The Wall Street Journal is now reporting that a purportedly homemade video which portrays Al Gore as the Penguin (the Batman villain) that brainwashes actual penguins and blames everything from the current problems in the Middle East to Lindsey Lohanâ€™s skinniness on global warming was probably created by the DCI Group, a Washington-based lobbying firm that handles public relations for Exxon Mobil Corp.
According to the WSJ, the email routing information contained within emails sent from the purported author of the video, a fellow named â€œToutsmith,â€ revealed that it actually originated from computers at DCI.
DCI refuses to comment on the whole thing, saying they donâ€™t talk about their clients or the work they do for them, and Exxon is denying the rumors that they had anything to do with the creation of it. Iâ€™m kinda hoping that both of these are true and that this video was produced by a DCI employee on their own and they just happened to send an email from a DCI computer. If this video was created by DCI, though, this spotlights the exact wrong way to use consumer-distributed and generated content to get across marketing or brand messages (and perfectly illustrates why some bloggers and grassroots content creators are leery of advertising agencies).
And the worst part of the whole thing is that there was nothing wrong with the actual content in that video, provided it had been presented openly by whoever actually created it. Itâ€™s actually a little amusing, although it did seem a bit long and I got impatient and fast-forwarded through the end of it (but maybe thatâ€™s just the seventeen cups of coffee Iâ€™ve had today). Iâ€™m sure some folks will spin this like liberals being angry at a conservative viewpoint or as environmentalists against big business, but thatâ€™s not what people are upset by at all. The content is fine. Itâ€™s the duplicity involved in its presentation. Itâ€™s that, once again, they feel as if opinions are being pushed on them through manipulative means. Why not just offer some support to one of the grass roots content producers out there that are actually creating this type of content on their own? Why go through some type of elaborate ruse?
The massive growth of consumer-generated content was due, in part, to an urge for more transparency in media — to strip out hype and fills its empty spot with real substance. Everyone knows that blogs donâ€™t mean the death of the newspaper, but consumer-generated content, be it in the form of blog posts or YouTube videos and their reviews, do allow for something distinctly non-journalistic. Theyâ€™re about dialogue. Theyâ€™re about conversation. And theyâ€™re not about monologues or hype or lectures.
Transparency is a very real part of what allows these dialogues to occur and messing with that is not just a bad idea because it circumvents what makes consumer-generated content valuable, but also because all of those homegrown bloggers, video creators and other net denizens that people are trying to reach will react pretty violently against it. Anyone who doesnâ€™t believe this should check out the comments on Toutsmithâ€™s YouTube profile or take a general pulse of the blogging community right now.
Regardless of whether this video was created by DCI or not, I donâ€™t think this is the last that weâ€™re going to see of this type of controversy, which is too bad. For a long time, there was a deep mistrust of both large corporations and the advertising industry within the community of bloggers and grassroots content creators on the Internet. That mistrust existed because they were afraid that
Itâ€™s an awful shame, really. We regularly see clients come into the lab who are really excited about the explosion of user-generated content and the new worlds that are opening up through emerging media, and they want to learn how to work with the people that are producing this stuff in an open and genuine way. These folks get that thereâ€™s nothing wrong with having an honest dialogue with their consumers. They get that the world is no longer about force-feeding perspectives to people. And, best of all, theyâ€™re excited about it. Theyâ€™re excited about where weâ€™re going and about how having open conversations is going to provide more satisfaction for the consumer and more value to the company.
And then something like this happens and it sets us all back. Controversies like this cause grassroots content creators to pull their heads back into the shells that they were just beginning to come out of. And itâ€™s not because the content criticized Al Gore or global warming, but because, at the heart of everything, this disrespects the same people that it seeks to influence.
Anyway, for better or worse, hereâ€™s the video.