Benevolent Bribes

How much would you pay to watch Morgan Freeman spend an afternoon narrating amateur animal videos?

Would you fork over some cash to experience Celine Dion belting out George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex”?

Is catching a glimpse of Donald Trump’s bed head worth a couple of bucks to you?

Thanks to a new site called Charity Bribes, these are questions you may soon be able to wrestle with, all in the name of goodwill.

Created by copywriters William Burks Spencer and Chris Baker, Charity Bribes invites members of the general public to come up with ideas for amusing celebrity high jinks—e.g., Morgan Freeman getting all March of the Penguins on your home video of Fluffy the Cat falling into the toilet—and submit them to the site, along with the name of a charity. Users can then vote on their favorite suggestions, and every 30 days the idea with the most votes is selected as the winning bribe.

This bribe is then used to garner pledges from the public that will only turn into donations for the specified charity if the celebrity makes good on the challenge within the next 30 days. If not, the pledges will be null and void.

What makes this whole premise really interesting is that the celebrity has no buy-in (or, potentially, knowledge of the situation) until Charity Bribes approaches them at some point during or just after their 30-day pledge drive. This, of course, adds a juicy element of uncertainty to the whole occasion.

Photo by David Shankbone

The site’s first target is Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David. As of publication, 70 people have pledged a total of $7,452 in the hopes that he will join Twitter. If he does, the National Resources Defense Council will receive a nice donation.

“We think it’d be awesome. He would have millions of followers,” Baker said in an interview with BuzzFeed. “On Curb [Your Enthusiasm], he’s always been a bumbling idiot when it comes to tech. It’d be funny to see him on Twitter.”

Baker and Spencer have openly admitted they have no idea how they will get in touch with Mr. David once the pledging window ends on Friday—and as of yet, if the star has heard about this project, he hasn’t reached out.

When it comes to creating bribes like the Twitter challenge, the site’s founders have set some ground rules to keep things functional and aboveboard. These specify that a good bribe:

  • is something awesome
  • is easy and inexpensive for the celebrity to do
  • is verifiable and has some “end-product” that is produced
  • is creative
  • is not crude, offensive, mean, or endangers anyone’s safety
  • is fun
  • benefits a worthy charity that is established and reputable
  • benefits a charity that either the celebrity has a history of supporting or makes sense given the nature of the bribes

Launched just last month, Charity Bribes has already attracted a fair amount of publicity, although its success will likely hinge on the results of the first bribe or two. If Larry David doesn’t pan out, it looks like the next challenge will dare Conan O’Brien to interview a guest on his show while wearing an eye patch and turtleneck, holding a pipe, and insisting “I don’t want to talk about it” if asked about his getup (in this case, to benefit Autism Speaks).

I have to admit, I really like the Charity Bribes idea in theory, and there is certainly the potential for this to pay off for all players involved—the charity gets money, publicity, and a celebrity endorsement; the celebrity boosts his own brand by being a sport and doing some good; and the public at large basks in the glow of being part of a collective charitable effort.

That being said, I also have a few reservations about the endeavor, the first being that it seems a little, I don’t know…icky?…to treat charitable giving almost like a game show. I don’t have a problem with the “fun” aspect of it. Fun is great! Hell, what school principal hasn’t agreed to hit the dunk tank if her students raise $X for their local walk to end hunger, save the rainforest, adopt a dolphin, etc. But it just seems wrong somehow to gather, say, $25,000 in pledges for the ASPCA, and then shrug your shoulders and let it slip away when Sarah McLachlan doesn’t feel comfortable performing a concert dressed as Clifford the Big Red Dog. (Yes, I just made that up.) It also has the potential to make celebs look like the bad guy if they don’t or can’t come through, which seems a little unfair given their intentional absence from the whole process.

Of course, on the plus side, this unique approach might also attract folks who don’t normally donate to charity, and if it works, I bet a lot of those people would find themselves becoming repeat donors through other amusing Charity Bribes challenges.

Since the site is barely a month old, there are still some kinks to work out—such as the fact that they are not currently registered as a 501(c)3 charity and can’t guarantee that donors will be issued receipts from the featured charities (although they are working on this). I’m also wondering if the 30-day time limit for completion of the challenges will ultimately be extended, because it does seem a little rushed for folks who likely have some pretty hectic schedules to keep.

In the end, I do hope the crazy, feel-good element of this idea results in some real benefits to worthy organizations and some amusing publicity for all concerned—because seriously, I would pay to watch Morgan Freeman recite just about anything. (Like a Twinkie, like a Twinkie…)

Adam Levine Smells Like Mean Spirit

Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine recently got a very public reminder that sending your personal musings out into cyberspace sometimes comes back to bite you in the arse—like a digital boomerang of regret.

Last week, the musician and coach on NBC’s talent show The Voice announced that he will be launching new fragrances next year for men and women, called “222″ (his lucky number and the name of his fashion line and record label).

