The “front page of the Internet” is the latest battle ground in the fight over control of global culture. Chinese tech giant Tencent recently invested $150m in Reddit. This investment sparked virtual protests and outrage across the social platform, with images of Tiananmen Square flooding Reddit’s front page. The threat of Chinese censorship was feeling all too real on a site that had historically embraced the extremes of free speech.
Reddit CEO Steve Huffman assured users that “Our governance didn’t change during this round, which means we didn’t add anyone to the board, and our policies won’t be changing either.”. That is likely true…for “this round”. The truth is, to really understand China’s influence over U.S. culture, Silicon Valley just needs to look south.
There is an ocean of data on the Internet, growing every second from both humans and bots. Most of this data is meaningless and harmless. It’s noise. But some of the data is harmful, intended to influence and misdirect public opinion. This harmful data appears authentic (fake news) which is why it’s so effective. Deep fakes are about to make the problem much worse.
For a politician, deep fakes might be one of the most terrifying technologies to emerge since the nuclear bomb. The AI-based technology can create illusions that seem as real as the nightly news. In fact, they could recreate the news with a completely fabricated narrative. It is no surprise that Congress has introduced a bill to regulate deep fakes.
Our brain, in its never-ending quest to preserve glucose, seeks shortcuts. If our brains didn’t do this, we would be paralyzed by every mundane choice. These shortcuts are known as heuristics, and heuristics are the cornerstone of marketing manipulation.
Kodak, originally known for still photography, transformed culture forever and set a precedent that would go on to last for over a generation. In 1891, Kodak released a transparent roll film, which inventor Thomas Edison used to develop the first motion picture camera.
Technical limitations often dictate a medium. Kodak’s film was created in the 4:3 aspect ratio. The decision by Edison to use Kodak’s film locked filmmakers and audiences into the 4:3 aspect ratio for over a century. Today, Instagram, with its release of IGTV, is following in Edison’s footsteps and solidifying a place in history for vertical video.
Who do you think has the top mobile payment app in the US?
Apple? Google? Maybe Samsung?
None of the above.
Of the 55 million Americans who used a mobile payment app this year, more than 40% will have done it on the Starbucks app.
It’s an amazing example of how a strong brand can drive technology adoption and new behaviors. Loyalty rewards, innovation and convenience brought the coffee shop into a technology leadership position.
But it’s not a strategy that can be readily copied.
Instead, it showshow far behind the US is in mobile payments. Starbucks’ brief dominance will be an interesting footnote in the march toward mobile payments as the shopping experience in the US is revolutionized. While the US struggles with chip credit card readers, we can see what that future looks like by looking into the crystal ball that is China.
Old Spice has done more for its brand appeal in the last week, double it in the last 24 hours, than any one could have imagined.
It all started with this:
12 million views since February.
Then, last week:
5.2 million views since June 29th, quickly becoming a social media favoriate. Then today… A surprise. It started on Twitter and quickly headed to Reddit, Digg, various blogs and beyond – The Old Spice Man was taking ‘requests’.
And boy, did he respond. Kevin Rose, Ashton Kutcher, Ryan Seacrest, Ellen, Perez Hitlon, The Huffington Post, Gizmodo, GQ, Starbucks, a guy proposing to his wife (She said yes) and TONS of other ‘regular’ people. Old Spice Man had witty, in character, remarks for them all.
The target wasn’t just individuals but also communities, who similarly responded in droves. Over 2,000 upvotes on Reddit (A handful of Redditors got their question answer by The Man) and over 4,500 Diggs (The Man sent a sick Kevin Rose a get well video).
Viral marketing genius.
All it took was a simple set (Which I’m sure they still had from filming last weeks commercial), one actor doing one-take responses. Throw in a couple of writers and an intern or two monitoring Twitter / Digg / Reddit / Youtube to bring users into the fun and… boom! Success.
