Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Is This Site Real?

The NYT has an interesting article today on faux websites intended to attract web surfers with humor and satire as a means of drawing attention to "real" products marketed by major firms, such as fast food, electronics, etc.

Marketers usually try to slip their names into every conceivable venue - like cellphone screens, bathroom posters and TV shows via product placement. But there are times when an ad that almost disguises its sponsor can be more effective.

Many of these ads have taken the form of specialty Web sites, like, which is intended to entrance visitors with humor, video or games.

Browsing around the site will eventually draw the reader to BurgerKing, the corporate sponsor of the satirical site:

The site, a promotion for the TenderCrisp chicken sandwich sold at Burger King, says little about Burger King or the sandwich, although there is a discreet link to the Burger King site.

Now, part of the allure of self-deprecating humor in marketing is the notion that a strong or comfortable company that can make fun of itself, or its industry, is interesting, and therefore worthy of your attention. Think of Wendy's "Where's the Beef" campaign which mocked competing burger chains, or Joe Isuzu who mocked the auto industry and the sponsoring corporation itself. Part of the draw of a humorous campaign is to appear "hip," standing out from the crowd in a nonconformist fashion in an effort to reach new customer segments.

Last year American Demographics pointed out that many of these "hip" marketing efforts are futile efforts, few get incorporated into the repertorie of American pop culture, and the connection between brand and slogan or logo is lost quickly once the campaign is over:

Ads are ads. They're not art or philosophy or anything approaching the transcendent capacities of man. But occasionally, the right person or team at the right company brings the right product to the right agency, and together they put their finger on the pulse of something bigger. Although a lot of wacky ads flash in the proverbial pan and score big recall numbers a month after the Super Bowl, communications programs that do more-that speak to their audiences with words they not only understand but also want to hear, that move the cultural needle, that work-are few and far between.

My problem with this new crop of speciality web sites is that they appear at a time when phishing, the use of fake business websites intended to trick users into providing financial information, is spreading. More customers are becoming wary of fake sites and computer experts are loudly extolling the public to be aware via major media outlets. It seems to me that instead openly identifying themselves, companies using faux web sites risk the association of their "speciality" web sites with nefarious outlets copying the web frontages of reliable firms.

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