Should Companies Quit “Murketing” Viral Videos?

Viral videos from giant corporations are a bit like a middle-aged vinyl salesman with a comb-over unsuccessfully trying to pick up 20-something babes at the club — then angrily denying that he’s embarrassed himself, even as they scatter.

The Wall Street Journal has a nice post-mortem on the potential brand damage done by BMW’s ill-conceived “Rampenfest” videos, supposedly a guerrilla-style documentary about a wacky Bavarian town trying to launch a BMW from a giant ramp, but really produced by an ad agency, GSD&M Idea City, to promote the upscale car corporation. Viewers started calling bull pretty early on, but the company refused to acknowledge its involvement, which only provoked more anger.

But is the PR damage as bad as the WSJ suggests?

Jossip thinks the real problem is that the videos were so obviously fake “only somebody missing his right ventromedial prefrontal cortex wouldn’t have figured it out.”

My take: BMW should have acknowledged their involvement with a coy wink by leaving hints that make discovery part of the fun. That’s the lesson learned by alternate reality games, which are usually sponsored by big companies like Microsoft or Disney but still enjoyed by millions. After all, Lost fans don’t complain that commercials for the Hanso foundation are fake. Hinting at their involvement is like the vinyl salesman saying, “Yes, I know I’m old and suck, but what the hell? Let’s have some fun anyway.” Who could resist then?

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