Home  › Marketing › Strategies

Authenticity, Transparency, and Stealth Advertising

  |  September 26, 2006   |  Comments

Is the risk worth the buzz?

The latest controversy about lonelygirl15 on YouTube has really forced the authenticity and transparency issue to the forefront of online marketers' minds. For those who may not have heard the news, here's a brief recap:

Lonelygirl15 is the YouTube screen name of a 15-year-old girl, commonly known as Bree, who's been keeping a video diary of her life. She found celebrity status discussing her conflicted romantic feelings about her friend Daniel, rebellion against her parents, and the fact her parents don't know about her video blog. All told, her channel has had over 3.5 million views and over 41,000 subscribers as of last week. (For the record, the most popular commercial on YouTube is the Sony Bravia spot which also has 3.5 million views.) Lonelygirl's completely viral popularity has boosted her to celebrity status -- all from several videos she made in her bedroom. Many loved the videos' voyeuristic quality. They felt they were sneaking a peek into an authentic person, the trials and tribulations of a teen.

Or so they thought.

As it turns out, lonelygirl is a young, out-of-work actress named Jessica Lee Rose, who was working with three filmmakers. They were exposed recently when some fans began to suspect Bree wasn't a real person. Loyal viewers felt tremendous betrayal, the unwritten truth and generosity rule of blogging and social media was ignored. Rose was quoted in "Forbes" as saying, "I can understand their disappointment. I'm sure they did invest a lot of time in the lonelygirl15 videos. I feel bad that they invested in it emotionally and were disappointed."

Marketers and commercialism were blamed and now the issue is in the headlines. That's a good thing.

The lonelygirl case raises important issues for advertisers surrounding transparency and disclosure. When I discussed it with Misha Cornes, our director of strategy and executive editor of our blog, he said, "The Web to date has been mostly about real communication between people and communities, especially on most Web 2.0 platforms. Authenticity is paramount, particularly for teens."

He's right.

Fake consumer-generated-media (CGM) is a dangerous business for marketers. Our company belongs to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, and according to the WOMMA Code of Ethics, written in 2005, the guidelines are clear:

  • Consumer Protection Comes First: Marketers must extend special care to go above and beyond to ensure that consumers are protected and never deceived.

  • Disclosure is Always Necessary: Marketers must always provide clear and unambiguous disclosure of their participation in word of mouth conversations and consumer-driven media.

The question we must ask ourselves, and the ultimate lesson the lonelygirl campaign teaches us, is,: "Is the risk associated with potentially being exposed and alienating your audience worth the buzz your brand may receive?" The correct answer always lies in respecting your consumer: no. Using social media to deliver pure marketing content is dangerous. Consumers are smart, and they have the communication channels and skills to expose what you're doing, particularly if it becomes successful.

Mess it up and the backlash will be devastating.

ClickZ Live Toronto Twitter Canada MD Kirstine Stewart to Keynote Toronto
ClickZ Live Toronto (May 14-16) is a new event addressing the rapidly changing landscape that digital marketers face. The agenda focuses on customer engagement and attaining maximum ROI through online marketing efforts across paid, owned & earned media. Register now and save!*
*Early Bird Rates expire April 17.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Kingdon Mark Kingdon joined Organic as CEO in 2001 and has led the company to its current position as a leading digital marketing agency. Prior to Organic, Mark worked for Idealab and provided strategic guidance to emerging companies. Earlier, he was a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers, where he led the America's retail and distribution industry practice and managed the PWC and Lybrand merger and was a leader in the e-business practice globally. Mark is a member of the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences and serves as a Webby judge. He's also a regular contributor to Three Minds, Organic's blog. Mark received his MBA from the Wharton School of Business and a BA in Economics from UCLA.

COMMENTSCommenting policy

comments powered by Disqus

Get the ClickZ Marketing newsletter delivered to you. Subscribe today!

COMMENTS

UPCOMING EVENTS

Featured White Papers

ion Interactive Marketing Apps for Landing Pages White Paper

Marketing Apps for Landing Pages White Paper
Marketing apps can elevate a formulaic landing page into a highly interactive user experience. Learn how to turn your static content into exciting marketing apps.

eMarketer: Redefining Mobile-Only Users: Millions Selectively Avoid the Desktop

Redefining 'Mobile-Only' Users: Millions Selectively Avoid the Desktop
A new breed of selective mobile-only consumers has emerged. What are the demos of these users and how and where can marketers reach them?

Jobs

    • Contact Center Professional
      Contact Center Professional (TCC: The Contact Center) - Hunt ValleyLooking to join a workforce that prides themselves on being routine and keeping...
    • Recruitment and Team Building Ambassador
      Recruitment and Team Building Ambassador (Agora Inc.) - BaltimoreAgora, www.agora-inc.com, continues to expand! In order to meet the needs of our...
    • Design and Publishing Specialist
      Design and Publishing Specialist (Bonner and Partners) - BaltimoreIf you’re a hungry self-starter, creative, organized and have an extreme...