This would be all well and good if Mr. Levine hadn’t taken to Twitter a year ago to express his disdain for star scents:

Of course, this passing sentiment might have remained hidden among his countless other thoughts and feelings and dreams—if it weren’t for Christina Aguilera. (If I had a nickel for every time a sentence ended with those exact words…)

Yes, Levine’s fellow coach on The Voice—and a celeb with her own line of fragrances—took to her Twitter feed following the 222 announcement to call out her colleague on his hypocrisy and link to his March 2011 tweet:

Levine soon responded to Aguilera’s comments—which he called “funny and silly and friendly”—with another admission that he does, in fact, “hate the idea of a celebrity fragrance, absolutely, 100 percent.” But, he counters, “I want to do a thing that’s never done properly.”

I think Elizabeth Taylor just rolled over in her grave.

In the end, I don’t think Mr. Levine’s little slip-up will really do much damage. If anything, it’s given his fragrance a great deal of publicity already—and it won’t even be launched for another year. Plus, I think the folks who would actually buy 222 care more about looking at (and, I guess, smelling like) Adam Levine than about giving any real thought to what he says. After all, part of his persona is wrapped up in being a d-bag, so this whole episode is really just par for the course.

In the words of Levine himself: “’You wouldn’t be a complete band without a slightly cocky frontman, would you?’”

Mission to Mars: Snickers Wins Twitter Victory

Morning, luv.

Today’s post is brought to you by some news from across the pond, so please feel free to read it with a spot of tea.

And a British accent.

(Doesn’t it make everyone sound just a wee bit nicer?)

Anywho, in another sign of our tweet-filled times, Mars, the maker of Snickers, just avoided getting into hot water with the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) over a marketing campaign it launched on Twitter back in January. The campaign, featuring British stars such as model Katie Price and footballer (or, as us Yankees would say, professional soccer player) Rio Ferdinand, used a series of curious tweets from the celebs to play up the Snickers tagline “You’re not you when you’re hungry.”

Photo by Phil Guest. Some rights reserved.

For example, Katie Price, who apparently rose to fame after appearing as a topless model in a British tabloid, sent out a bunch of tweets on international finance to her 1.6 million followers. (Get it? Models don’t usually talk about big complicated things like economics, silly.):

“OMG!! Eurozone debt problems can only properly be solved by true fiscal union!!! #comeonguys”

Meanwhile, Mr. Ferdinand took to the Twitterverse to discuss his newfound love of knitting with his 2.3 million followers, which of course goes against his manly manly-man persona:

“Can’t wait 2 get home from training and finish that cardigan”

The campaign ran into problems, however, when folks began to complain about a lack of transparency with the tweets. Just like U.S. regulations, U.K. industry standards indicate that sponsored tweets—like the ones sent by Price and Ferdinand—need to disclose in some way that they’re ads. This is often achieved by including hashtags like #ad or #spon. In the case of Snickers, while the celebs sent out a series of five tweets within a short period of time (about 90 minutes), only the last tweet—which was accompanied by a photo of each star with a Snickers bar—indicated that it was part of a campaign:

“You’re not you when you’re hungry @snickersUk#hungry #spon…”

Photo by Tim Ellis. Some rights reserved.

Now, in its first Twitter-based ruling, the ASA has decided in favor of Mars, although it disagreed (rightly) with the company’s reasoning that the first four tweets were not marketing communications because they did not include any actual mention of the product.

Instead, the ASA declared that the earlier rounds of tweets were teasers that helped make up an “orchestrated advertising campaign.” But, since they appeared in quick succession, with the final tweet labeled appropriately, the organization found that consumers would be able to recognize that the tweets were, in fact, ads.

This ruling will likely help pave the way for future innovative campaigns in the social media sphere—a realm where, once again, the law is struggling to keep up with the lightning-fast pace of technology. I think it speaks volumes that the ASA was willing to view this issue with an open mind and avoid sticking to cut-and-dried regulations that will inevitably have to evolve with the times.

Of course, these situations aren’t without their hang-ups, as James Kirkham, managing director of Holler, a digital content and social media agency, noted in a piece in AdAge:

“Loyal followers might start to feel hoodwinked if their favorite Twitter user is regularly tricking them with tweets crafted by the brand or a PR agency,” he said. “Social media is reliant on transparency and honesty, so audiences will have limited patience when it comes to tweet tricks such as this.”

This is certainly a very real concern that brands cannot overlook as they trample over one another to blaze new trails in online media. But this ruling does give them some breathing room to continue blazing those trails, which is essential as companies face the ever-present challenge of changing business models in the digital era.

Meanwhile, this situation is also a reminder that in a world where consumers are increasingly open when it comes to their own lives online (as anyone who has had to read in-depth status updates on potty training and stomach viruses will tell you), those same people will expect their brands to be just as upfront about their practices, as well.

