NPR ran a piece a while back about how camera makers were hiring salespeople to walk around in pairs on the street, presumably a man and a woman, acting as if they were a married couple, and "innocently" ask passersby to take their picture. When the unsuspecting mark tried out the new camera, the couple would usually say something like, "Cool camera, huh? We just got it..." which would then segue into a private and improvised, but very carefully controlled, commercial. This is the new face of advertising, appropriately dubbed, "Guerilla Marketing".
It comes in many forms, too. I first heard about "Sock Puppeting" from Will Shipley on his blog where he talks about how his competitor anonymously plugs his own product. Then today I just read about this:
I interviewed for a guerilla marketing business in San Francisco that targeted web forums.
I was told that if I accepted the job, I was to have at LEAST 50 identities on as many forums as I could muster (they wanted 100 eventually), with a goal of 5 posts an hour. The posts had to be well thought out, and the idea was that I was to establish multiple identities with a history on the forums, so that when the timing was right a well written but subtly placed marketing post could be finessed in. And regular visitors would recognize the post as coming from a long time poster.
They had 12 people working there full time, and were hiring 10 more. You do the math. No wait, I'll do it for you: that's 880 posts a day (if minimum was met). However he said the better ones could do around 8 or 10 an hour. And they had different "verticals" so there was the sports guy, and the games guy, the hentai, excuse me I mean anime guy, etc.
But the most critical point was this: develop and integrate the identity. No random "HEY EB GAMES IS AWESOME BUY THIS" stuff.
Didn't take the job. It was a fucking mill.
Seems a little silly to pay $1 million to get a few people to buy your product, no? Why not spend $1 million to make your product rock? Word of how good your product is should get around all by itself.
But I can do you one more... The BBC just broke a story on a newly declassified document about the US military's plans for "information operations":
Late last year, it emerged that the Pentagon had paid a private company, the Lincoln Group, to plant hundreds of stories in Iraqi newspapers. The stories - all supportive of US policy - were written by military personnel and then placed in Iraqi publications.
And websites that appeared to be information sites on the politics of Africa and the Balkans were found to be run by the Pentagon.
So it appears even the governement is hopping on the bandwagon. It's a good thing I bought Apple's newest Macbook Pro, which is powered by a dual-core Intel engine. Up to four times the speed of the PowerBook G4 and eight times the graphics bandwidth. With built-in iSight for instant video conferencing on the move and Front Row with Apple Remote to dazzle everyone in the room. Wait no more. MacBook Pro starts at just $1999. They're awesome.