Does PR 2.0 Mean Lying to Get People to Pay Attention?

I’m no expert at understanding the PR industry, but here’s my perspective on how things work with local bloggers these days.

There are companies that build directories of blogs around topics. This includes not just the topic but the contact info of the people behind the blogs. PR firms can then buy access to these directories. For example, The Deets may be categorized as a Minneapolis blog so PR firms looking to reach Minneapolis based bloggers could buy a list of Minneapolis based bloggers. (Of course, they could also read local blogs themselves, but that would involve work related work.)

Then things like this happen:

An email arrives in my inbox from a PR firm that specializes in “Public Relations 2.0” which apparently means emailing bloggers about PR campaigns.

This email is sent on behalf of a second PR firm who specializes is creating “powerful emotional connections” with people by outsourcing their connecting to other PR firms. I’d deep-link to the context of that quote but their site is built entirely in Flash (puke).

As you might expect, this setup seems to be pretty darn spammy to me.

What was this email about? A “viral” video campaign created by PR firm #2 is being, um, viralized or something by PR firm #1. This video is so viral that the PR firm is emailing local bloggers to get them to blog about it. This video must be pretty remarkable, eh?

I checked out the video. Sadly, the video attempts to stage a fake news event. When I see stuff like this I lose trust in the PR company behind the fake viral video and the company that hired the PR firm and approved the campaign.

Digging into this a bit, here is the fake YouTube account’s user info:


So they set up a new account. Red flag for a fake account. And no avatar. And a number in the account (they could have at least gone with 612 or 55401, right?)

And the one video the account has . . .

sara00109 Activity

. . . was uploaded the same day the account was created.

Two days after the “viral” video didn’t go viral was when I received the PR tip about the awesomeness I had somehow missed.

Check out the description included with the video:

Shot this when I was shopping on Nicollet Mall in MPLS. Giant vines on the IDS Tower!! Whaaa??….The story from the news. I was about a block away until the cops put up the barriers.

No, this wasn’t on the news. No, there were no cops and there were no barriers.

Stunts can be a fun way to get attention. Lying to people to get them to pay attention is idiotic. “PR 2.0” messages from companies like this boil down to: “We lied to you to get you to pay attention, but now believe us when we tell you what we’d like you to hear.”

Is lying to people really the best way to create “powerful emotional connections” in a “PR 2.0” world? Apparently, it worked on me. The emotional connection made through lying to me was strong enough to justify this post.

Admittedly, I may not understand all of the benefits of being lied to in this fashion. Perhaps someone better versed in the intricacies of PR 2.0 can explain to me how building relationships through lying is a winning strategy?

22 thoughts on “Does PR 2.0 Mean Lying to Get People to Pay Attention?”

  1. When I got this email I responded with something like, “sponsored posts start at $250 and go up from there depending on what your client wants.” While I got a response saying that they’d check, I never heard anything else–as I expected. Thankfully I only saw this video linked from one local site (admittedly I only have ~300 MN blogs in my reading list) so I assume it was as big a failure as it should have been.

  2. I saw this video on a couple sites (Minneapolis Metblogs, Stuff about Minneapolis). I don’t really get it. Partly because the lady in the video says “There’s all sorts of people out here,” but when the video shows the street scene, there aren’t really a lot of people. But mostly because I still don’t really understand the point.. So this was made by a PR firm, who is having a lot of down time so they make a stunt video – then they hire another PR firm to spread the video, hoping that people will say, “OMG, who made that awesome video?” and it will result in more business for them?

  3. @ryan, linking to those sites helped me tell the story I was trying to tell. Sure, I could nofollow the links, but I don’t have anything against the companies or people. I just think they’ve made some poor choices with this campaign.

    @reuben, I think the work is on behalf of a client of the PR firm. Eventually, we may get to see which company authorized lying to draw attention to itself.

  4. Ed not only did you post this message exposing the initial failed viral video to your audience; but you actually gave these PR people that you clearly do not like, a link with “powerful emotional connections” as anchor text.

  5. Ed I have nothing against the linking. I might have chosen different anchor text.

    What I was really getting at is that: They sent you the message hoping to tap into your audience. They did.