Innovation is one thing—deception is another.

For brands that discover how to strike this delicate balance—and do so with panache—the marketing possibilities are endless.

Charlie Sheen: Capitalizing on the Crazy

Photo by Angela George

As we enter yet another month in the year of the apocalypse—a month that brings with it the promise of daffodils and dewdrops, of coming in like a lion and out like a lamb—I know there’s one question that’s been on so many of your minds lately:

What’s Charlie Sheen been up to lately?

Well, friends, in case you were worried that he and his Adonis DNA had taken a permanent hiatus, I’m here to tell you that he’s back, and ready for round two of capitalizing on his craziness.

His new show, Anger Management (based on the movie starring Jack Nicholson and Adam Sandler), has just received a June 28 premiere date on FX; he recently announced that Ashton Kutcher sucks and then took it back; and he’s starring in two new ads, for Fiat and DirecTV, that give a not-so-subtle nod to the past year of his life.

In the words of Adweek, “Both are actually pretty damn good.”

Now, to fully appreciate Charlie Sheen’s latest foray into the advertising space, we must first take a quick journey back in time to exactly one year ago this week (yes, it’s been a year already)—when the actor’s tiger-blood-fueled goddess binges at Sober Valley Lodge first turned a train wreck into a marketer’s dream.

Photo via TwitPic

As you may recall, Sheen’s newfound powers of endorsement first emerged as his very public feud with Two and a Half Men producer Chuck Lorre was coming to a head, and some sort of personal meltdown/rebirth/psychotic break was taking hold. He joined Twitter on March 1, 2011, setting a Guinness World Record by garnering 1 million followers in his first day alone. (He’s now up to 6.76 million.) Soon after, he posted a photo of himself and one of his special lady friends holding some beverages—much to the unexpected delight of Broguiere’s Farm Fresh Dairy, the local California brand of chocolate milk Sheen displayed for the camera.

“I’d like to shake his hand,” owner Ray Broguiere told CNN Money. “We’ve gotten some new business and a lot of phone calls. We even had a guy from India asking where he could buy the milk. It’s good advertisement.”

Not surprisingly, within days, Sheen signed up with online ad agency, and was soon receiving $50,000 to tweet about his search for a “#winning INTERN with #TigerBlood” via Almost 100,000 people clicked on the provided link within the first hour, and over 80,000 people from 180 countries actually applied for the position. (By the way, the guy he ultimately hired just took a new job with the Obama campaign.)

We haven’t seen as much of Crazy Charlie in the past few months, but with his new show on the horizon and a wise break from the constant media barrage of all things Sheen, he’s reemerging to the amusement/horror/bewilderment of the general public—and, I hate to admit, he’s actually doing it in a way that works.

With Fiat aggressively promoting its Fiat 500 Abarth as a symbol of bad-ass masculinity (as seen in this year’s Super Bowl ad with Romanian model Catrinel Menghia), who better to represent their vision than the man who wanted to create his own “porn family” and managed to turn “winning” into a bad-ass verb? (Who even knew parts of speech could be bad-ass?)

The DirecTV spot plays up Sheen’s eccentric lifestyle over the past year by insinuating that a run-in with the star would inevitably lead otherwise sane people to become pawns in Sheen’s bizarre exploits.

Of course, there are folks who find these new ads to be less than enjoyable, which I completely understand. I’m not quite sure what took place last year when everyone was waiting for Charlie Sheen’s internal organs to spontaneously combust from too much…everything, but it wasn’t pretty. It was sad and disturbing on many levels—including the very real level that people were applauding the life of a man on the edge and wanted a piece of the action themselves. author Jenni Maier noted in her post “Remind Me Why We’re Okay with Charlie Sheen Being Famous” that seeing the actor’s Fiat commercial made her regret believing that Sheen deserved a second chance.

“His life’s one big joke,” she observes, “and he’s happy to laugh along. After all, laughing is a lot easier than apologizing.”

But in the end, the public is very forgiving of its celebrities. Part of the fascination with star-gazing is watching the rise and fall and triumphant return of generations of famous people. We get caught up in the excitement of a new talent’s one-in-a-million chance to live out the dream. We look on with a rabid curiosity as they let it all slip away. And we rejoice when they pull themselves up by their bootstraps and become the                      it-girl/guy/man-child once again.

Artwork by Alicia Dixon

Time will tell what’s in store for Charlie Sheen, but by all accounts, these latest ads will likely prove to be a hit and may set the stage for some sort of semi-sane comeback when his new show debuts over the summer. One thing’s for sure, though—his crazy-train antics will only hold water for so long. No one really expects him to morph into some kind of reformed bad boy—after all, his whole career is based on having an edge. But he will have to cultivate a newer bad boy image in the coming year—one devoid of tiger blood and Adonis DNA—if he wants to stay relevant.

And that, Mr. Sheen, is the real Torpedo of Truth.