Tuesday, July 05, 2016

COLUMN: Lemons (Roses)

I've always thought that if I didn't have a career as a columnist or a second career as a media consultant or a third career as a club DJ, I'd probably end up in marketing.

I'm a sucker for a good marketing campaign. If an ad is done well, it can absolutely impact my buying choices. I'm pretty sure I bought my Beetle back in the 90s simply on the strength of the music they used in the initial ads. If the Beetle had launched to a soundtrack of Celine Dion, I wouldn't have looked twice.

It doesn't always work that way. What do you remember about this year's Super Bowl? The great game? Coldplay's halftime show? Distant memories. But there's one thing we all remember: PuppyMonkeyBaby. All it took was 30 seconds of that dancing atrocity to burn its image into my retinas forever. It didn't make me rush out and buy Mountain Dew Kickstart, but every time I'm shopping and see a bottle of that unnatural concoction, I can't help but whisper "PuppyMonkeyBaby! PuppyMonkeyBaby!" under my breath.

I love watching hype build. As I type this, lemons are popping up all around England. The culprit is undoubtedly The Stone Roses, the seminal band from Manchester that defined my favorite era in music. Over the past two days, posters and billboards have been going up all over England featuring the band's iconic logo: a single lemon slice. No words, no band name, and no explanation. Just lemon slices in shop windows and subway walls.

And fans like me are losing their minds. It could be more reunion shows or another re-packaged greatest hits. OR there exists the tiniest of chances, perhaps even by the time this column runs, that we'll be hearing the first new music from The Stone Roses in over twenty years. It's enough of a chance that I've spent the past two days glued to Twitter and listening to the BBC relentlessly. A slice of lemon has thrown my entire week into chaos. That's the power of a good marketing campaign.

I love witnessing a good campaign, but I love bad ones even more -- which is why I might not be cut out for a career in marketing after all. I doubt other execs would be joyously saying, "WOW! What a spectacular failure! That backfired AWESOMELY!" I'd probably be high-fiving strangers all the way to the unemployment line.

In 1984, McDonalds thought they had a great idea. Every time you placed an order, they gave out a little scratch piece that unveiled the name of an Olympic event. If the U.S. won gold that summer, you could redeem the piece for a free Big Mac. If we won silver, free fries. A bronze? Free Coke. Nifty idea... until Russia decided to boycott the Summer Games. With our homefield advantage and our biggest competition sitting out, the U.S. took home a ridiculous 174 medals that year -- and America took home a summer's worth of free food from McDonalds. I was only 13, but I still remember the Summer of Infinite Big Macs. I bet McDonalds does, too.

This week hasn't been just about lemons. I also watched another band lose their entire fanbase in a spectacular marketing misfire. Just outside the mainstream, there exists an indie act called YACHT, a dating couple who've spent the past decade releasing critically-acclaimed, underappreciated dance pop anthems. Last week, they posted a troubling message online. According to the public post, the duo had fallen victim to a horrific privacy invasion: a homemade sex tape was about to leak.

"The video is out there now," it read. "We can't change that. But we can try to take some ownership over what has happened. If you feel like you have to see this tape, we beg of you to download the video directly from us." Within minutes, messages of support started coming in from fans, friends, and fellow musicians applauding the duo's efforts to fight fire with fire.

Then the tape showed up. Sure enough, it was a scandalous night-vision sex tape -- for two minutes. That's when the duo rip each other's faces off and reveal themselves to be slimy aliens. That's right -- the whole thing was a hoax. The clip turned out to be their new music video. They assumed the ruse would be a novel way to get attention. It worked.

"Reprehensible to no end," said one user. "There are ways to not do a stunt," said the L.A. Times, "and this is one." Anna Merlan of the blog Jezebel was even harsher: "What YACHT did is troll people's innate sense of horror, disgust, and compassion when confronted with a terribly violating crime. This is one of the grossest publicity stunts I've ever seen." By day's end, even the band's PR company had disavowed knowledge of the plan and were distancing themselves from the scandal. For their part, YACHT responded with a post first berating their fans for over-reacting, and then another apologizing profusely. It might be too late. Their Facebook page is filled with fans lining up to curse them out.

I have no sympathy. There are many things one might expect to hear when entering one's house after a hard day at the office, but a cacophony of moans isn't one of them. It sounded like an orgy had broken out in my living room... and it was all coming from my laptop. See, I watched the YACHT video when I was home for lunch (perusing even PHONY sex tapes on the office computer didn't seem like a wise move.) Then I went back to work. As it turns out, the YACHT video may be phony, but the porn site hosting it isn't. And, as you'd expect, while I was back at work, it was hard at work, too -- filling my laptop with XXX-rated pop-ups, ads, and videos so disturbing that I might now know how PuppyMonkeyBabies are made.

If my neighbors didn't think I was weird before, they sure do now. Thanks to YACHT, my ten-year-olds are now scarred for life. Well, okay, they're 10-year-old CATS, but I'm still worried. They definitely gave me a look when I came home that said, "We know things. Bad things." If you need me, I'll be washing my computer out with soap, sending my cats to counseling, and obsessively checking the BBC every five minutes for lemon updates.

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