  6. I got the same email and responded by asking who the client was. It’s some canned tomato company — ripe, ahem, for viral marketing! — but not Green Giant. Can’t recall the name offhand….

  7. I was totally fine with linking to their obviously bad video, because with the meager traffic I get (and the surfing-for-dog-porn clientele) I would not be doing them any favors. In fact a link from my blog might even hurt their chances! But honestly, to work in PR are you born a douche or do you go to college for that?

  8. I guess I’m not really sure what the difference is between a stunt and “lying.” I guess the only lie I’m seeing here is that they claimed the video was viral when it really wasn’t – but that’s a relative judgement call anyway.

    I guess I don’t see the fake youtube account, the fake sara, or the fake news report as some sort of devious lie – it’s just all part of the stunt, which I agree can be a fun way to draw attention to yourself.

    I guess I’m thinking kudos to this company for trying something new and different – even if it seems to have backfired on them a little bit.

    Ed, help me understand, what’s the lie that you’re upset about here?

  9. @reuben, as I see it, the only way this thing would be a success is if they successfully lied to people.

    In the end, they created something that was so far from believable that it fell flat, so the lie gained no traction.

    It seems like saying “the news” covered the fake news is a good way to burn bridged with the actual news when you have a real story that’s actually newsworthy.

    For what it’s worth, I’m not entirely opposed to passing along PR pitches. For example, I’ve blogged about two Colle+McVoy projects in the past. Both were fun and neither tried to dupe people into paying attention. Both have over 600,000 views on YouTube to date.

  10. I’m a big fan of viral marketing when used in Hollywood (I ate up all that Cloverfield and Blair Witch stuff)… but when the Youtube account was clearly made recently, and the video is shot on a clear sunny day in summer and it’s the middle of Oct… I also was a bit miffed about “the news story” and the “people everywhere” claim as it was so obviously not the case… esp when the could have very well included a fake news cast or something to add to the fun. Just seems like poor planing on their part, and I would think the key to Viral is to make it as “real” as possible to draw people in. Why not encorporate local news? Why not ask a cop or two to drive by with sirens blasting? Why not buy 20 people coffee and have them “react?” If this was such “urgent news” they would have shot it in Spring and released in Summer when the weather is more likely to match? Sure I want to know what this is about… but I’m likely going to roll my eyes once they reveal and wonder if anyone really paid any attention?

  11. Why didn’t you publish the email? Perhaps because it would have undermined your rant and your own self promotion? Context.

    I put the email on MNspeak. It’s clearly an ad and I didn’t see any “lies” unless you were expecting “magic”.

    I put the vid on metblogs along with parts of the email and I don’t think anyone was fooled or misled into thinking they were pretending this was a real event. Perhaps you and your readers are a bit more naive than the average adult.

  12. I read the email that JACC published as a comment on another site – and I gotta agree with JACC – I don’t see any deception or lies here. I see a PR firm clearly stating that it is an ad campaign that they are hoping local bloggers will link to. Bill’s response of asking for payment for a sponsored post is appropriate.

    You say that the only way it could be successful is if they lied to people – another option is that people spread the video because they like it and think it’s neat. That hasn’t happened, but it doesn’t mean it couldn’t…

  13. @JACC, I didn’t post the email because the only thing interesting to me about the press release was what I wrote about it. As Ryan mentioned, I did write about it, so their approach did manage to spark enough interest in me to not get them marked as spam. Reblogging press releases and local news isn’t really my thing. The story surrounding the attempt to spread a fake story interests me more.

    @Reuben, creating something that would spread because it’s neat and likable seems like a more honest approach to me, but that’s not what the video does. To do that, they wouldn’t create fake incidents and claim there are cops involved and local news coverage. They could simply post it under one of the agency’s accounts or the company’s account.

  14. You’re mad that this video is “deceptive” but you’re also mad that they used new accounts? So this would somehow be less deceptive if they had used real accounts to post the video? How does that make any sense?

    It isn’t lying. It’s fun. Clearly this shouldn’t be mistaken for an actual news story. It’s SUPPOSED to be fake. It’s supposed to pique some interest in a product.

