Viral Advertising Alert!

March 10, 2009 at 2:31 pm (Percy) (, , , , , , , , , )

(this post makes up for my lack of post last week!)

I was bored while I was at uni yesterday during a break, and I had checked all my things that I wanted to check. I decided I’d do what I used to do several years ago, and check out the Featured Videos over on YouTube.

Featured videos are the videos that the YouTube staff decide are worth watching. It is through the Featured Video feature that I found Liam Kyle Sullivan’s infamous video Shoes:

Nothing controversial or opinionated gets featured; music videos, cute animals, comedians and so forth. It is a way that people with good content can get their video widely circulated, upping subscription numbers and fame. You are virtually guaranteed to get at least a thousand new viewers of your content. Thus, getting featured is usually a pretty big deal – Well, that’s what I thought, until I found this video:

This is Vanilla Ice, also known as Robert Van Winkle, apologising for pretty much everything. Seems like an interesting thing, no wonder it was featured! A pop star is apologising for his horrendous style and music choices, and the way he has lived his life in the public eye! Unprecedented!(?)

Right at the end of the video, there’s a link to a site called I thought to myself – is there a group of people dedicated to eliciting such apologies from pop stars? A community devoted to enhancing the quality of music by attacking the corporate machine?

The answer is, of course, no. If there is such a group, then I certainly haven’t heard of it (blogs ranting about the subject exempted, of course). Instead, I found that is an ad for Virgin Mobile. The Virgin mobile tag is displayed prominently upon entering the site, and on every page thereafter.

They have gone to extraordinary lengths to make it seem like a community. There is a ‘manifesto’, which reads:

“In a world awash with the insincerity of reality pop stars and pre-fabricated, formulaic, celebrity seeking, silicone enhanced lip sync-ers, something has gone desperately and dangerously wrong with music.

It’s time to make a stand. It’s time to remember that great music isn’t how it’s packaged; it’s how it sounds, how it feels and what it means to you as an individual.”

This kind of statement seems targeted at teenagers, those who want to talk about ‘real’ music and feel good that they don’t like the stuff that everyone tells them to like. They’re rebels, they judge music by what it means to them, they’re individuals with taste that is worth respecting! Music is such an important, wonderful experience (as it should be), and something is wrong with all these kids listening to their, their POP MUSIC!

There’s the story of Vanilla Ice, complete with YouTube-like presentation including the ability to make comments (though they are probably screened). There’s a chart where you can vote certain bands and performers as perpetrating ‘wrongs’, and a form to tell those in charge about other music you feel should be righted. Finally, there is a link to the Virgin Mobile ‘VFestival 09’, a music festival featuring acts such as The Killers, Snow Patrol and Kaiser Chiefs.

Virgin mobile is cleverly exploiting many things here – the fame and public perception of Vanilla Ice, the ease of sharing a viral video, and the ‘hidden’ advertising that is only revealed to those who are interested enough to check it out for themselves. The website itself uses many of the familiar tools used to construct internet communities, though at its heart it is an empty sham. Whilst Mr. Van Winkle’s apology might be heartfelt, it’s certainly not altruistic, motivated by a desire to improve the quality of music – he is rolling in a pile of money as we speak.

It totally worked on me. I now have seen Virgin Mobile’s advertising, and now you have too (haha!). Of all the things that bother me about this, however, is that it was featured on YouTube. When YouTube was bought out by Google, I hoped that it would not affect the way things were run. This was naive in the extreme, and now it appears they are helping other companies advertise by slipping in such videos inamongst the kinds of videos featured before the buy-out. Cute kitten! Awesome grandma! Science experiment! Music video! And now, introducing: Advertising! YouTube is certainly risking its credibility by making such a move, which is something they must manage to ensure their ability to facilitate similar campaigns in the future.

This clever manipulation of the internet generation is just the beginning of how advertising will work in the future as people use the internet more and more as their primary interface with the world.

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