Novelist Jennifer Belle recently hired 40 actresses to read (and laugh at) her new book in high-traffic public spots around New York City. Sounds more like disingenuous AstroTurfing than legitimate guerrilla marketing.
According to the New York Post, the author interviewed 100 actresses from 500+ candidates. The 40 hires are/were stationed in high-traffic areas like Times Square and paid $8/hour to sit, read, and “laugh” at her third book. The New York Times noted she hired “the most infectious laughers.” There’s a video.
It’s clever but also ethically questionable. AstroTurfing is when a company or its P.R. firm organizes what looks like an organic, grassroots, from-the-ground-up campaign…but it’s actually a corporate-funded front. That’s not grassroots — it’s fake grass, like stadium AstroTurf.
For instance, tobacco giant Philip Morris hired Burson-Marsteller to create the National Smokers Alliance in the mid-1990s. The N.S.A. ostensibly spoke on behalf of individual smokers who opposed laws that restricted tobacco marketing aimed at teens. But it was actually a Philip Morris-funded front organization.
From the New York Times‘ 5/21/2010 video of the actresses in action (the video is no longer online as of August 2012), it appears the shills aren’t disclosing that it’s all a trick. I have no objection to organizations trying to influence decision-making. It’s part of free speech. But when their marketers, promoters, lobbyists, or other representatives portray themselves as the opposite of what they really are, it’s inauthentic — if not outright lying. At $8/hour, I have to think the ROI is pretty poor, too.
Is Jennifer Belle’s paid-laughter campaign an example of clever guerilla marketing, ethically questionable AstroTurfing, or both?
Image credit: Amazon.com