Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Detri-viral Marketing: When Web 2.0 works against a brand - How Not To Market in Asia III

Apple, Brand Marketing, Detri-viral marketing, Gapingvoid, How Not To Market In Asia, McDonald's, Microsoft, Product Red, Social marketing, Starbucks, The Gap, Ù2, Twitter, iPod, Web 2.0 Inspi (red), or just ti (red)? I recently saw an entire campaign for a local marketing agency that takes this concept directly and uses the word admi (red) instead of inspi (red) to invoke the name of the company, which happens to be the last three letters of the word and a primary colour that is not blue or yellow. You do the math - and that will lead you to the following equation - did the company come up with this copy/graphic idea themselves, or take it from the more than famous campaign you see here? Go figure. The "Product Red" charity campaign has run globally for nearly a decade as an effort to brand red products with a certain percentage of the proceeds going to help eliminate Aids in Africa. Microsoft, The Gap, Starbucks, Apple iPod and the band U2 have participated and it has probably occupied more public service media space than any other campaign in the world over the last decade. But maybe not in Vietnam. So does that make it fair game for ripping? Or just a last little portion of a diminishing market for stealing stuff and not getting made, almost immediately? I'm betting on the latter.

Apple, Brand Marketing, Detri-viral marketing, Gapingvoid, How Not To Market In Asia, McDonald's, Microsoft, Product Red, Social marketing, Starbucks, The Gap, Ù2, Twitter, iPod, Web 2.0 Recently my friend, Hugh MacLeod, put up a post on his blog,, that fit in perfectly with a concept I've been working on of late, the concept of "Detri-viral Marketing". Detri-viral marketing is what happens when the collectivity and social nature of Web 2.0 go against a brand or service to send a negative message about what the parent company is doing. It is, essentially, when brands get busted - maybe for stealing an idea, or telling a lie, or just being generally duplicitous in their messages or their message sending. Two-faced as it would be. But one person never makes it happen. A lot of people make it happen. It's a snowball effect. The concept of viral marketing has been well documented over the last decade or so but the concept of detri-viral marketing hasn't really been defined, because probably, in real life, companies would just like this shit to go away. McDonald's has certainly dealt with a ton of it, in Europe primarily, in a consumer effort to illuminate the contents of their food - the "Supersize This" effect, if you will - and McDonald's has been a client of mine - a damn good one I must say - so I must tell you that a lot of the flack they have received is complete and total bunk. If you weren't a fat, stoopid, slovenly, couch potato, looser, you'd know better than to eat what they serve more than a few times week. But hey, these days, even those bums have a computer... so look out brands. These people have a lot of extra fucking time on their hands. They're like the people who don't like smoking - they don't have the time, commitment or gonads to join a real protest group, so they just find errant time in their day to accost smokers on city street corners and be asses because it makes them feel as if they stand for something. (I smoke too.)

But that's not the kind of detri-viral marketing I want to look at today.

Today, I want to look at people who feel they can get something good done, or right some wrong, or change the world just a tiny little bit by joining something and adding their voice to an effort in the hopes that the whole movement will somehow add up to be greater than the sum of its parts. But
let's stick to advertising today. That's enough world changing to get done in just one blog post.

Rewind to 2003. Wieden and Kennedy, the advertising agency in London had just returned from the Cannes Film Festival with the Palm d'Or for the best television commercial of the year for Honda. The spot, called "Cog"
was rumoured to have been the most expensive TVC ever made and reputedly took over 600 takes to get right - and in it's own right is an absolute technical and conceptual masterpiece. I was showing it to everyone I could in 2003 because I thought it was just such a great goddamn idea. See it below.

And then, the shit hit the fan. Two Swiss artists immediately protested the idea that they had sold their artistic concept for commercial purpose but at the same time complained that Honda had "appropriated"
the idea from their artwork.

To understand the world appropriated from the world of artistic criticism let's just be a bit more blunt. It means stolen. Ripped-off. Filched. Pilfered. Nicked. Hi-jacked and just pretty much the idea that the artist, or commercial artist in this case, used another piece of work to base yet another execution
on a core concept that they in fact, did not conceive. Thievery. Robbery. An illegal act. But by the rule of law? Well that's going to depend on a whole lot of judges. Watch just the first few seconds of the Swiss artist's work, below and you tell me how you would rule:

Tony Davidson, creative director at Wieden & Kennedy, said the film carried various cultural references. He told Creative Review: "Advertising references culture and always has done. Part of our job is to be aware of what is going on in society. There is a difference between copying and being inspired by." Mr. Davidson has just recently been made a partner in the agency, based in Portland, Oregon USA and most well known for their Nike work for well more than 20 years. One c
ould do a whole lot worse in the business than working at Wieden and Kennedy and this guy was just made partner. Go figure.

But did they do wrong? Trust me, if the access of Web 2.0 had been present in 2003 they would have taken a complete shit bath for this one. It's pretty much impossible to have watched the Swiss artist's film and not have figured, at least, that the guys who did the Honda spot saw the film. But where's the evidence? And what was the crime?

Did I have sex with that woman? Prove it, baby.

