Fake Shit

Sandi Thom makes music that is unlistenable. Drab. Moribund, even. But that doesn’t stop people from risking an investment of time, money and other precious resources into trying to stimulate a wider demand for it. But hey, that’s business, not music, and it’s nothing new. And all the “intrigue” around the veracity of Thom’s claim to overnight celebrity is bound to drop into the same toilet of meaningless mainstream Euro-American celebrity culture wherefloat Jessica Simpson, William Hung and numerous other soft frauds.

Said toilet’s been clogged for decades, anyway. Regardless, with phenomena like Thom and the recent Snakes On A Plane Tagworld viral campaign, we’re starting to see the fruits of the past few years of movie and music companies taking advantage of the potential of social networking and CGC (community generated content) to peddle their wares. See this article for a summary of the SOAP phenomenon. While Thom’s campaign relied on more conventional marketing tools (an email and press release campaign timed with webcasts), the SOAP campaign is far more up-to-date, incorporating viral phone calls (borrowing a page from New Media Maze‘s viral voice message campaign promoting The Ring Two, itself a recast of the original Japanse viral associated with the original Ringu), and the direct engagement with potential fans in an existing community (which has since hopped into other communities on LJ, Myspace, and Youtube).

Both campaigns mobilized users in existing communities to turn each other on to the offering – classic viral WOM. How might this play out in a read-write cultural landscape? How permissive is a company such as New Line Cinema going to be with remixes after the fact (e.g., after the movie’s release, when revenues are to be counted, maximized, rationalized)? And is there a long tail for viral soso marketing? (social software, for those unfamiliar with the term).

Wikimaniacs already recognize fake shit rather immediately – it’s built into their ethos to demand independent verifiability of truth claims, and to invite debate, dispute, dissent. Will traditional media companies find subtler ways to strategically embed their branded content into sosos, even if only mining fleeting moments of buzz before an editor flags the article as crass promotion, or before a group of buddies denounces the thing as commercial SPAM? How might a viral marketing firm calculate the risk of backlash in the communities they target?

Will a collusion of viral and soso improve or frustrate the trajectory of read-write culture? Are partnerships between commercial media companies and social networking sites at all realistic among audiences, in the light of the wiki ethos? Articles like this one seem to think so, but I have my doubts. I predict more struggle. And more fake shit.

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