Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Art of Astroturf

Astroturf never got off easy. While it is typically associated with corporate dirty tricks at best and Orwellian propaganda tactics at worst, I feel that there are some benign marketing applications of Astroturf that remain to be explored.

What if, rather than directly manipulating media to give the false impression of a grassroots movement, the mission was reengineered to inspire a well-orchestrated grassroots push that, while feeling amateur and genuine, was coordinated to feel as such? While probably overreferenced, the Swift Boat Attacks are a good example. The Bush campaign didn't make those veterans up -- it simply defined its mission in such a way to inspire genuine sentiments, which it then incentivized and captured. Obviously the ads were funded by the Bushies; however, the veterans and their feelings were real.

It may have been morally questionable on Bush's part, but it worked. And when it's two competing companies instead of politicans, the ethical questions are significantly less thorny.

How is this applicable to anything? First, it can change the way marketing is done, especially to crowds particularly sensitive to grassroots efforts. Instead of presenting a coordinated, Web 2.0 face to college students, perhaps subdividing the market and presenting a "localized" face to the audience is a better fit. Rather than appearing as a corporation attempting to market a product, acting as a behind-the-scenes technology provider and letting the local reps do the work as "fake grass" may be worth a try.

Depending on the implementation, branding could be nearly nonexistent. But when approaching cynical and anti-corporate markets, is this a bad thing?

- Brad

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