06 August 2009

[marketing] WTF Is 230, or, When Viral Marketing Is Just Fricking Annoying

2186.So, you and me and everyone we know have seen the cryptic ads. An electrical outlet afloat in an endless sea of green. A peppy jingly tune that's kind of catchy. As the numbers "3" then "2" bumble into the screen and bump the outlet aside, it animates into a face, which is startled, then smiling, then winks at you as the numbers "8 • 11" materialize below.

And that's all you know about it. You've Googled 'til you're blue in the fingers; you've actually had to slow down your acquisition of the movie Knowing via BitTorrent and completely stop downloading internet pr0n, you're so obsessed.

Ad Age has some meat for us: the power behind the campaign seems to be General Motors. The debut of whatever it is on 11 August might be a hybrid car with an MPG rating of 230 – or it might not. Unless it is or, of course, it isn't. Though it probably is.

Who knows? Who cares?.

Take it as a mark of suspicion on my part that the link to the above Ad Age article comes via a blog calling itself http://whatis230.blogspot.com, a blog whose URL is conveniently similar to the meme's information-free homepage, http://whatis230.com, and just-as-conveniently anonymous.

God, I've begun to be tired of viral marketing. The fact that this campaign is spinning its wheels, kind of, as a viral phenom and that it's really seeming to irk people is comfort – but cold comfort. G4's Attack of the Blog:

But what happens if a viral campaign is just so mysterious that it leaves the public completely confused? Today we're marking the creepy "What Is 230" campaign as this week's Actual Moments in De-Evolution, since the empty website, complete lack of information (despite all the Googling you can do) and annoying presence on Hulu, baseball games, Twitter and billboards everywhere goes to show that sometimes being a little too cutting edge in marketing can send you back to the Dark Ages.

Hey, 230 people. Slow down. Evolve on the same speed as the rest of us. Your viral campaign isn't working because we're only spreading the confusion rather than hype over a new product. And the lack of hints just makes us tired of trying to figure this thing out.

So what is 230? No idea. Some people are speculating a new hybrid vehicle debuting in August 2010 or August 11th, smart people believe it's connected to the American electric grid and others (like me) are predicting the zombie apocalypse via electrical outlets. Beware the electric undead!

Now, I'm not really that much against viral marketing, if you make it entertaining enough, and don't make it kind of an insult to the intelligence. I've bitched to my friends for years about his compulsion we have to make everything an advertising opportunity. But a viral marketing campaign done well, just like any other art form done well, is a thing of beauty (I'm not necessarily the audience for every advertisement out there but I do enjoy it when an ad campaign is executed with deft hands).

This is not a viral campaign done well. It smacks of the same sort of cynicism that I sensed behind the misguided campaign I heard of a few years back to turn Showgirls into a cult-party movie, complete with people dressing the part of thier favorite character. It was call smug, clever artifice. And right now, GM is patting itself on the back, smugly congratulating itself.

Me, as well as you and everyone we know, have been viral-advertised to death. We've seen clever and we've seen cleverer. This is what they call in the Empire too clever by half. What viral marketers need to begin understanding is that we all know that you are trying to get us to deliver to you some of our time and attention – two things that once we give up, we don't get back. If you're going to divert our attention with viral ads, make them good. Acknoweledge our intellect. Don't just toss out a catch phrase, mystifying visuals, info-free websites, and anthropomorphic smiles. If you're going to bury the treasure, make it findable, otherwise – we'll just get kinda pissed off at you.

I mean, already I'm feeling herded. How do I now that they didn't want some irritated, little-read blogger to write about it? But I do have a strong feeling about this. And if you think about it, how do I know that the WhatIs230 blog wasn't simply set up by someone in GM's marketing arm? How do I know that they didn't get Ad Age to contact the right people? How do you know that I didn't do this at GM's behest?

Well, I'd tell you that I'm not making any money off this. Believe me. I'm still struggling.

But we get advertised at so much, how do we trust anyone anymore?

Do you see where I'm going with this?

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pril said...

they're using some funky math to achieve this mileage (230 mpg). eh.. whatever. If it brings GM back from the grave... where it's been languishing for 30 years, moaning and crying like a zombie, itself... squeezing out year after year of giant, ugly turds...

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

I noticed that too. Something about weighting the amount of city driving one is likely to do in that car against highway, because you're more likely to do city driving in such a car.

It'd be nice if that brought GM back from the grave. Damn skippy it ain't going to be their marketing, which has a tin ear, and all the while they're giving themselves hearty slaps on the back for being so inscrutable.