    To be fair, I am posting this several weeks after the initial video was posted and have the benefit of hindsight. Though, if you had actually read the PR release, it is clear that this campaign is all buildup for the billboard by the MOA.

    And why do you keep calling CCF a PR firm? They do advertising. This is advertising. That’s why they hired a PR firm to do PR for them.

    Get your ducks in a row before you criticize something so strongly.

  15. @seth, good point about the choice of YouTube accounts. The video itself than how it was posted to YouTube.

    “It isn’t lying. It’s fun.” works better for art than advertising, in my opinion.

    I wouldn’t expect someone who’s read the press release or with the benefit of hindsight to be duped by this. However, people stumbling across this on YouTube or the front page of StarTribune could certainly be fooled.

    My bad about calling CCF a PR firm. I had a hard time figuring out what they were based on their full-Flash website.

  16. So if I understand this correctly, the net result of this bogus news-like video by a PR firm hired by an Ad firm was to push people to read a billboard by MOA?

    So not only was it misleading ‘fun’, but also a complete waste of time, and given it’s pitiful viewership, it was a complete waste of money, eh?

    Whew, glad to have that straightened out…thanks? Seth…for the ‘fun’?

  17. @ The Other Mike Like I said on the other site, I’m not here to argue the campaign’s execution. You, obviously, do not understand this correctly. The purpose was to build an experience that culminates in a “living” billboard. I know you have high standards for fun, but as far as billboards goes, that seems kind of fun. You’re also assuming that it cost a lot of money to make…You obviously don’t have experience with viral videos then. Does it look like it cost a lot of money to make? Anyway, I just think it’s ridiculous to call this video out for the possibility of people mistaking it as real.

    And about the “fun”, why are you thanking me? I’m not affiliated with this campaign in any way. Maybe this was a failure, that’s not my point. And maybe you don’t think it’s fun, but maybe someone out there does.

    @ Ed Kohler I’ll repost my comment from Secrets of the City here, in response to you actually thinking someone might think it’s plausible that giant vines can grow 50+ stories on the IDS Tower in a day and it not be covered on the news anywhere.

    “I honestly cannot understand your issue with the “deception”. Where did they make the claim that it was real? And how can you honestly think that anyone who sees that video might think it’s real? Do you think that people surfing YouTube expect everything they see to be real? Maybe if it’s the very first video they’ve seen on YouTube…

    I think the negative publicity this is getting is because people here are blowing a minor issue out of proportion. So, you’re saying that it is manipulative because they don’t say it is an advertisement? Yes, the YouTube site doesn’t say it’s an ad. But wouldn’t that detract from the “fun” of the video? I would assume that most of the traffic this gets is from the Star Tribune website, and it clearly says “Advertisement” on there.

    Ads are everywhere, and the vast majority don’t disclaim that they’re ads. We only recognize them for ads because those methods of advertisement (i.e. billboards, commercials, print, etc.) have been around for a while. Sure, a guy who has no experience with modern civilization might think the first time he sees a Tide commercial that it’s just some nice lady telling him the best way to get stains out of his clothes. But if he sits around for another 30 seconds he’s going to realize that a different nice lady says Cheer is the best, and that he should probably try to figure it out himself. It’s a whimsical notion that giant vines can suddenly grow 50+ stories, I think that should be disclaimer enough. Do you not watch/read/listen to anything that makes any mention of brand names because it’s disguised advertising? Are you worried that when people turn on their TVs and see a cop show depicting a shootout in Manhattan they’ll think it’s real? Or that when they open a book and read about a Catholic conspiracy they’ll think it’s real? Where do you draw the line?

    Do you automatically assume that everything you see on a screen is real? Is it a problem for you to distinguish between reality and fiction without having a disclaimer beforehand?”

  18. @ Seth…at best, you are arguing for a continued blurring of reality and advertisement. Why is that fun? Oh, if you are inside the joke, than you can laugh at the people who might take it serious.

    And I do not dispute for a second your stance than advertisements are everywhere and invasive in our lives. Kind of like noise.

    The real question is–does that make life better to be subjected to them, to have to sort out these different blurred realities at each turn? What of morals, what of ethics, what of standards people might rely upon to stabilize already stressful lives?

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