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So here it goes: when you steal words, pictures, or ideas from other people, especially people who live in the constantly well-documented world of the blogosphere, you’re not being cool.
I bring this up after a Portuguese campaign for McDonald’s pretty blatantly stole the idea of turning fast food into pretty culinary offerings from the popular blog Fancy Fast Food. Some marketers or PR people would applaud McDonald’s for “spinning” this somewhat satirical blog’s view of fast food into something they could use as an interactive sort of promotion. Those people are missing the point. The idea of turning fast food into something at least visually palatable was that lone blogger’s idea. By taking it and using it for a McDonald’s campaign, McDonald’s appears to be hijacking instead of creating partnerships. To fans of that blog, this is an act of alienation.
And this is not the first time a blogger has been used without their consent in a campaign. Some might remember that, earlier this summer, the popular webcomic Get Your War On was involved in a kerfuffle with Jamba Juice. Again, the problem was not that the artist’s work was being used to sell juice he didn’t personally endorse (although that was bad enough); it was that Jamba Juice wasn’t playing by the rules. They weren’t giving credit where credit was due. They weren’t asking if it was okay to play in the sandbox with all the other kids.
Here’s the thing that boggles my mind: if you want your brand to ride on the coattails of an online sensation, then you have to assume that the reference will resonate the best with people who are fans of the original work. In other words, they will see wut u did thar. And do you really want to take the chance of angering millions of fans in possession of Level Six LOLspeak?
Is what McDonald’s and Jamba doing illegal? It’s not clear. Does it make the Internet People angry, whether or not it’s illegal? You bet your brown betty teapot it does.
Guys, I know it’s hard to come up with creative campaigns that speak to a certain young, tech-savvy market, but that’s no excuse for being lazy and just cherrypicking from bloggers. If you truly want to show that you’re “down” and “hip” and “not so lame that you use lots of quote marks” then you’ll either form a real partnership with an existing community or make your own.