Viral advertising isn't easy: Universal Music learned this lesson the hard way a few weeks ago when they tried to spread the word about the new Nine Inch Nails record with leaked MP3s that in turn got a few bloggers in trouble with the the label's very own lawyers.

Music played only a small role in similarly disastrous campaign that perfume giant Coty recently started in Germany. Coty hired a company called DKD to spread the word about a new Calvin Klein fragrance. DKD in turn hired a few young authors to develop something the company now calls a "web soap opera".


The writers assumed the identities of Joe, Alina, Miriam, Katharina and Tomekk - young hipsters that supposedly have incredibly exciting lifes. One is a stweardess, another one helps to edit movies, a third is an amateur musician, and every one of them is incredibly photogenic.

They all start blogging at about the same time, documenting their exciting lifes, making friends with others in the blogosphere and sometimes musing about this new CK fragrance that everyone seems to be speaking about these days. Or at least everyone who gets paid by DKD. Later they meet up, start to develop feelings for each other, become jealous. Typical soap material.

Of course all of this wouldn't make sense without an audience, which is why Joe and his friends start to comment in other German blogs. They target a few dozen of the most read weblogs and leave more or less useless comments of the "me too" variety. All of those comments point back to the campaign blogs, and many of them feature a variation of the CK fragrance ad slogan.

This goes unnoticed for some time, but then two bloggers are becoming suspicious. They start to do some research, compile evidence and finally make their case, revealing that DKD has been spamming the German blogosphere in the name of Coty.

Obviously many bloggers weren't too amused. Some even started billing DKD up to 19.000 USD for placing advertising links on their blogs. DKD quickly tried to hide some too obvious traces and removed a description of the campaign from their website. But the cat was already out of the bag, and soon mainstream online magazines started reporting (disclaimer: I wrote an article about this as well).

Today DKD and Coty finally came clear about the campaign, admitting on DKD's website that the five bloggers were part of an "online telenovela" that was "playing with (the question) fake or no fake?" According to the news release, uncovering the real identity of the participating bloggers was always part of the plan - a claim that is somewhat questionable because the "blog soap" will continue for another week or so.

The news release does admit that the campaign caused quite a stir in the German blogosphere, even raising the rhetorical question whether the campaign was a "success or a flop". Well, let's take a look at the German Google search results for the perfume in question: Only one search result on the first page actually refers to the perfume. The rest consists of more or less vulgar swearing against DKD and Coty, including a journalist-blogger from one of Germany's leading business newspapers making a word play on Calvin Klein and small genitals.

If that's what Coty calls success, then I don't want to see their failures.

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