The Journal had an interesting article this morning on Marié Digby, someone who has been a sensation on YouTube, albeit a sensation that I've never heard of. From the Journal:
Ms. Digby's simple, homemade music videos of her performing popular songs have been viewed more than 2.3 million times on YouTube. Her acoustic-guitar rendition of the R&B hit "Umbrella" has been featured on MTV's program "The Hills" and is played regularly on radio stations in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Portland, Ore. Capping the frenzy, a press release last week from Walt Disney Co.'s Hollywood Records label declared: "Breakthrough YouTube Phenomenon Marié Digby Signs With Hollywood Records."
What the release failed to mention is that Hollywood Records signed Ms. Digby in 2005, 18 months before she became a YouTube phenomenon. Hollywood Records helped devise her Internet strategy, consulted with her on the type of songs she chose to post, and distributed a high-quality studio recording of "Umbrella" to iTunes and radio stations.
It's a great strategy, one that can really win a lot of fans. Look at Blendtec's "Will It Blend" videos or even American Idol. People love to see something that seems genuine that gives them an ability to participate in making the product big. It can backfire, however, when you pull it off like Disney has. Instead of saying upfront that this is from them and they're putting it out there, they've had a strategy of denial that has been capped by the Journal finding out about it and putting it on the front page. Whether the backlash will kill Marie or not is another story, but if you look at her pages on YouTube people are calling her a hussy or a sellout or any other number of things.
People don't mind cleverly done, well thought out marketing to them, they just want to know that they're being marketed to. It's one of the tenets behind BzzAgent, a company that I happen to do some marketing for every now and again. You sign up, they send you product samples, you try them, and tell your friends what you think. For example, right now I'm involved in a campaign for Listerine Whitening Strips - they're like those Crest ones that have been out forever, but they dissolve on your teeth, so you don't have to reach back in your mouth and get the gooey slobbery strips back out. They are actually pretty cool, but not necessarily an all-in-one tooth whitening solution. If you want the whitest teeth, you need to do the dental trays and the gel...that, or one of those super cool lasers. However, they're good for a non-invasive quick fix that will last you a couple of months. Anyway, they gave me some strips to try it for myself and also some to hand out to people and talk with them about it. One of the things that BzzAgent insists on is that you know that I am a BzzAgent. That way, if you find out that you've just been Mark'ted (marketed, you know, like Punk'd) then you won't feel like you've been used, just like Marie's fans are feeling now. Lesson to the companies: do it right. Let us know and we'll respond if it's cool. You don't see Apple going around with stealth iPod launches or anything, and they're pretty much the coolest people out there. Speaking of which, if anyone wants to give me a cool $400, I'll let you know exactly what I think of the iPod Touch, just as soon as I use that money to buy one.