Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Viral marketing and propaganda -- The Cloverfield campaign

The upcoming release of the film Cloverfield has provided me with a fun distraction of late. The back-story that apparently is included with the film is interesting and deep, there is mystery surrounding the entire project and driving the online chatter about the film is a series of websites that are directly connected to main and subplots of the story. Following the story online we have the chance to see the present day in a past tense manner. It is also a chance to see a well-tuned online viral marketing campaign in action.

Viral marketing interests me because it works by exploiting social networking and the desire of people to conform and follow what is popular. It is a method of social control even if the goal is to simply make millions of dollars on a movie. The thing that fascinates me the most about these campaigns is that many people will still follow the marketing script even if they know for a fact that it is a manufactured process. When government propaganda is exposed for what it really is, the effect upon the citizenry is opposite; they feel duped and begin to swing their beliefs in the opposite direction. I often wonder if that point of critically, the point where citizens turn against the propaganda fed to them, has also been engineered. In this day and age, there is very little difference in the methodology between creating and waging a viral marketing campaign to advertise a movie, and creating and waging government sponsored propaganda to advertise going to war. The only real difference is the subject matter.

Viral marketing relies on people disseminating information about the product to people within their social network. Propaganda relies on the citizenry discussing the points of the propaganda with people within their social network as well. Viral marketing relies on peer pressure to help sell their product to people within the network because they want to fit in. Propaganda relies on citizens not questioning the “right” nature of what the propaganda sells by threat of ostracization from American society and the dreaded taunt of treason being thrown around.

When I was growing up this was simply called a fad. That is probably what it was called when you were in your teenage years. Clothing, music, language and pop culture tastes were determined by the sine wave of fads. Now, the medium for disseminating information has changed and we have the Internet and text messaging to speed the process and make it all encompassing. 23 years ago all it took was one Bruce Springsteen video and everybody simply had to have a jean jacket. Even then it still had no effect on people living in the suburbs and rural America, people who had no access to cable TV. Now, even my Mother can surf the web and she does indeed surf, even if it is only a dialup account.

The term viral marketing is itself a new term. First coined in 1996 by a Harvard Business School professor, it’s roots lie with media critic Douglas Rushkoff who wrote about advertisers infecting susceptible users and spreading the infection among other users. The spread could be charted long before the actual “infection” took place by using statistical analysis and the entire process could be tweaked for maximum effect by the marketer, even as the campaign was being run. Our self-awareness, or rather, the awareness of us by marketers and advertisers, is astounding.

Of course the irony of this posting is that I may be contributing to the viral marketing process by advertising the film and giving my reasons for wanting to follow the campaign. In effect, I could be feeding the beast intentionally. Then again, some unknowing traveler in cyberspace may see this posting and become enlightened to the interconnection of marketing campaigns and propaganda. Who knows?

Will I be a big fat hypocrite and see the movie? Probably. I have had a life-long love of horror movies featuring giants that goes back to my days of watching Shock Theater on WTVC in Chattanooga. I saw all of the giant monster movies on that show; King Kong, Son of Kong, The Mighty Joe Young. It Came From Beneath The Sea, Konga and all the Godzilla movies. I even remember seeing The Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman and feeling that pre-pubescent attraction to actress Allison Hayes in the title role. Talk about great legs. I even use my old VCR from time to time just so I can watch War Of The Gargantuas.

I’m also a big time sucker for any movie or book that requires in-depth study of specially written and complex encyclopedias and bibles to follow the back-story. I often wonder if this is the prime reason why I follow conspiracy theories and the high weirdness subjects. There are tons of back-story in them to sift through and in the end there is a monster to face.

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