Social-networking service Friendster has partnered with DreamWorks to promote the movie Anchorman by posting profiles of the film’s characters on its Web site.
Anchorman takes place in 1970s San Diego, and follows what happens when top-rated TV anchorman Ron Burgundy has to share his newsroom with ambitious feminist reporter Veronica Corningstone. The Friendster profiles include fictitious details about the characters’ lives: Burgundy’s interests include “the ladies” and “personal grooming,” and Corningstone describes herself as “living on a diet of Tab and ambition.”
The promotion’s launch comes at a critical time for Friendster, which recently hired former NBC Entertainment president Scott Sassa as its chief executive. The deal is the firm’s latest step towards developing its ad-supported business model.
“This is a sign of things you’ll see down the road: new products and features wrapped around this concept of groups,” said Friendster spokeswoman Lisa Kopp.
And this is a road Friendster is eager to travel: eight more profiles for characters from Sony Pictures’ upcoming feature Little Black Book are due to go online this week.
But will this type of campaign hold up as a viable business model for the social networks?
“This is the kind of thing that gets media attention the first couple of times it happens,” said Nate Elliott, associate analyst at Jupiter Research. “[Friendster] still needs to fundamentally figure out what its business is.”
Analysts question whether the profiles will really boost the movie’s profile. “[DreamWorks] needs people to be saying they saw [the movie] and that it was funny. The Friendster angle here is more marketing than credibility,” said Dave Balter, founder and president of word-of-mouth marketing and research firm BzzAgent.
The sponsored profiles have also raised questions about how people will differentiate between them and actual profiles. Currently, the fake profiles look the same as real ones. However, Friendster is considering labeling the sponsored profiles with identifying graphics or text. And banner ads currently placed around the site will point users to the profiles “as part of the movie experience,” Kopp said.
“I think there are very few people who think it’s the real Ron Burgundy,” she said.
Balter disagreed. “[Reading the profile,] it wasn’t clear to me that it wasn’t Will Ferrell, or Ron Burgundy in this case. There are people out there who this isn’t obvious to,” he said. “The core value in this is only going to be realized if people are going to be honest about what they’re doing. If it’s kept pure and people know that they’re creating a friend group around [the movie], it should be fine.”
Balter also predicted a backlash against Friendster’s turnaround on its no-fake-profiles policy.
“People will say, ‘Oh, you as Friendster say you’re going to kick everybody out who says they’re Jesus [Christ], but you’re going to accept money to make fake profiles,'” he said.
However, some users seem to have embraced the fake profiles. Since its posting over a week ago, 317 users have signed up to be Burgundy’s “friends,” and a number of users have created fake fake profiles of Burgundy. That level of engagement, coupled with the number of testimonials generated, would be one measure of the campaign’s success, Kopp said.
“Users get jazzed and enthused to see the movie and spread the word. It’s about sharing information, getting connected to certain things and sharing them with their friends,” she said.
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