A couple of weeks ago, a new video shot to the top of the 'most viewed' list on YouTube. It was ten seconds in length and was utterly benign. In other words, it was just like the other zillion young talking heads in front of a webcam. Why, then, did this young woman named Kallie (with a YouTube account called GreenTeaGirlie) garner 268,653 views (according to Utility Belt, who otherwise misses the point, the video got about 215,000 views in the first two days)? View spam. Unethical marketers, presumably with green tea to promote, apparently used auto-refresh software and fake accounts to ratchet up the number of views and subscribers. As always happens, the YouTube community detected this bold and ill-advised deception, and piled in with a schwack of nasty comments. Here's a quick sampling:
Viral marketing sucks. So why make the whole YouTube community go mad over this?
OMG OMG! You are like the Mostest AWESOMENEST ever! I am going to call all the TV stations and newspapers in my area and let them know of this AMAZING discovery!!
i hate you already.
You get the idea. Kallie replied with a pretty vague, denial-free follow-up. If she wasn't, in fact, a marketing shill, I would have expected some moral indignation.
No one has owned up to this particular campaign. About ten days after the fiasco, Dragonwater Tea Co. registered the domain www.greenteagirlie.com. I suspect this is just opportunism. The folks behind this project are clearly dimwitted, but you'd hope they'd register associated domain names before launching.
The situation presents an interesting conundrum for the marketers behind the project. On the one hand, their original plan backfired gloriously. On the other hand, they have the attention of about 250,000 people, which doesn't come cheap. Is there a way for them to come clean, apologize, save a little face and still come out ahead? Maybe they should post an apology video, and send free green tea to the first 10,000 YouTubers who comment on it? Or, as James suggested when we were chatting about this, they could use the opportunity to crowdsource their next marketing campaign so they don't mess up again.
It's a risky proposition, but if their product and company is new and relatively unknown, it might be worth the gamble. In the worst case scenario, they close up shop and re-launch with a newly-branded, squeaky clean green tea.