Have you heard the one about the beautiful blonde Danish woman named Karen who went on YouTube in search of her baby’s father, a tourist with whom she had a one night stand a year and a half ago? Turns out it was all a hoax, courtesy of the Danish government tourism bureau, VisitDenmark.
I found out about this on Mashable, perhaps the greatest blog covering all things Web 2.0 and Social Media. According to Mashable, the video got over 800,000 views on YouTube before it was taken down. If you hurry, you can still see it here on this Australian 9 News site.
More from Mashable, “…by her own admission, the woman in the video is an actress named Ditte Arnth Jorgensen and the baby is not hers. According to Danish newspaper Ekstra Bladet, it’s a hoax created by the Danish government’s tourism agency… It seems that the Danish government opted for quite a radical approach in luring tourist to the country; as they say, any publicity is good publicity.”
Now, it’s easy to get outraged by the hoax, as comments on the YouTube video proved. There were people who felt sorry for Karen, and then felt abused when they found out it was a hoax.
Setting aside the moral issue, I’d like to look at it from purely a marketing point of view.
I’m not against hoax marketing, if it’s done right and delivers a high degree of value to the people being hoaxed. Sega’s Beta-7 is a classic of the genre. FastCompany did a great post-mortem article about the campaign and Campfire, the viral agency that created Beta-7, and before that, the Blair Witch Project, reporting that:
“Beta-7” ultimately clocked some 2.2 million followers and, for $300,000 (excluding TV spots), helped Sega top sales projections by 25% in a category overwhelmingly dominated by Madden. Along the way, however, Campfire had done something else: It proved that a young, cynical, media-saturated audience just might be willing to listen to marketers as long as they showed some respect. “The virtue of their work,” says ESPN’s Daly, “is that if you’re on the side of the equation that believes [the hoax], then it’s fascinating, and if you’re on the side that gets that it’s not real, then it’s just great entertainment.”
I think the key to successful hoax marketing is best summed up by Harry Anderson, the actor/magician who played lovable con artist Harry the Hat on Cheers and Judge Harry T. Stone on Night Court. Back in the 80’s I saw his live act at Caroline’s, basically a celebration of misdirection and the con. In bit after bit, as he tricked us while blatantly telling us he was tricking us and still got away with it, he made the point that you can take a victim’s money as long as you entertain him for it.
The Danish video certainly delivered entertainment value. It was compelling and engaging. It might deliver a great ROI and boost Danish tourism. (It even had a bit of mischief of which Harry the Hat might have approved: the word “Ad” is in the background as part of an innocuous piece of art.)
But the message it delivered was that the Danish Board of Tourism is willing to dupe you into visiting their country. If they’re willing to do that, what other practices may they condone? Bait and switch hotel packages? Cab drivers who overcharge tourists for trips to the airport? “Official” currency exchanges with rip-off rates?
And how’s this for a mixed message? In the video, Karen says that it was a discussion of “hygge” — the Danish word for a warm, fuzzy, cozy, comfortable feeling of well being (according to Wikipedia) — that led to the one night stand. (Don’t you feel warm and fuzzy knowing that the Danish government is willing to lie to you to get you into bed with them?)
What kind of tourist do you think an advertising message like this will attract to Denmark? If I were a Danish woman (or the father of one) I’d be appalled at my government right about now.
In the end, just because you can use an advertising tactic doesn’t mean you should.
So can someone please explain to me why VisitDenmark chose to advertise the warm and fuzzy nature of their culture with a hoax that is exactly the opposite of the brand character they were hoping to portray?