Meteoric mediocrity: Is all publicity really good publicity?

Is all publicity good publicity? In bygone eras when news was scarce and communication outlets sparse, maybe. But times have changed. There ...

27 Oct 2009 2666 Views

An open post to Janis Sprogis, marketing director of Tele2 Latvia

 Is all publicity good publicity? In bygone eras when news was scarce and communication outlets sparse, maybe. But times have changed. There is no scarcity of communication outlets. With the internet we all have access to an audience of 1.7 billion of Earth’s inhabitants. And with that access comes an unspoken responsibility not to abuse the privilege. A fact marketers would be wise to respect.

Meteor Hoax crater Recent case in point, the Latvian meteor hoax. Yesterday it was widely reported that a meteor had fallen in a farmer’s field in Latvia leaving a 27-foot wide, 9-foot hole. A video was released on YouTube showing the smoldering crater. This grabbed the attention of scientists around the world as well local government and emergency crews.  It wasn’t long before scientists began to cast doubt on the authenticity of the claim (spade marks on the sides of the hole were part of the give away).


When I first heard about the doubts I figured it must be some Latvian teens with too much time on their hands and an adolescent appetite for attention – of any sort.

This afternoon I was flabbergasted to hear that one of Europe’s largest phone companies, Tele2, is responsible for the hoax. The Swedish-owned telecom giant has had to promise to reimburse Latvian emergency services who responded to the fake meteorite. Latvian police are not amused as they are launching a formal investigation which could lead to formal criminal charges. And Sky News reports that the Latvian government is canceling its contracts with the company. They quote the Interior Minister Linda Murniece as saying: “We don’t want to do business with a firm that promotes itself at our expense.”

200px-Tele2.svgThis meteor seems to have fallen out of left field because it has no obvious link to any Tele2 campaign theme. Tele2 spokesman and marketing director Janis Sprogis described the “strategy” behind the hoax thusly: “Our goal is to inspire the people of Latvia. As we can see, with this Latvia made the news all over the world, everyone wants to know about Latvia, and this is not because of the crisis, the hard times and so, but because there is something creative and exciting happening here. It is a unique achievement and part of our communication.”

Sorry Janis, but I beg to differ. 

First, I don’t believe you had a goal or a strategy or a plan. If you had any of those things you would never have dug that hole. I think the whole thing was fueled by the belief that you could make a viral video on YouTube. That’s never a replacement for a sound strategy (no matter what your ad agency tells you). But I guess you are probably realizing that now.

Second, I can’t fathom how the citizens of Latvia will be inspired by this. I asked one Latvian I know.  She told me the whole thing is more an embarrassment for Latvia not an inspiration. And guess who she blames for embarrassing her homeland? That’s right, Tele2. Do you assume that Latvians are so starved of attention that the mere mention of the country outside its own boarders — in any context — inspires them? If so then I suggest you search for a YouTube video called “Flaming Fart Gone Wrong”. This video of an authentic fart has received 1,242,716 views compared to the 7,014 views your fake meteor video received.  This flatulent prank is a lot easier than digging a nine-foot hole in the ground.  With the addition of a Latvian flag as a backdrop you could film a few zany farts and bring even more inspiration to your countrymen. That is, of course, if your logic holds.



Last, but not least: I do not believe one word of your statement.  How can I?  Remember, you are the joker who has been lying to me and wasting my time for 24 hours prior to your confession.  Can you see how that might tarnish your credibility in the eyes of customers like me? If so, then you may also understand why tomorrow I will begin my search for a new phone carrier.

Janis, there is nothing creative, unique or inspirational in that faux crater.  Your hoax is an insult to everything creative, unique and inspirational in marketing.  It is a hole filled with lies, public fraud and deception. And at the bottom of all that is the Tele2 brand.  P.T. Barnum was wrong: All publicity is not good publicity. This is not good publicity. It’s bad for you, bad for Tele2 and bad for our industry.

You are right about one thing though, your prank did make news all over the globe.  Congrats on the world-wide attention. That puts you right up there with balloon boy. Not exactly the kind of company I’d want my brand to keep.

Photo Source: BBC

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Sean Duffy | @brandranter
Speaker, consultant & founder of Duffy Agency, the flipped digital agency that provides accelerated growth to aspiring international brands.