It’s not the first, and it likely will not be the last time a corporation breaks the unwritten rules of blogging to make the medium serve its business ends. But this time, it involves a multinational corporation (Coach), a trade group (International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition), an institution of higher learning (Hunter College), a class in public relations and a nonexistent student (Heidi Cee) in a conspiracy to further the IACC’s battle against fake Coach bags.
Adweek covered the details, but the big picture is that Coach gave Hunter a $10,000 grant to get the class to run the scam, a few months later Hunter received a $1 million donation from Coach’s CEO, Lew Frankfort, a Hunter alumnus. My, isn’t that a tangled Web they wove.
Here’s the gist of the scam, according to Adweek:
Hunter College students in New York couldn’t miss the poster plastered around the Upper East Side campus. Reading “MISSING — $500 reward!!” it was accompanied by a photo of a young, blonde, Heidi Cee, pleading for the return of her lost Coach bag.
Tear-off tabs listed Cee’s phone number, blog, MySpace page and Facebook profile. Visitors to the blog (encounterheidi.blogspot. com), which drew more than 15,000 hits after the posters went up, learned that the bag was a gift from an ex-boyfriend serving in Iraq.
One day, Cee blogged that another student had returned the bag. A day later, she wrote that on closer inspection, the bag was a fake and she had been scammed for the reward.
Outraged (“EFFING COUNTERFEIT!” she wrote), Cee blogged that she was researching the world of counterfeit goods. She discovered, she wrote, that they’re linked to criminal activity, child labor and terrorism. She even posted a video to YouTube about counterfeiting, “Break the Chain,” and organized an anti-counterfeiting event on campus that drew a crowd with free food and T-shirts.
Given the proliferation of fake blogs (also known as “flogs” or “flack blogs”), you might think folks would start to wise up. But in this case, which is an instance of “astroturfing,” or a fake grassroots campaign (IACC wants to end counterfeiting of brand names), it’s even more insidious. Heidi Cee’s Coach bag gets stolen, she blithely pays the reward for a fake, and the next thing you know, there’s a campus rally around IACC’s campaign.
There are two lessons here: The first is that as attractive as social media are as potential marketing tools for corporations, transparency and honesty are absolutely essential for corporate blogs; the second lesson here is that one should approach any blog (except this one, of course) with the same skepticism one reserves for the guy trying to sell you a “real” Rolex watch for $25.