When a friend posted a link to a Gawker Story about Alex from Target, alarm bells went off in the back of my mind. This could go on of two ways. Either it is next iteration of the Cheerlebrity Culture, or it was the beginning of a marketing-driven Lonelygirl15-like story.
Lets trigger some Mines!
It turns out that it is even worse. It was a stunt pulled by Dil-Domine Jacobe Leonares and his company Breakr. Based on Leonares's LinkedIn Post, Breakr planted pictures of "Alex" on Tumblr and created fake personas on Twitter. Than they waited until they were picked up unwitting "fangirls":
Yesterday, we had fun on Twitter with the hashtag #AlexFromTarget which ended up to be one of the most amazing social media experiments ever. We wanted to see how powerful the fangirl demographic was by taking a unknown good-looking kid and Target employee from Texas to overnight viral internet sensation.
Leonares' and Breakr's sexist ploy to exploit teen girls enthusiasm is the future of marketing. Like anti-personal mines scattered across the Cambodian country-side, "viral marketing agencies" are planting the seeds of future campaigns across the internet. They hire models from small towns, set up fake Tumblrs and Twitter accounts. These accounts mirror their target demographic: teen girls. Once someone makes the connection between their plants, they spring into action. They release retweet bots, post organic looking viral response videos, and export the trending topic to promote one of their clients.
This quote, again from Leonares' LinkedIn post, wreaks of Axe:
After the dust settles, there is a lesson to be made here; from brands, talent agencies, music labels and influencer marketing companies: if you can earn the love and respect from a global community such as the 'Fangirl' demographic - you can rally them together to drive awareness for any cause even if its to take a random kid from unknown to stardom over night.
In other words: Lets exploit these dumb bitches! Give them a a cute boy and they will give us a big roll of cash!
Breakr uses the labor and boundless enthusiasm of young girls to promote their clients work. He misinterprets teen girls love of Taylor Swift and One Direction like it is a business relationship. It is just another lead that can be registered in SalesForce for later. But fans have a deep emotional connection with the object of their fandom. Alex from Target only lived for a few days, but it is easy to see a scenario where a marketing firm catfishes a group of fans for months for a "viral" campaign.
The Anti-Marketing Land Mine Treaty
We will all forget about Alex from Twitter before the close of business Friday. But for normal people in digital marketing, and consumers there are some really important things we ought to take away from this non-sense:
Pump and Dump
At the dark edges of digital marketing, there is a methodology called "Pump and Dump." Like the stock market scam of the same name, a marketer will pump of a website using "black hat" SEO techniques and reap the monitory rewards until Google's anti-spam detection techniques find it. After the site gets delisted, the marketer dumps it for a new site. You see this kind of thing for Pay-Day loan and online pharmaceutical sites.
There is no long play for Alex from Target. Breakr pumped justenough resources into it. When the momentum stalled, they came clean.
Who would trust a brand they resorts to this kind of marketing. If this were a campaign by Target to get people in the door, would you be more or less limey to go there to buy diapers and tube socks?
Land Mining also great way to scare your target market off. If enough land mines go off, your target market will no longer venture into the field. They will second guess pseudo-anonymous online recommendations online.
Big brands like Target relay on building long-term relationships with their customers over time. Creating false engagement with a brand via a phony land mining campaign can only degraded a costumers trust.
Losing Our Limbs for Their Profit
All you have to is read the comments to Leonares' LinkedIn post to know there there are plenty of marketing hacks chomping at the bit to set up land mine networks. They love the idea. And they love the huge fees they will charge their clients when they start blowing off limbs.