This wouldn’t have worked if the original videos hadn’t blown up like they did. Even though the first two did hit, the creators further ensured their success by employing a smorgasbord of viral plans into one Uber Viral; Foundation videos (the commercials), fresh content (the Man’s responses) and massive community outreach. A well coordinated attack with a little luck (having Ashton Kutcher, Kevin Rose and Ryan Seacreat Tweet about you – whose followers total 9.6 million – would cost a LOT of money). Finally, to really make sure this became huge, Old Spice was a sponsored trending topic on Twitter.
This is a two-way conversation done right.
A random user (aka the ad agency in disguise) wasn’t submitting to the various communities. It was The Man himself (Well, probably one of those interns, but still). It was cohesive, authentic, well planned, and most importantly – ENTERTAINING.
Todays success isn’t only helping Old Spice. Isaiah Mustafa, the actor who plays Old Spice Man, got over 600 new Facebook fans and 4,000 Twitter followers today according to FanPageList. The gift that keeps on giving. Isaiah is now a bonafide Internet legend. Where will we see him next?
Lets just hope Old Spice knows when to leave a good thing alone and not beat this into the ground.
In a striking display of the power of live video, Abraham K. Biggs committed suicide on Wednesday while broadcasting himself on video site Justin.tv. As we understand it from various forum posts, the 19-year-old Floridian was apparently egged on by commenters on Justin.tv and fellow forum users on bodybuilding.com. Biggs overdosed on pills while on camera and appeared to be breathing for hours until watchers realized he might be serious, at which point they alerted the police. The video kept running until police and EMTs broke Biggs’ door down and blocked the camera’s view.
But no, the Chatroulette video is not real. It’s sort of a… performance art piece. An extreme public prank which taps into the most profound unconscious motivator – death.
Mass audience trickery is nothing new. Orson Welles is the reigning king of the craft. In 1938 he read ‘War of the Worlds’ as if it were a live news broadcast. He held the nation captive as he described aliens from Mars descending upon New Jersey. Some were so convinced it was real that they fled their homes or holed up in their cellars. Guns loaded, of course.
Dorothy Thompson of the New York Tribune wrote of the event
“All unwittingly, Mr. Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater of the Air have made one of the most fascinating and important demonstrations of all time. They have proved that a few effective voices, accompanied by sound effects, can convince masses of people of a totally unreasonable, completely fantastic proposition as to create a nation-wide panic.”
Orson Welles tapped into our need to have collective public experiences. We want to be tricked. We want to be taken for a ride. Back in the 1930s this was accomplished with a few actors and sound effects. Because the technology of the time, radio, had never been used to deceive, it made the deception that much easier. Now, imagine if Welles was alive today.
There is no better platform for audience trickery than the web. Audiences are very much aware of that, however, and are ever more sophisticated. When anything of interest or out of the ordinary happens online it starts out as fake. Always. You are a liar until proven honest. Case in point is the bodybuilding.com / justintv suicide mentioned above. The first half of that episode people declared it to be a fake, all the while a kid was dying. In the real world. I thought it was fake at first too …
A ‘War of the Worlds’ online would have to be huge. Amazing production value. Tight script. Tons of evidence. Who knows how far you could go with it… A few CGI tricks with a ‘live’ ustream, some ‘reporters’ around the globe. We may just see it soon enough. Some will run for the hills. Some will load their guns. Most will sit in front of their computers and smile, refresh, retweet and yell FAKE. Fake or not, it’s all turning into one big simulation anyway.
Besides, everyone loves a good hoax. Big or small.
I remember a huge fight I had with my parents when I was around 12. It was a Sunday night. Simpsons night. Back when that show was the holy grail of edgy humor every 12 year old craved. But there was a problem. Schedule change. The Simpsons were on a half hour later this year. That half hour put the show past my bedtime. My parent’s bedtime policy was adapted from the Guantanamo handbook with no wiggle room. Thus, a major Sunday night crisis begun. My ultimate solution was to throw a fit well past 9:00, thus proving, in my 12-year-old opinion, how draconian this sleeping regime was. Of course, I never got to see that episode of the Simpsons.