Honesty / Is such a lonely word / Why are people so untrue?
The other day I was in the bookshop, working on maintaining what I like to think of as my record collection. When this pretty savvy young fellow, I dunno, maybe 19 years of age, came up to me. Think Freddie Prinze Jr. - if you remember him - as a bookish type, and as less of a tool. We'd spoken before, hadn't we, he asked. Sure, I said. You were the guy who wanted that Of Montreal disc. Right, he said. Well I just wanted to tell you about this band called The M__________, and you can see their site on MySpace, and listen to one of their songs. Then this kid makes to leave. Thanks, I said, writing it down.
Whereupon I was struck with the feeling that I'd just been viral-marketed to.
Viral marketing, for those who might not have heard of it, is basically a marketing strategy that avoids typical media and techniques: 30 second spots on radio and TV stations, for instance, or billboards. Viral marketing might be, oh, the Blair Witch Project website which treated the fictional characters in that movie as real people who'd really gone missing in the woods of Maryland; the film garnered a lot of initial interest around the question regarding the real / unreal nature of the film, which might not have been horror but rather a documentary.
Another form of viral marketing is word-of-mouth. Read about it at the New York Times this morning - nytimes.com. I'd link to it myself but I'm on a Mac, and certain Blogger functions seem to be disabled. Word-of-mouth advertising, these days, is no longer the "if you like it tell your friends" variety that you might expect. Word-of-mouth advertising now strives to find people who are already dedicated fans of a product, service, or group, and seeks to gives them the opportunity to convey their enthusiasm, which again is an original, honest enthusiasm, to others. Companies who know what's good for them are striving to harness the ground-level excitement their product might inspire and use it to advertise further.
I'm giving a very basic overview of how this works, w/o examples or much in the way of evidence, mainly because I'm under time constraints this morning. I realize that if one of my students had written one of the sentences I've written here this morning, I'd've written all kinds of "EVIDENCE??" and "VAGUE - be specific" and "I'm NOT convinced yet!" statements in the margins. But I wanted to phrase this question here on the site because it seems bound up with the very issues of honesty and cynicism, sincerity and falsehood, which I often find myself returning to. One important point here however is that the way in which advertisers influence this process, the point at which they step into the equation, is via language; they share via email or text message or press kit the certain phrases and which, and I'm not quoting anything directly here, sort of "help you find the right way to express your excitement" for whatever it is you're excited about.
Is there anything wrong morally from the company's point-of-view when they find a way to tap into these veins of consumer excitement? I don't think so. The reason why not is that said excitement is already there. No one's drumming up *false* excitement or *coercing* enthusiasm somehow.
But from a more personal standpoint, it's disheartening if not alarming that it occurs to me, knowing what we know now about how advertising and marketing works, that the possibility must be considered whenever a person conveys a jones for X new band or Y new brand of sausage that that person might not be considered a fully independent agent.
And there's the rub. Because *isn't* the person being honest? Isn't the person independent? The person isn't being paid, isn't being obligated to go to bat at all. Isn't the person merely conveying the enthusiasm for X or Y which that person already had? I go to bat all the time, on this site and elsewhere, for those bands and bars and et cetera I believe in and love. Every person alive does this to some degree. But now, with this new possibility of band- or bar- or sausage-related conversation having its roots not in a completely autonomous process - even though the ORIGINAL enthusiasm is self-derived and truly honest - one must weigh from whence this excitement comes.
Or maybe one mustn't. Maybe one needs to give friends old and new the same benefit of the doubt that I got when I was in line at Penn Station the morning after the Event and I needed to get to the head of the line that instant if I was to make my northbound train. Maybe this issue and that issue are related in that we can't afford to be, or maybe just should try not to be, so skeptical of others.
This weekend I relocate upstate, where I'll sock away some money, re-establish a routine of running and writing, and eat Quaker oats. It's the right thing to do.