Hacking the Kindness of Strangers
Last week I found myself in a guerilla marketing campaign that started while waiting for a friend on Granville St. here in Vancouver and ended up in the pages of the Globe and Mail. While not the most memorable affair, campaign for the Sumac Ridge winery left me thinking about subtle line that smart marketing can cross into bad experiences.
I found a notebook at a parking meter, and on its first page a note identifying it as a personal journal and imploring finders to contact @davidwicken on Twitter should it be found. I did so, saying:
@davidwicken I found your journal please contact me via my website to arrange dropoff.
and got a reply back through Twitter overnight:
@corvustweets Thank you so much! Email me at moc.egdircamusnull@aidem so we can take this offline? Thx.
I didn’t really pick up on the robotic response, so I wrote this email:
I found your journal yesterday and would like to arrange to drop it off. I’m not interested in the reward, so don’t worry about that. I work at Quebec and 2nd and make trips into Gastown a couple times a week. Let me know where you’re situated and we can work out a good place.
and then didn’t hear anything back until over a day later, this time from a Kate at local marketing agency, coletta & associates:
So you’re found the diary! Thanks so much! Please click this link for instructions on ways to collect your reward…
Please note: once you send in a note based on the instructions in the link, your reply will be in the queue, and we will get back to you. As you can imagine, we have had a terrific response to the promotion and we have many replies to make!
Thanks and we hope to meet you soon!
Great email: addressed to an anonymized list (and not an individual), and no reference to the actual content of my attempt to do some good. To top it off, a self-congratulatory note about how great the response has been. You can see easily that it’s all about them, not you.
The email does marginally indicate that this is a promotion, but by this time I’d seen in @davidwicken’s tweets that I wasn’t the only one who found his journal.
The Twitter stream had been posturing as an individual genuinely concerned about his lost diary:
Still looking for my #diary – beginning to lose hope! Pic of my lost poster at Broadway&Willow. Has ANYONE seen it? http://pic.gd/be8213
I felt like I’d been played the fool, and asked them to come clean:
@davidwicken So did my good intentions get punked for a marketing initiative? Please reply to my email, I’d like to clear this up.
They never replied, and deleted their previous tweet to me about finding the journal. Shortly after, Simon Houpt from the Globe got in touch and now you’re back to the start of this post where I linked to his article.
Had I looked into the diary I when I first found it I would have seen all sorts of wine marketing literature and clued in, but by respecting the privacy of David Wicken, who doesn’t actually exist, I didn’t get that right away, which brings us to misstep #1: the unanticipated use case where someone doesn’t look inside, doesn’t correct their perception, and ends up following an assumption and feeling foolish.
Misstep #2 was working too hard to make David real: the Sumac Ridge twitter stream posits him as an employee:
Our assistant winemaker, David Wicken has lost his diary somewhere in Vancouver! If you find it, let him know @davidwicken. Thanks!
That, and an effort to maintain the reality of the persona through social media channels, led the campaign to break one of the first rules of social marketing: be genuine. What could have been a fun find and a warm introduction to Sumac Ridge ends up having all the heart of sending pretty people into bars to pretend to like lonely patrons only to steer them towards a brand of drink..
One can imagine the followups:
- Sign this petition for [insert cause here]… Thanks have you tried our toothpaste?
- Excuse me you just dropped something… it’s a coupon to try our energy drink!
- Can you help me find [local restaurant]? … I hear it’s great for tapas and meeting people under 30!
- I can’t find my child, he was last seen near a runaway hot air balloon..
Oh right, that last one happened, and we saw how well that played out. It’s unfortunate because there is some real cleverness at the heart of the campaign, as noted by Jon Mandell, a local marketer who found much to admire in the idea:
This campaign does a great job of tapping into the fascination with found objects that has swept the Web in recent years and leveraging it to drive traffic to the winery’s newly minted social media pages.
That brings us to the core of what I don’t like about the campaign: there’s something troubling about hacking the human inclination to help each other and in the implicit assumption that a private item lost is privacy lost, that it’s not only acceptable to read a found journal but it’s worthy of reward. Reveal yourself as the type of person who rifles through clearly personal items and interact with a fake person, get a bottle of wine. What a pitch.
What started as a neat hybrid offline and online experience sadly turned into a cynical manipulation good intentions, paving the highway to a bad outcome for Sumac Ridge.