It's very likely that you will have heard of "lonelygirl15" on youtube, and the minor press-storm which was sparked when she was first suspected, then confirmed as a marketing plant. It has now come to light that Sony is behind not one, but two fake fan sites, one for the PSP and another for the PS3. This trend is not harmless, this trend is scary, and it is potentially destructive.
I could go off on a rant about how any form of fanboyishness is just free advertising for money-grubbing Mr. McFuckthepoor, or perhaps on a tirade about how people enjoy the art of a thing so much, they create beautiful social networks with total strangers, simply to share their enjoyment. Instead, I will tell you why so-called viral marketing is both poor business sense, and a danger to the fan communities that can be so crucial to success, especially to 'underdog' franchises.
Paying someone to go out and fake a fan site seems to me an action that would only be taken if "real" enjoyment of the product was less than expected. Perhaps the right combination of personalities never 'happened' within its fan base...but more likely, whatever was being sold, just didn't cut it. In the case of the PS3, I can see limited supply turning people off the fan-wagon, but I don't understand the need for viral marketing for the PSP. Despite the sticker shock, I was under the impression that those little things were doing quite well. Either way, how is the risk of losing credibility worth even a short-term boost in sales. Is there some value in the reveal? Are all these hoaxes just ploys to get people talking, even if scornfully? I can't say for sure, but I doubt I'm any more likely to drop cash on a PS3 or PSP, just because Sony made a Jackass out of itself...again. You know what sells? Quality! The people who buy it get something enjoyable, and the people selling it get all the filthy lucre they crave. Is it so much to ask that the sellers hold up their end of the bargain, here? Last time I checked, I enjoy it when something I buy is worth it.
Part II of this issue is more serious. What happens to the great fan communities, such as the infamous 'Browncoats', if all fansites will have to be vetted in future, to ensure they aren't some stupid corporate money ploy. The risk and doubt will start to outweigh the fun and camaraderie of establishing a new community, and the heyday of fan culture could be brought to a screeching halt. I don't want to see that happen, and unless you have no sense of fun, you won't either. Trekkies were all that kept Star Trek going, after TOS was canceled...if not for those brave nerd men and women, there would have been no Wrath of Khan, no TNG, no DS9, no VOY or ENT. Ok, so the universe would have been better off without the last two, but the others were fully enjoyable, in their own right. The sheer fan power of the Browncoats brought Serenity to screens, although - as I discussed with CheeseLikeSubstance last night - much of the best elements of Firefly were left behind. Still, a movie with extremely good production values rose from the ashes of a TV show that was bungled by individuals so incompetent, they barely deserve to be called "human", a show which ran for only 11 episodes (14 produced). That is the power of fans. If companies want to harness that power, they should do it right, and STAY AWAY FROM VIRAL MARKETING! If you build something cool enough, the fan base will come.
I was talking to La Petit Mort last night, and it came to pass that I asked for some advice about my tumultuous situation with Star. Well, she dug up some ugliness from her own past in the process of giving me some (very helpful) advice. I'm sorry for my part in this, sometimes the past is best left where it lies.
Crowd of Adoring Fan
Check out the first comment under my previous post. I think this marks the first comment from someone I don't personally know. How cool is that? If you don't know who I am, and have been reading my blog for longer than this dude, too bad for you...you didn't say anything about it, did you? In any case, I'd like to see more comments...come to think of it, I should leave more myself. Feedback lets someone know they are being read, being appreciated, or being an ass, should they not be aware of those things. Never underestimate how good it feels to read a comment and think "wow...someone said something...it's like I have a fan". As I said above, the power of a fanbase is incredible. Heck, you don't even need to be a fan. Even having a readership is pretty awesome.
So thank you, readers and leavers of comments. It's good to know that in this space, someone can hear me scream...or rant...you get the idea.