Steve Dempsey: Is voyeurism a virtue in social media marketing?
Have you heard of Louise Delage? She's a 25-year-old Instagram sensation from Paris who has clocked up more than 100,000 followers since August. She leads the high life, quaffing cocktails in Saint-Tropez, downing beers in Berlin, and wine everywhere in between.
Louise is an alcoholic, you see. But what really makes her remarkable is that she doesn't exist.
The Instagram profile is part of a French campaign to raise awareness of alcoholism among young people. Alcohol features in some way in all of Louise's 150 posts. And, just to hammer home the message, she regularly looks pouty and slightly miserable in her photos.
But her cover was blown last month when a slickly edited video was uploaded to her profile. The clip took the focus off the pretty girl, her beautiful clique and the exotic locations, and honed in on the ubiquitous alcohol. The video stated: "It's easy to miss the addiction of someone close to you."
BETC is the agency behind the campaign. Its team pulled out all the stops to create a credible online persona and build as large a following as possible.
The people in charge of the profile posted two to three posts per day at times when they knew the target audience (women interested in fashion and celebrity) were online. They studied fashion bloggers, then copied the bloggers' mannerisms and Instagram filters.
The posts were heavily laden with hashtags - sometimes stuffed with up to 30 of them. A bot was also used to find and like the type of people who would like Louise's profile in return. Louise's followers would then share her pictures.
And, so, Louise's fans grew.
Thanks to this planning and execution, the Like My Addiction campaign was a success.
Immediately after the announcement that Louise Delage was a fake, there was a surge of traffic to the Addict Aide website. Louise Delage and the campaign were trending on Twitter in France. A video about the campaign garnered more than 500,000 views on Facebook, YouTube, and, of course, Instagram.
From The Blair Witch Project to Lonelygirl15, modern audiences are well used to being tricked in the name of entertainment. But there's something a little unsettling about using a fake profile for marketing purposes - even if it aims to raise awareness for an important social issue such as alcoholism.
Mind you, Louise's multinational followers certainly didn't object to the fact that they'd been hoodwinked.
Judging by the comments on the account, some were surprised, while others were appreciative that an advertising campaign went to the trouble of tricking them.
One user wrote on Louise's Instagram account after the jig was up: "This is an incredible awareness campaign."
Another, who clearly has a tenuous relationship with punctuation, commented: "This is pretty cool tbh this Instagram page is made for alcohol awareness and she just revealed it and before everyone just thought she was super cool but didn't pay any attention to the fact that there's alcohol in every picture."
It's almost as if modern audiences would rather be tricked than advertised to - at least in the traditional sense. For a young audience, perhaps dishonesty trumps display ads. That's not too much of a stretch given the rise of ad blocking and banner blindness.
The Like My Addiction campaign sidesteps any such issues by pandering to the peeping Tom factor that's inherent on social media. Audiences may be blind to banners, but not beautiful girls on beaches. As a result, the message perfectly fits the medium. But, in so doing, it casts social media and its users in a negative light.
The campaign highlights how social media encourages users to stage an ideal version of their lives online, and validates similar productions from others with likes, comments and shares. The rules of this depressing social game: any production that is good enough - normally meaning if the subjects are young and hot enough - is worthy of interest and attention. Even if they're strangers. Even if they don't exist.
So voyeurism becomes a virtue.
But where does that leave marketing? It leaves it missing out on the primary connections on visual social channels. Brands may yet realise this en masse, and eschew social advertising and influencer marketing for entirely false, and entirely idealised, avatars of themselves and their campaigns.
That would only make social channels more unbearable than they already are.
Sunday Indo Business