Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of different TiVo marketing campaigns. Some of them have been great and some of them have been bombs, but TiVo has never been afraid of taking risks, especially when it comes to generating publicity. Whether it was their funeral for the VCR or their ad throwing a TV exec out a window, they’ve been able to get pretty good bang for their buck, from the social web.
Despite my normal enthusiasm for TiVo’s PR stunts, their latest campaign has been a little over the top, for even my tastes. It started in late August, when TiVo issued a press release that declared that their new TiVo HD box, had all the features that people expect from a perfect companion. When I first read the release it was so syrupy, I could barely finish it.
I even almost wrote a snarky blog post, where I was going to point out that despite their claims, I’m actually looking for something a little bit different from my “hook ups”, then the family friendly criteria that they included in the PR fluff. Things like someone who won’t freeze up on me after I had been out drinking with the boys or someone with a pair of really big hard drives or a companion that doesn’t get jealous when I play video games.
I ended up getting distracted and never wrote my post, but when I saw TiVo issue another lovefest press release, I just rolled my eyes and figured that I was in the wrong demographic to ever understand this one.
Normally, I wouldn’t have thought much more about this campaign, except while I was surfing YouTube, I came across several clips that appeared to be fan made videos expressing their excitement for the HD TiVo product. At first I actually thought that these were made by TiVo customers. There is definitely an indie feel to them. One of them actually does an amusing simulation of the world from TiVo’s perspective It wasn’t until I got to my my favorite video of the bunch that I finally figured out why there was such a sudden rush of TiVo videos on YouTube. Of all the clips out there, this is the only one that I could find, that was honest enough to at least identify that it’s part of the PayPerPost program.
Pay Per Post has been a very controversial company from the start. Because they pay individuals to make fake user generated content, that are really covert advertisements for sponsors, the FTC has even expressed some concerns over the truth in advertising issues related to their service.
Now I don’t think that there is anything wrong with TiVo paying someone to make commercials for them, but there is something wrong with conning consumers into believing, that they are witnessing legitimate testimonials when in fact, it’s really just a shill that is being paid to tout the product. If TiVo were requiring these video bloggers to put Pay Per Post on every video, I wouldn’t even see this as controversial, but 5 of the 6 ads that I saw, carried no warnings.
In the past, I’ve appreciated TiVo’s edginess in how they advertise. It may not always be to my liking, but I don’t mind them taking risks. This time though, they’ve crossed the line. By not clearly identifying this content as an advertisement, they have insulted the grassroots community that already spends so much time and effort evangelizing TiVo’s brand. By polluting their community with this vaporous buzz, they damage the credibility of every piece of user generated content, even if it really is being made by a legitimate fan.
If TiVo already had a terrible reputation or couldn’t get buzz to begin with, I could understand why they would stoop to this level, but their customers already love their products and spend plenty of time gushing over each and every little development. With as PR savvy as TiVo has been, it puzzles me why they would risk this kind of damage to their reputation, just so that they could get a few more videos up on YouTube?
If they really are proud of supporting these artists, why not put a big TiVo logo on the front of every clip and let YouTubers know that they are watching paid programming? If this was on the up and up, TiVo wouldn’t be hiding this, but because they want it to appear authentic, they’ve choosen to support Pay Per Post and let them do the dirty work.
As a member of the TiVo community, I love it when I see cool fan creations. It’s neat to be able to connect with other people who feel just as passionate about the TiVo experience. Over the years, TiVo has gotten a tremendous amount of grassroot support from the social net and to betray that trust is a huge blunder. By choosing to “hook up” with Pay Per Post for their latest ad campaign, they have introduced a toxic poison into the TiVoSphere that can only make it sick. TiVo needs to end this questionable form of guerrilla marketing, before they damage the credibility of their fan base any further.
Davis Freeberg is a technology enthusiast living in the Bay Area. He enjoys writing about movies, music, and the impact that digital technology is having on traditional media. Read more of his musings at www.davisfreeberg.com. Davis is a TiVo shareholder.