I'm sure many of you have seen the First Kiss video that has been circling around the web over the past three days. It's garnered almost 36 million views on YouTube (in the two hours since I first drafted this post its increased by more than two million). Judging by the amount of times you've seen it in your social media feeds -- Lord knows I've seen it everyday -- you can probably guess that its gone viral.
I didn't share it, and I didn't watch it until this evening, and only then so I could make sure I knew what I was talking about when I wrote this blog post. I want to clarify why I chose to give it a miss initially. I skipped it for different reasons than why I'm writing this blog post. I passed it over because I assumed the group of people in it didn't represent me, or speak to me. After seeing it tonight, I realize I was right in my assumptions. However, that my friends, is a whole other blog post in and of itself.
What I really wanted to talk about is something that has started to trouble me around viral marketing videos.
When the First Kiss video began to pick up speed online, I started to get dubious. Honestly, I've come to second guess any viral video that's making the rounds, especially if it screams some sort of AMAZINGNESS. I'd like to believe it's not because I am in fact getting jaded as I get older, but instead just being more and more wary about being sold to without my knowing it.
I think many of us who work online have started to feel this way. Of course, it wasn't always that way. My first lesson (and I've needed a few, I'll have you know) around believing something at face value, came when I tweeted out that Jeff Goldblum had died in the summer of 2009. I'm not going to go down the rabbit hole of things I've fallen for. I do still have some sense of wonder around things, and I'd like to keep it that way, instead of shaming and outing myself here.
My point with the above is, I think we're all learning our lessons along the way around falling for glossy, irresistible, too good to be true videos. We're getting wiser, and perhaps a little quicker around what we take at face value online. How can we not when we're bombarded by videos almost everyday that show us IRL hoverboards, or that your phone can indeed pop popcorn (I shared that!). I could go on and on.
When we're constantly duped like this it's hard to take anything seriously in a world where everyone is vying for their slick, marketing campaign to go viral.
In some ways I think it's these types of videos that attribute to killing our childlike wonder and playful beliefs, and making many people very jaded. Again, perhaps another blog post.
I make my living from helping small, creative businesses utilze social media and content creation around their brand. It literally thrills me to connect people to tools and technology that will make their world bigger, and help them achieve their professional goals and dreams. Especially women like myself. It is literally why I get out of bed in the morning (I also have a very vocal puppy who helps). Although I am reluctant to always say it, I work in marketing. This is because there is a side of marketing that has never agreed with me and always rubbed me the wrong way. But I have worked very hard to shed that snake oil salesman feel around social media -- yet every now and then it knocks at my conscience.
It happened while reading Amanda Hess' piece in Slate regarding that the strangers in this viral video were in fact models and professional performers, and that the video was actually for a line of clothing. It had me really thinking about that rub again, and the ethics of disclosing when a product is being pushed unknowingly to those who are sharing it at a rapid fire pace.
My own personal feelings, around cash in any area is, that if money is changing hands, everything needs to be on the up and up. It keeps everyone honest. Why can't that be clear around viral videos that are out to make a profit? Aren't these ads we're sharing, ultimately?
If your video's bottom line is about pushing a product -- meaning your end goal is to make money -- I want that signified somehow, in someway through branding, or some sort of indicator. I want to know about it before I share your content with my communities, so I can decide if I want to promote a product. I don't want to come to find out later that I was sharing in earnest around something I believed to be genuinely true, when in fact it was a marketing campaign.
You may ask, but what about other social media that is for a product or brand? Should every piece of content be branded? Should every image have a disclaimer? No. There are other visual signifiers that cue us into when we're interacting with a brand's content. There are cues somewhere where the original piece of content was first shared. You see it in their bio, or a link, or the website its hosted on. It's visually signified by their avatar, etc. Many of these viral videos are planted online, and there's normally very little or no info to accompany them.
With First Kiss, the video is published under the director Tatia PIlieva's YouTube account. There is no information about her and there is only one video. In the About section it says under the video:
Published on Mar 10, 2014
We asked twenty strangers to kiss for the first time....
Film presented by WREN http://wrenstudio.com/
Music by Soko "We Might be Dead Tomorrow"
Category: People & Blogs
To give WREN the benefit of the doubt, the clothing line is listed. But it's not clear at all that this video is in fact for the clothing line when you watch it. First Kiss starts off as being presented by Wren and introduced as "a film" by Tatia PIlieva.
Oy vey, semantics.
There are videos that go viral all of the time that are very clearly ads. So why with some videos is there this need to hide what the video is really about from the audience? To me, that feels dishonest by omission.
Many of my friends loved this video, many of them shared it. When I posted the Slate piece they spoke up on Facebook and Twitter and stated regardless, they still found it lovely. In many ways, I think that is awesome. Really. I fully believe we should all be looking for more beauty in this world every where. But please, if we're helping you to line your pockets give us the full story behind your video. Let us make an informed decision about its beauty or merit. Give us the opportunity to decide if we want to use our online reputations to push your product. Otherwise, we're shills, and regardless of what I do for a living or how beautiful your video is, I want no part of it.