Steer Clear of the Viral Marketing Mind Freak
Have you ever watched “Criss Angel Mindfreak”? I was turned on to the program as something to watch when you want to get so mad it feels good. In watching just one episode, I saw straight through several illusions — clunky, awkward, silly illusions.
If Criss Angel does it for you, then stop reading this now. But if you don’t plan to take my playful Criss-bashing personally, read on for what I think we can learn from this entertainer’s pseudo skills.
So back to that episode. There was this one trick — man, I wish I could find a video online! — where Angel was walking alongside a baseball diamond, all slow and pensive like. He was tossing a baseball up in the air… up and down… up and down.
Each step was drawn out to heighten the drama. What would he do next? Uh, more walking. This is getting old, right? Thankfully, someone in production fast forwards the walking until Criss gets to a large billboard.
Now he takes the baseball in his hand and starts tossing it against the billboard. Once. Twice. Three times. Four. He grips his baseball and knocks it against the post of the sign a couple times. It resonates with a hollow, metallic “clink clink!”
Criss steps behind the post. He takes a shoulder-width stance, wraps his arms around the pole, and then proceeds to wiggle his body right through the post. His face is tight with a grimace of pain. He makes guttural noises that seem to echo from his soul. And then, as if the solid metal post bent to his will, he’s on the other side of the sign, having mysteriously defied the laws of physics.
The key to blowing open this illusion is noticing the things that just don’t resonate as real. That fast forwarding during his lazy stroll to the sign? A cover for the edit that pastes together film of Angel walking alongside a baseball diamond and film of him in front of a green screen.
His bouncing the ball against the sign? Can’t pull a fast one on me, Angel. Green screen technology isn’t flawless and I can usually detect the glowing outline people appear to have. Sound effects created the illusion that the sign and its posts were really there. The whole trick was done thanks to CGI and the distance created by television viewing. Ain’t no magic in that.
“Wow, I guess Virginia doesn’t like Criss Angel! Is that what this is about?” you ask. Yeah, I guess I went far into detail there. But Angel needs to learn that he’s performing to an intelligent audience. A lot of us are wise to these tricky ways, and they’re not going to be fooling anyone for very long.
At NPR.org last week, blogger Linda Holmes wrote about the fading effect of “viral” marketing.
Now, most of us define viral marketing as content that spreads through online social interactions between friends and colleagues. But marketers in traditional channels like TV and print are extending the definition for their own benefit to include any marketing that doesn’t come out and say what’s being marketed. The hope is that such messages will spark curiosity and interest.
Problem is, we’ve caught on to this sleight of hand. And it’s not going to work much longer:
In order to work, campaigns like this one have to spark bafflement, and bafflement is harder to come by as more and more such campaigns are undertaken. When we reach a point of full-on “When in doubt, suspect viral marketing” savvy, the whole thing is over.
[...] You might be mildly curious, but you know you’re hearing a pitch, so you have your skeptical-consumer hat on from the beginning. And as you know, your authentic-curiosity hat and your skeptical-consumer hat cannot be worn simultaneously.
If we can learn anything from the dopey dark angel, it’s that we as an audience are smart, we’re real, and we’re looking for other smart and real people to relate to. If you’re hot on creating a piece of viral marketing gold, don’t be coy about what you have to offer a sophisticated audience. Don’t try to fool me into finding out more, only to be disappointed by a product or service I don’t care about.
Remember that the key to marketing magic isn’t in the trickery. It’s in the beauty of a spectacle that leaves me wanting more. So leave me wanting more of the real you.