Prattle & Jaw

Two blogs about a whole lot of nothing

Maybe it's Because I'm not a Dane

This whole Karen26 thing has got me thinking far too much. This is a revised post of, well a previous post, and hopefully it will stay this way and I can forget all about it. You’ve no doubt heard about Karen and her plight via YouTube to find the father of baby August, and most have heard that it was all a publicity stunt by Visit Denmark. If you haven’t, for some strange reason, there is some info here through which you can catch up.

This is the original video that sparked off the whole debate:

This is news coverage from TV2 News (in Danish) where Visit Denmark and Grey (the marketing company behind it) first own up to the video. It essentially says that yes, it was them, and that they saw it as the most effective and economic campaign they had ever done, as the whole world was now talking about it. They dismiss the argument that it shows Danish women in a negative light, arguing instead that it shows the opposite; a strong woman who is free to make choices, in a country that will support those choices, and provide her with the means through which to lead a comfortable life. Jonas Klit Nielsen (co-owner of Mindjumpers, a social media marketing company, the company who brought the story to light), is interviewed, who says that it’s wrong to trick people and ‘use’ their emotions through social media, and ultimately it will backfire, with consumers neglecting the product or brand, as all social media are based upon transparency and trust.

Thousands were fooled by the video (which Visit Denmark then removed from YouTube on Monday the 14th September), and many left personal and heartfelt comments to Karen, and the same people probably felt a little bit cheated when they found out that it was all a stunt. There is no doubt now, that the vast majority of people’s feelings lean somewhat towards the negative.

Of course, many female (and male) Danes are upset by the fact that it puts Denmark in a rather too liberal light; a sort of ‘come here, get drunk, meet a pretty Dane, have unprotected sex, and then get out before she wakes up’ light. Perhaps not quite how Danes want to be seen. Grey, the company behind the campaign, argue that she, Karen, is not meant to be shown as promiscuous, but rather as a product of a strong, liberal nation; a woman that is free to make her own choices, and be able to raise a child singly-handedly and life a comfortable lifestyle. Well….it almost got it right. The video has been parodied beyond count, with some pretty funny versions out there. Perhaps if they had chosen a slight less controversial topic other than one night stands, perhaps then we’d love it.

But another hot topic seems to be whether it was morally right or wrong to ‘fool’ people in this way, and play upon their emotions like that, especially on social media.

There is one view that says it was a brilliant campaign. Everyone is talking about it – it has reach that most brands only dream of. It’s not an actual product, so it’s not something that people can stop using, or buying. Yes, tourists can boycott Denmark over this, but, it’s really not very likely. If they came after Muhammed, they’ll come after Karen.

Consider the (almost legendary) marketing behind The Blair Witch Project, which was on a much larger and much more successful level. It fooled hundreds of thousands (including yours truly, hook, line and sinker), and thousands loved it. But wasn’t it then ethically wrong?

Speaking of Blair Witch, it’s the films 10 year anniversary, which was oddly remembered by a group of German filmmakers. The satirical film, ‘Short Cut to Hollywood’ is due for release in German theatres this month, and after spending months wondering what would be an original way to promote the film, they decide to fool Germany’s wire service in to reporting on a fake suicide bombing in California allegedly perpetrated by German rappers called the Berlin Boys. They set up a Web site for a fake California city called Bluewater, a site and Wikipedia entry for a fake TV station, k-VPK 7 News, and California phone numbers for 'public safety' officials that were actually being answered by hoaxsters in Germany using Skype. A hysterical ‘reporter’ from the fake TV contacted German newsrooms and reported the fake suicide attack. Then, Germany's DPA news service put the story on its newswire. Within 30 minutes, they realized their mistake and took it down, but it was already too late. The hoax has taken Germany by storm, with the media feeling a bit cheated and used, the public (both of Germany and Bluewater – which is actually a swath of land stretching over Arizona and California) amused, and the mastermind behind the campaign, Jan Henrik Stahlberg, being lauded for his audacity.

Interesting timing, really. What has left one country up in arms, has left another two shuffling their feet and having a giggle. OK – I admit, it’s not the same thing, but ethically….it kind of is. The big difference? The emotions behind it. Right?

If it had been funny, or really engaging, and not playing on such a delicate topic as babies/single parenthood, there’s something else as well….that’s right – not making Danish women look cheap, would I still be writing this? I don’t know. Maybe they just couldn’t think how on earth they were going to sell Denmark. I admit, at first glance, there’s not a lot. The Little Mermaid is just a tad passé, and it really is so little it’s almost a bit of a joke. But there are a lot of other things about Denmark that you could sell. Really there are.

But that’s another story.

The video didn’t hurt anyone or cheat anyone out of money. It did put some egg on people’s faces when they realised it was an advert, especially those who left comments, and forwarded it on to people in a kind hearted attempt to spread the word. But seriously, people. It could be a LOT worse. No one’s going to stop following you or remove you from their friend list just because you fell for it. There are plenty more fake videos out there that we all fall for, and we all just have a laugh about it. Hell, it’s even expected on one day of the year. But, this was an advert, with no clear sender (I thought condoms), and God only knows there was no clear message. Even if it did have Visit Denmark’ in flashing letters zipping across the screen, it would probably still be where it is today – content, Grey, content.

So what of this happening on social media, where consumers rule and are quick to shoot down anyone who dares….take the piss? The power of social media, or rather, the people, is clearly evident here. If we don’t like it, it won’t work. Simple as that. We’re not force fed adverts anymore, and it’s really, really, really about time that businesses realised that. You’re not ‘allowed’ to lie to the consumer, especially on social media. Your ‘product’ should be ‘visible’, or at least the sender. And we all know now that what we see on TV and in magazines (and so forth) are advertisements. We know not to believe everything we read (or see) because these are traditional media channels. But will social media never get to that point? I do wonder. I really do. I hope that the power of the people will continue, and that we as consumers really will continue to be king. But there is just this nagging person inside of me that can’t help but wonder if Visit Denmark were just the unlucky first in using YouTube as a buzz marketing channel. I hate buzz marketing. I really do. I remember talking about it in a class years ago, and being just disgusted I could be in a forum for computer games, and someone who I thought was just another person, was actually pimping some game for a company. It makes me think of some sort of corporate spin on an internet pedophile.

It’s wrong, it is, but the skeptic in me says it was just a matter of time before it came to YouTube. Social media might have been founded by you and me, on trust, transparency and honesty, but….this part of me just wonders if that will last. 

When you can’t open a magazine, or turn on the news, without seeing or hearing the word ‘Twitter’, when 600,000 tweets a day are brand orientated, when brands create blogs and Facebook pages – it would be madness to believe that the unwritten rules that once applied to social media would continue to rule. To believe everything you see on YouTube, or any social media platform, is just naivety. Social media are becoming well and truly social – in every sense of the word. A whole new society has emerged, and with that society, inevitably comes businesses. It’s becoming harder and harder (and will continue to do so) to be able to tell who is behind what on social media. When Sony made that horrific blog about the PSP, social media was still kind of young – for the people and by the people (that and the blog was just so incredibly lame, tacky, and obviously made by corporate suits who had no idea what to do). It’s it really the same even now? Marketing though social media will always be hard, it’ll never be easy – I don’t mean to imply that, or justify it. What I do mean is that there is a chance – just a chance – that social media might well fall victim to buzz marketing, and that Visit Denmark were just the inevitable unlucky first, who always get all the heat.

Copyright © 2014, Lara Mulady. All rights reserved.