I of course, am not a lawyer, but I've seen my share on TV and I can tell you that the legal clarifications on this kind of thing are indeed fuzzy, and fuzzier from country to country - but I have worked in this business for nearly 30 years and am well schooled in copyright law. Here's basically, how it works: You can copyright what is considered "copy" - that's where the legal terminology comes from - meaning words. And you can copyright imagery - a picture, a film sequence, a visual representation of a concept that is unique. But you can not copyright an "idea", ie: "We should put air into rubber tubes and then put the tubes into rubber casings to make tyres which can then be put on bikes, cars, tractors, etc.". It's possible you could "patent" that idea, but that's a different legal concept entirely. The are also ideas that have become part of what is called the "public domain", meaning that the copyright or patent status has run out and the idea now belongs to the people as a whole - like Aspirin. Anybody can make Aspirin now. Or the Bible. Anybody can print and alter any version of the Bible they want. Or DaVinci. Now we have to watch wretched films about a code he never wrote. Oh, dear, revisionist history. Wouldn't we all love one of his ancestors to have some right to stop production of this dreck? Or is our desire to retain our suspension of disbelief
greater than our desire for the truth? And when somebody can tell me what the fucking truth is, then I will die a happy man. But that's gotta wait.

Today' finale is much less dramatic than that.

Welcome Dr. Thanh. The good doctor, for lack of an idea that accurately emphasized his advertising concept, decided that the Chinese had already done that for him and commissioned a few local artisians to just flat-assed copy a new commercial for him - all he had to do, was change the logo - and Voi la! Vietnamese don't watch Chinese TV - they'll never know! Watch the two following commercials in tandem together. Pay special attention to the almost frame by frame replication of the production in addition to wardrobe and modeling/
action choices. Honestly, this is corporately embarrassing.

Somebody oughta have their Marketing MBA revolked! Aren't we dealing in enough global shennanigans to have this still happening? Can I find a class in business ethics in Vietnam?

And I'm not introducing this to anyone. This thing had 1000 YouTube hits when I got it and it's well over 4000 today. Detri-viral marketing in action - a lot of people, aside from me, don't like it - and a few crafty editors created it - way inside the production I suppose.

The real Maguffin here (An Alfred Hitchcock term that refers to the element that draws viewers and characters into a drama) is when you go to the parent company's website and they wax on and on about their dedication to "intellectual ownership" - that means the ownership of an idea.

They're very proud of the intellectual capital they own in Vietnam, Singapore and Australia and act like they might be willing to spend the resources to sue anyone who might infringe upon that. But they have no compunction whatsoever about just copying artistic stuff from a Chinese manufacturer that I was told they felt was, "Best practice knowledge in the category". Rubbish. Geez. The problem, as I see it here, is not legal. It's ethical. And I can tell you that no creative person worth his/her salt would dare do this low-ball stuff. Why? Because if you ever want to engender a career in the business the last thing you want is to be accused of is copying another person's idea. Or much worse, copying a shitty idea - and that's what's happened here.

I've been having a discussion recently with a company who wants to mount a business idea based on a "model from San Francisco". What the hell does "Model" mean. It means a business plan. But these people seem to have missed the idea that you can't take models from just about anywhere you can find them and have them work in Vietnam without adding value and uniqueness particular to the reapplication. Will pine cones grow pine trees in Saigon just because they work well in Canada?

Artists, MBAs and others. Twitter didn't steal Twitter from anybody. Microsoft probably did steal the Graphical User Interface (GUI) from Apple, but that's history and we're finally seeing the comeuppance. If you want to have a big business success, try having a big idea. Simple? I don't think so. The world is full of small ideas and small thinkers of those ideas. But the world is well fewer with true visionaries who are well paid, well slept and well shagged. Keep that in mind. Detri-viral marketing is now a concept and I didn't invent it, I just coined the term. The world invented it. So let's get to work boys and girls. Let's create something honestly good today.

For more in the "How Not To Market In Asia" series, click below:

I) The Importance of Time, Money, Quality and Knowing How Much of Each You Need to Succeed

II) What's Wrong With the Vietnam Advertising Association?

For more on time bandit idea & business concept filching, para-normal plagiarism, and all out spooky behaviour, check below:

New York Magazine Steals AsiaLife cover from the future!
Dr. Thanh robbed by Chinese Time Bandits!
SDM:Saigon Digital Marketing victim of para-normal plagiarism!
Bono and international do-gooders caught (Red)handed in idea heist!
Saigon Brand Provocateur steals idea from himself!

For more on digital marketing and social networking see:

Xing vs. LinkedIn: Round II
Trial and Error: The New Normal
What's Wrong With My Social Networking? Xing vs. LinkedIn I
Low Tech Germany. Who Knew?
Advertising People and Blogs
How to Write the Best Blog in the World
What If Gutenberg Had a Blog?
If Blogs Are Free Does That Make Them Worthless?
Detri-Viral Marketing II: The Top 10 Social Media Blunders
Bright Lights, Big Internet and the WWED
Saigon Digital Marketing Conference Successfully Avoids Plumbers Convention
A Tale of Many Marketing Conferences
Detri-Viral Marketing I: How Web 2.0 Can Go Against A Brand
Marketing Predictions for 2009
Barcamp Saigon 2008
"Ignore Everybody" is Born: A Plug for Hugh MacLeod
Are the Bloggerati Missing the Market? Asia has Risen,
Into the Gapinvoid - Web 2.0 Social Networking Born 20 Years Ago


  1. Absolutely agree - it's an ethical problem. And it's far more prevalent then just in the media/ advertising industry. The true devil is that there is little to no such concept as professional integraty/ business ethics in VN any more. Or maybe I am just being too pesimistic, yet we have lost hold of many many of our core values and beliefs.

  2. Unfortunately core values and beliefs tend to go to shit when there's money involved - and that's not uniquely Vietnamese. The real issue here is that many people just don't know how to come up with their own ideas. They learned to cheat in school, copied their thesis off the Internet and carried those habits into the workplace. I just find it a shame that they never learned the joy one experiences when one's own idea is successful and then it get's copied by others!


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