Esquire’s Worst Dating Videos = Perfect Profile Marketing Campaign
About a year ago, we made a fake online dating profile of the character “Sam” to promote Perfect Profile, a short 16mm film I made a while ago. I wanted to try an experiment to see whether an absurd and eerily-strange video could get traction on the web. Dennis Hurley (a talented actor I worked with on Perfect Profile and also making a guest appearance in The Hayley Project) and I created an online dating video where his character Sam told the world that he was looking for a petite redheaded girl who matched the description of an old ex-girlfriend he had lost. The purpose of this promotional video was to drive people to http://www.myspace.com/perfectprofile, where they would get more information on Sam, and watch our short film Perfect Profile. So we dropped this promotional video on YouTube and watched as a few people stumbled upon it and reacted. But we never really got many hits from it.
Fast forward a year or so, and this promotional video gets picked up by Esquire as one of the worst dating videos of all time (note: they never contacted us to confirm its validity).
Digg and Fark also picked up the story, so there was momentum building over the weekend. What I don’t get is how Esquire missed the fact that the actual film was on the MySpace page. It did seem a lot of people made this mistake, however. I logged into the MySpace account and found a ton of private messages, some comments, and a few friend requests with most people not realizing that this was for a film. Even though a few people did click and watch the film, I decided to take the film off the site for the time being. Curiosity got the best of me.
But the most interesting thing of all this was the responses Sam received through his MySpace page. They can be categorized as follows:
* Informational – “Hey, you’re on Fark, dude!” or “Hey, you better shut down that profile. You’ve been tagged by Esquire and it ain’t pretty!” Or “Hey, loser! You’re on Digg! HAH HAH HAH! LOL!” These were people who found the MySpace page first and wanted to inform/warn Sam of his newfound press.
* Ridiculing – The most common reaction is ridiculing (what that says about the human race, I don’t know). Generally, people (mostly males) call Sam a loser and tell him he’ll never get girls. My favorite one is “You are one sick BAST#$@!! If this is even real, you will have absolutely no luck in your efforts. You will however probably end up in jail due to stalking, harassment, etc. Good luck finding a really cheap and good therapist!”
* Skeptics – Only a couple of people actually were skeptical of this whole thing, to which I credit Dennis’s performance. Anyway, the biggest compliment was “Well assuming you’re a fake person I wanted to say congrats on making the creepiest online persona I have ever seen.”
* Flirts – A few women would write in and tell Sam that they wanted to be his friend and one even volunteered to dye her hair red for him. Apparently, telling your innermost feelings on the net is a turn-on for some women.
* Guy Advice – A few guys would write in and give Sam some dating tips. A couple of guys suggested Sam read “The Game” to learn how to pick up women. My favorite comment was: ” You can’t buy press like that. Paste that link all over the internet. Some woman somewhere will see it and bingo…In the mean time go date a brunette just for some balance. You can always dump her when the red haired girl comes along.” Practical advice. I love it.
* Supporters – I was actually surprised that a good percentage of people really wanted to help Sam. Many would say he has a good heart but that he needs to lay off the ex-girlfriend talk. Some sympathized with his “tragic loss” and some dared to ask what happened in the past (plug: watch the movie). Even though this whole thing was a viral marketing play, it was heartening to see that there are a lot of kind people in the world who have your back…. no matter how creepy or weird you are. Also, a fair number of people were enraged that Esquire wouldn’t have contacted Sam first to ask his permission to put up the video.
Also, a quick shout out and thanks to AnitaBlakeFan, Jillene Fujimoto, and Luhluhluh on MySpace. Throughout this whole ordeal, they have supported Sam and came to his defense when others would pick on him. Again, it’s nice to see kind-hearted people out there. If there was one thing I felt bad about through this whole thing, it ‘s that this promotion had to deceive a few genuinely nice people who took the time to support Sam. Hopefully, they aren’t too upset by this.
* Film viewers – Only a handful of people watched the movie before I took the film down. Most of the comments from this and the overall marketing gimmick were positive.
* And finally, my favorite message. One that was really succinct, direct, and very well-written. It was the only message I responded to. A young woman wrote three simple words: “You scare me.” Now what I really wanted to write back was “You should be afraid.” But since I don’t know what the deal is with Internet/stalking laws and the character it would be coming from is already creepy (don’t want to end up on Dateline for any reason!), I decided to play it safe and just wrote back: “I scare myself.”
The impact of Esquire’s article was high in the first 2-3 days. “Sam” even received a message from a producer of The Frank Show, a radio show based out of Tucson, requesting that Sam do an on-air interview. Sam agreed to appear on the show, and Dennis conducted his interview on Tuesday morning. You can hear his radio interview at Dennis’s website. This radio appearance was fun and generated a few more looks at the website. I initially prepared Dennis by warning him that the radio DJs could be harsh on him, but they were actually very professional and fair with “Sam” (but I’m not so sure that we were fair with them).
Over the next few days, I could tell that the promotion was running out of steam. Given this, I next wanted to test whether an extended viral run would occur if Sam started to post video blogs about what was happening to him post-Esquire. The idea being, new video content would potentially keep a person interested in how Sam’s life has developed since Esquire released its story (e.g., would new fame get Sam a date? How did Sam feel about Esquire’s ruthless article?). So Dennis recorded three webcam videos of himself, with our plan to release them periodically on YouTube and MySpace over the next couple of weeks. His first video was a direct response to all the comments he’s received due to the article. He thanked his supporters, told off his critics, and stuck by his philosophy that he wanted a girl who looked exactly like his old girlfriend.
In addition to YouTube and MySpace, we put a video blog up on the popular website Correntewire. Dennis knew one of the writers, so we thought it would be fun to see how their readership reacted. You can read about Correntewire’s take on this whole thing here.
Eventually, I decided that the viral life of the promotion was dead and that it was time to post the film back on MySpace. Even though the promotion worked, it took a year before it was “discovered”. The first key takeaway from this adventure is that Internet content tends to be timeless and can hibernate in the long tail of the web. But once one big player finds it (e.g., press), it can explode. The second key takeaway is you have to react extremely quickly when something goes viral. Had we started posting video blog responses immediately, it’s possible that the initial group of people who flocked to the website would have hung around, become repeat visitors, or forwarded the developing “story” to their friends. Unfortunately, by the time we had reacted, a lot of the viral nature of the article was already dead. It was almost like a 24-hour virus.
If you go to the MySpace page now, you’ll see Sam’s final video blog, where he tells his viewers how his high-potential date went (video number two was about the anticipation of that date). Sam drops clues throughout all three video posts which reveal part of the backstory of Perfect Profile (Note: no spoilers here. Check out the film). At the end of his final video blog, you’ll hear him tell people that there is video footage of a previous date he went on a few years ago. This is basically the reveal/end of the promotion.
Now that the fun is over, it’s time to concentrate on The Hayley Project…. If only we can have the type of marketing success that we just had for Sam! Even if it is accidental.
Below is the video that made Esquire’s list.