The manipulators

Nobody likes being lied to or manipulated. Marketers have done it for generations, and now they’re doing it online with more skill than ever before.

Where is Tania?

She just sent me the following note (slightly edited):

I am an intern at …My boss Laura just asked me to get the word out about our Podcast interview with … a Sausalito agency that is putting brands like Toyota, American Eagle and Adidas into the virtual world.

Laura told me that if I was cool about it then you might actually check out this Podcast at…

Look, I like this job so any help you can give me would be appreciated.



Is this spam? Of course it is. Targeted spam, but still spam. I wrote back to Talia… her email bounced. Is there really a Tania?

Then I found a blog that had hit high on Digg today. It was a rant about flooding YouTube with spam. The thing is, the rant was sort of dumb and ill-thought through, and the blogger had more than 20 comments, with more than 95% pointing out what a yutz he was. Yet he had hundreds of Diggs. How? He had manipulated the system, pushed himself up to the top of the chart in a successful attempt to get a bunch of traffic to his site (and probably to promote the very videos he was ranting about).

If you only need to influence 500 people (or 10 people pretending to be 50 different people each) in order to show up on the screens of tens of thousands people… that’s too tempting for most capitalists to ignore (politicians are next, for sure).

Every day, there are literally hundreds of ad agencies working hard, trying to figure out how to slip corporate ideas into the system under the guise of it being homemade and real. They don’t have remarkable products or services, they don’t have clients willing to reconsider what it is they actually produce, so they’re busy trying to break the community systems online to help them (selfishly) succeed.

When a kid in New Jersey does the Numa Numa song, it’s poignant and funny and yes, remarkable. When an ad agency creates 100 variations of a gimmicky video hoping to hit the Digg jackpot, it just feels wrong.

As the ‘bestseller’ lists on YouTube and Reddit and other places become more and more important, they’re also going to become less useful. Less useful because the manipulators are way more focused and earnest than the typical consumer, and they’ll figure out a way to get under whatever radar gets installed.

At some point, it’s going to come down to who we trust. We didn’t trust Beechnut after we find out they put water in the apple juice. We didn’t trust Audi for a decade, even though there wasn’t anything actually wrong with their car. And we won’t trust Enron, Worldcom or Adelphia with our money for a long time to come.

It’s not just that this sort of deception is morally wrong. It’s also stupid. It’s stupid because it poisons the water supply for everyone, including the marketers who are busy doing it. Instead of realizing that they have an incredible playground in which to launch things that are truly innovative, they’d rather kill it by bending (or breaking) the rules.

It’s too bad, really.

And the upside? The upside is that individuals (and organizations) that don’t stoop, that manage to figure out how to have influence without trying to profit from it, those brands are the ones that will last, that will thrive and that will bring the rarest commodity–trust–to the table.