Marketing Shouldn’t Leave You Feeling Dirty

good marketing practice content management 1

Why it’s not OK to use a made-up story to advertise your site

This tweet turned up in my timeline yesterday afternoon. It’s a picture of a note stuck on a toilet wall at the Web Summit (if you’ve been on Mars the past couple of months, the Web Summit is a web/tech shindig in Dublin attracting 22,000 attendees from around the world).


Tweeted by Colin Quinn (@realcolinquinn)

Intrigued by the very private revelation it appears to make, I looked at people’s replies and quickly realised that the note is, in fact, what can only loosely be described as a “guerilla marketing” stunt by a missed connections app. If you visit the website address at the bottom of the note, the URL resolves to

While it’s likely that traffic to this site increased significantly since yesterday, while it’s true that the owners of this site have probably got themselves noticed by some of the movers and shakers that attend the Web Summit, this kind of marketing is immoral, childish and ultimately cannot be good for the reputation of the company, or for marketers.

Comments on Twitter were unimpressed, to say the least.

We’re all looking for original ways to get our product or service in front of our customers, and there are plenty of spoof campaigns out there that have tickled our fancy at one time or another. But to make up a story about a fatherless child in order to play on people’s voyeurism leaves a very bad taste in the mouth.

There may possibly have been a couple of unplanned pregnancies as a result of a chance encounter at the Web Summit (let’s face it, conferences do have a reputation as being hotbeds (sorry!) of one-night stands). But this cynical ploy is no better than any other black hat marketing technique and should be relegated to the bottom of the dustbin of dirty techniques – to be avoided at all costs.

Imagine if I started a campaign telling my story of kidney failure and how I’m desperately seeking a kidney donor, but the URL actually brought you to my website, with a big splash about how great I am at designing viral marketing campaigns. Would you hire me?! I think not!

Viral campaigns should go viral because they engage people in a positive way, not because they trick people. People should want to share them because they’re brilliant, or heart-rending, or funny, or teach you something you didn’t know. And that’s what the great viral campaigns have done (think Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, or the Evian babies, or Go-Pro’s “Fireman Saves Kitten” video).

If Spotted wants to win hearts, not hits, they should look to themselves and create content that reflects the truth. What about some real-life stories of how they’ve brought people together, of friendships renewed or love kindled through their app? If there are no such stories, then maybe their product isn’t doing what it should.