Epilogue: Wal-Mart and Edelman
Well, as many PR bloggers have already reported (best round-upto date is Constantin's), Edelman has emerged from the cone of silence around the Wal-Mart fiasco. On Richard Edelman's blog, an apology and acceptance of total responsibility. And on Steve Rubel's, a short comment and link to Richard's blog.
Quite frankly, I do not see how the agency could have done anything else. It could be Edelman's fault. Might not be. Probably is. Doesn't really matter. Whether it was their fault or not, the agency must fall on the sword for the client. Or lose the client.
I know a lot of folks would love to be privy to the post mortem on this disaster. To them, I say, how does it feel... to want. We know what we know and we ain't likely to know much more. And I don't really care. I'm more interested in:
- what Edelman does in the future. Will they finally learn and get it right the next time? What Richard and Steve say is all good and well, but the proof is in what they DO;
- the lessons we can all learn about honesty and grassroots marketing from this fiasco.
I've commented on a number of other blog posts about this mess, among them Kami Huyse and Peter Himler, that the real shame is that had they done this right, with honesty and clarity about the sponsorship, this RVing blog might just have worked. People with RVs do stay in Wal-Mart parking lots. That's not an invention. They might have rallied around a blog that focused on them, their lives, their culture. If it was well written, corporate sponsored or not, the public might have enjoyed it. Many do shop in Wal-Mart, image problems notwithstanding.
Bottom line, had there been truth, I would have given it a big, so what. A good idea is still a good idea even if the corporation has it. The error isn't in sponsoring a blog to advance a corporate objective. The error is the lie. People can forgive many things. But generally and pretty universally, we hate being lied to.
I'm pretty sure the folks at Edelman and Wal-Mart get this now.
There is nothing wrong with trying to spark something in the "grassroots." If you've understood the situation, and deliver a compelling message, it will take fire. That's what viral means -- the message is so compelling it propels itself through the social network. But we cannot create a grassroots effect Artificial, the campaign has no life, no community and cannot spread without more artifice and manipulation.
You must tap into something in the community for grassroots efforts to bear any fruit. Two recent examples come to mind, and I'm sure it will surprise none of my readers that both come from science fiction television, Firefly and Farscape. Momentum came from the community and the producers were smart enough to engage with, to love their communities. They treated them with respect and love, and guess what? When the franchises needed support, the communities around them sprung to action.
In both cases, the TV shows were cancelled and fan support had a great deal to do with subsequent movies. In the case of Firefly fans, strong DVD sales provided further proof for the movie studio that the decision to greenlight a feature film (Serenity) was the right one. And when it came time to promote the film, no fan base was more loyal than the Firefly fans.
Except maybe the Farscape fans, who lobbied for a resolution to their much loved and highly acclaimed series, and finally got it in 2004 with the Peacekeeper Wars miniseries. I wasn't a Farscape viewer when it was on TV but now, having seen all the episodes, I can say without hesitation that it is a damn shame the show was cancelled. Can we have some more, please?
In both cases, the grassroots communities were there, and the shows were able to tap into the love to make things happen. Fans didn't mind when Joss Whedon asked them to do something for Serenity. They knew he'd pay them back in spades. In fact, both fan groups are still going pretty strong online and to date, there are no (public) plans for more of either on TV or the big screen. [Boo Hoo]
That's how a company can tap into the grassroots. And I do not believe that it is only possible for science fiction franchises.
However, it is only possible when we understand that a grassroots campaign only works when the initial impetus comes from the community, not the corporation that benefits.
It's grassroots marketing when the roots really are in the grass. When they are not, it is probably astroturf.
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