for the act, they'll fail at creating a street team. These things depend on there being some base of support that's genuine, and rewarding that base for helping their favorite act seems fine to me. I'd join a Cory street team to promote D&OITMK, esp. if I could get special fan-only Cory swag...
ahaPerson was signed in when posted
02:36 PM ET (US)
Set aside moral judgement and look at biology:

There’s a third group, which is often larger than the other two, of people who go with the flow—who will follow without understanding. They’re not pretending; they’re hypnotized. This behavior isn’t new—it’s just being applied to new products. Just look at the boingboing Belgian belly button link to see how many people will follow a trend that may display their worst attribute. That’s how buzz marketing works. It’s tribal. It’s older than religion. Natural selection. Better to submit than to stick your neck out.

A recent example is, “You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists.” This is the most absurd non-sequitur of the twenty-first century. Either you’re with the greedy bully, or you’re with the murderers. As if it were impossible to disagree with both sides. Yet it worked wonderfully well. Got rid of most fence sitters. Intimidation coated with patriotism. Of course, the “bad” guys are using the same trick. People who analyze the situation rationally, like Susan Sontag, who nailed it right off the bat (seventh piece down here) in the New Yorker, are outcasts. Emily Dickinson said it best, in her short poem Much Madness..
scott pallackPerson was signed in when posted
04:39 AM ET (US)
If it keeps Alias on the air, I'm all for it.
Gary FarberPerson was signed in when posted
03:21 AM ET (US)
Crap. That is, I posted about this here.
Gary FarberPerson was signed in when posted
03:20 AM ET (US)
I posted about this here.

"The difference is that grassroots projects are started by people who genuinely admire the thing they promote; astroturf projects are started by people paid to pretend that they admire the thing they promote."

That's fair enough, up to a point, but it seems to me that "astroturf" campaigns will obviously fail if people aren't genuinely voluntarily excited by the subject of the campaign, and that once they are, whether or not a commercial enterprise kick-started the campaign becomes irrelevant. My impression is that the Alias campaign isn't causing people who aren't fans of the show to pretend to be fans of the show. Am I missing something?

In other words, I agree with what Jonathan Rouse said.

It's also not clear to me that "these are weird weird days" because people with a commercial interest are telling other people how to spread word about something they like. Hasn't this gone on for centuries, and probably millenia? Is the fact that the net is being used what makes it "weird weird days"? If so, how?

Is telling people where to go to spread word about something they like actually an evil thing just because it helps sell something these people actually like? If I suggested people go to Amazon and various newsgroups and websites to plug "Down and Out...," would that be wrong of me? Or is it only if you paid me to publicize your book like that that it would be wrong? If people didn't like the book, or whatever the subject of such a campaign, how would such an endeavor succeed, or matter?
bakedporkbunPerson was signed in when posted
10:25 PM ET (US)
the future is now. I work at a branding and marketing firm and we are starting to be overwhelmed by this sort of subviral marketing stuff.

I think the corporate paid for "fake ad parodies" are the worst, but the whole pretend or "guided" grass roots movement thing is pretty insidious.

I think it's interesting that people are doing it for free. Nike, NBC, Fox, Microsoft, Disney... all of them should be paying us to pimp their product. Insteead we feel priveleged to war their stuff and will pay a premium for it.

If we are going to continue growing more and more towards advertainment and advertorials... let's be honest about it make sure that everyone gets a piece of the action.

Or... we will evolve into a culture of beings who live "secret product pimp" lives. A few outsiders will start to get the same schwag that celebrities and popular people get from the corporations, all they have to do is say that they love it.

these are weird weird days friends
Edited 01-11-2003 10:27 PM
Dan SicklesPerson was signed in when posted
08:59 PM ET (US)
This is what happens when someone reads 'Gonzo Marketing' and doesn't quite get it.
Edited 01-11-2003 09:00 PM
Jonathan RousePerson was signed in when posted
08:46 PM ET (US)
I don't see anything empirically wrong with teaching people who love something (a show, a book, a movie, a broadway play, a band) how to promote it so that there is a greater chance it won't get cancelled, thus rewarding the fans of that thing. If you are crazy enthusiastic about something, wouldn't you be delighted to evangelize its existence? What difference does it make who's paying the people who train you how to do it, the end result is, Alias fans (I'm not one, FWIW) get to convert more people to this show that they love. At the end of the day, if the show isn't interesting, the newly converted won't watch it, and it doesn't matter. This is essentially just a way of using new media to get greater exposure for fringe shows, which seems fine to me. The fact that someone, somewhere is paying for it doesn't bother me, provided that the messages of how great it is are stemming from actual fans of the show.
incuBLOGulaPerson was signed in when posted
07:27 PM ET (US)
astroturf projects are another word for viral marketing tactics. It's happening a lot more than you might think.
BryantPerson was signed in when posted
04:39 PM ET (US)
Hm. OK, I understand the distinction there. The Alias one still strikes me as a borderline case, since the marketing firm themselves aren't pretending or encouraging people to pretend to like the product.

Obviously this is all horribly relevant to the concept of reputation capital...

Is it the case that reputation capital as we envision it includes the assumption that reputation capital is more valuable when it comes unprompted? To keep on picking on Cory, is there a difference between Cory saying "Someone did a web ring, cool!" and Cory saying, to someone who liked the book, "Maybe you should do a web ring..."?

I think there probably is.
Cory DoctorowPerson was signed in when posted
04:11 PM ET (US)
Bryant, I think you've answered your own question. The difference is that grassroots projects are started by people who genuinely admire the thing they promote; astroturf projects are started by people paid to pretend that they admire the thing they promote.
anildashPerson was signed in when posted
03:14 PM ET (US)
Separate from the distinctions of "legitimacy", this campaign's nothing new from a marketing standpoint. I used to work in music marketing, and online street teams were an understood part of every campaign as far back as 7 or 8 years ago.

I'd guess that half of the AOL chat rooms dedicated to certain bands or artists are created by people either hired by or encouraged by the major labels to promote a record. The name "street team" is derived from the nanme for people paid to plaster promotional posters and signs up around cities in advance of a new release.
BryantPerson was signed in when posted
03:12 PM ET (US)
OK, this is a deliberately contrarian question, because I'm interested in the answers:

How does encouraging Alias fans to talk about the show differ from promoting a Web ring dedicated to your new book?

I.e., where's the line between acceptable grassroots marketing and unacceptable grassroots marketing? Is it whether or not someone other than the creator is getting paid to do it? I.e., is the Alias marketing bad because they hired a marketing firm to push the message to the "tastemakers"?

I think there's a pretty clear line between pretending you like a given product and really liking a given product, but the Alias campaign seems not to cross that line.


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