I am aware that some of you work in the media industry and may be studying online campaigns that tap onto the social media phenomenon. I am also aware that some of what you’re about to read goes on at different levels where you might work as well, though it might not be of heavy investment to raise any concerns yet.
I’m referring to the fake phenomenon which is a social affordance / risk of the participatory culture we breath in. For instance, “Doing a Walmart” where blogs are written by paid volunteers instead of purely authentic fans (a form of astroturfing).
I’ve been hearing about this story online via Morgan Webb’s “WebbAlert” videocast (thanks Lucian) and more recently via my newshound buddy (aka NuMental) who clued me into this particular article which unravels the whole case. This recent Wall Street Journal report makes LonelyGirl15 look like a walk in the park…
Here’s an excerpt:
A 24-year-old singer and guitarist named Marié Digby has been hailed as proof that the Internet is transforming the world of entertainment.
What her legions of fans don’t realize, however, is that Ms. Digby’s career demonstrates something else: that traditional media conglomerates are going to new lengths to take advantage of the Internet’s ability to generate word-of-mouth buzz.
Ms. Digby’s simple, homemade music videos of her performing popular songs have been viewed more than 2.3 million times on YouTube. Her acoustic-guitar rendition of the R&B hit “Umbrella” has been featured on MTV’s program “The Hills” and is played regularly on radio stations in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Portland, Ore. Capping the frenzy, a press release last week from Walt Disney Co.’s Hollywood Records label declared: “Breakthrough YouTube Phenomenon Marié Digby Signs With Hollywood Records.”
What the release failed to mention is that Hollywood Records signed Ms. Digby in 2005, 18 months before she became a YouTube phenomenon. Hollywood Records helped devise her Internet strategy, consulted with her on the type of songs she chose to post, and distributed a high-quality studio recording of “Umbrella” to iTunes and radio stations.
The fact that a big media company supported Ms. Marié Digby’s ruse reflects how dearly media giants want in on the viral revolution that’s changing how young consumers learn about new entertainment — even if it means a tiny bit of sleight-of-hand. It also reflects how difficult it is for new recording artists to get noticed now that young fans are paying more attention to Web sites such as Google Inc.’s YouTube and News Corp.’s MySpace than to traditional media like commercial radio. [continues…]
Of course it wouldn’t be fair not to include Marie Digby’s say on the issue:
September 5, 2007 – Wednesday
I think today will be the first ever blog that I write … as i’m furious. fuming. angry beyond words.
Thank god for blogs because I can say whatever the F.. i want to .
So basically, I got a call recently that some shmuck from the Wall Street Journal wanted to do an article about me. He interviewed some people at my label and then asked to talk to me on the phone. I talked to this guy for an hour, told him every detail of my journey so far in music…
Here’s Lesson 1 for me in Media – The writer will use whatever quote he wants of yours to make it fit his ‘angle’. This loser was desperate for a good story… he knew what he wanted to write before he ever even talked to me.
The guy’s angle is this : that I am a complete phony and fake and a pawn of my record label in some brilliant marketing scheme. [Continues…]
Following her blog post, much of her fans seem to sympathize with her. While I understand some might feel cheated for discovering her talents only to learn about her record company’s backing later, others might not think too much into it, with the perspective that Ms Digby has talent anyway.
Such is the convoluted, convergent affordance of traditional and participatory media now. The conflux get confusing and dizzying, and after a while, we might be so conditioned (i.e. jaded) that we no longer think too much into it.
Does it ethically matter that it was a concerted commercial effort to create an amateur star? Or should we simply applaud the creativity of her record company’s marketing department?