TCS Daily

Faux-rilla Media

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds - March 4, 2003 12:00 AM

"Soda pop! Soda pop! Everybody wants to make it to the top!" wrote John Fogerty in a song about the commercialization of rock music at the hands of Pepsi. (I think that Michael Jackson was involved.)

Now it's happening again, with an effort by Dr. Pepper to co-opt weblogs in order to sell a new soft drink, an unpromisingly-described "milk-based product with an attitude" that is unpromisingly named "Raging Cow."

This sounds like a parody (as I said when I first heard about this, the only time I ever experienced a "milk-based product" developing an "attitude" it was due to improper refrigeration) and the website, an imitation weblog, is pretty lame. Slogans like "the revolution will be homogenized" just don't impress me with its hipness.

But there's more. According to press reports, Dr. Pepper plans to recruit "key influence bloggers" who will spread the word,

by sharing their enthusiasm, linking to the site and distributing special screensavers, banners and skins. Beginning with an initial group of six people in their late teens and early 20s--flown to Dallas with their parents for an induction session--Dr Pepper hopes to develop a "blogging network" to hype Raging Cow and "be part of the 'in the know' crowd," says its brand-marketing honcho Andrew Springate. Those spreading the news via their blogs won't disclose their flackitude, says Springate, because officially they're not paid Dr Pepper employees; they only get promo items like hats and T shirts.

At this point, I'm supposed to tug at my beard (er, if I had one) and opine sagely about the conflicts of interest, the deeply troubling issues of journalistic ethics, and the insufferable corporate greed involved in this campaign. I might even worry loudly that this calls into question the future of the guerrilla media that I was writing about last week. But I just can't muster the indignation.

Because this isn't a case of conniving corporate criminality. It's a case of crude corporate cluelessness. The "Raging Cow" campaign, I predict, will exude all the hipness of those 1970s-era Soviet rock bands. All the elements of hipness will be there, but somehow the whole will be less than the sum of the parts.

What's more, bloggers who "Get Behind The Cow" (hmm, that's another unfortunate slogan, now that I think about it) will probably be subjected to merciless ribbing from other bloggers - especially now that word of the campaign has gotten out. The upshot is likely to be that even people who actually like the drink (and there will be some - heck, somebody out there likes YooHoo! because, well, they keep making it) will probably be embarrassed to say so, for fear of posts on other blogs reading like this (hypothetical) one:

NOW MICKEY KAUS has "gotten behind the cow," as he's put up a post endorsing Doctor Pepper's latest. I wonder how many hats he got?

Just watch.

As an internal memo on weblogs from a big public-relations firm leaked by Nick Denton noted, the danger of launching a faux-rilla campaign in the weblog world is that its failure is likely to be spectacular:

What's more, where traditional editors would at worst ignore pitches they felt missed the mark, in the often curmudgeonly world of blogging, a miscalculated PR call might be deemed grounds for public mockery.

"Raging Cow" might just prove that statement true - in spades.

Scientist Thomas Ray once proposed the following as a universal law of nature: "Every successful system accumulates parasites." I guess the "Raging Cow" campaign is thus proof that the blogosphere is a success. But I don't think that this particular parasite is going to do very well, unless - as seems quite unlikely - "Raging Cow" turns out to be so irresistibly good that everyone would be talking about it anyway, in which case the campaign is unnecessary and maybe even counterproductive..

With many members, and readers who have a sharp eye for phoniness, the Blogosphere is likely to be fairly resistant to efforts like this. Which is just as well.

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