I’m Not Buying It – Marketing Gone Wrong

My “stroke of insight” came suddenly yesterday morning: something fishy is going on with a campaign to promote Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, “My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey” published by Viking Adult, part of the Penguin Group.

Over the last two weeks four comments have appeared on my post from last March about Dr. Taylor’s fantastic TED 2008 presentation. While individually the comments might not have caught my attention, collectively they seemed a little too perfect, too polished, too promotional – like they have been through the review process for a press release. Yesterday morning I got curious about them when I saw the fourth one arrive. You can see Ellen, Dwight, Tammy and Bridget’s comments here. (Ryan’s comment is genuine.)

None of the commenters left links to their homepages or blogs. Reverse IP lookups were a bust. Their emails are the usual Hotmail stuff, but Dwight’s is from an @fontdrift.com domain. A quick search for that domain turned up all kinds of references to a fakemailgenerator.com. A site that “changes the domain frequently in order to prevent the address from being banned.” No need to explain what their service provides.

I decided to Google some of the key phrases. Mind you, there are some real winners, but I still think the best is Tammy’s, “I laughed. I cried. It was a fantastic book…” Wow – 833 Google hits! Wouldn’t you know the search also revealed that this exact same comment shows up on 100s of blog’s that reference Dr. Taylor. Only trick – different names each time for the comment author. In fact all four comments show up word for word all over the Web under all kinds of different names. The comment using the phrase above was on countless sites; everywhere from The New York Times (commenter Jennifar) to O’Reilly Radar (commenter Joseph) to The Indiana Statesman (commenter Jocosa) to Peterme.com (who got just the four basic comments including this same one from a commenter Bowman.)

Since the original comment on my site had an Amazon link, I first thought it was an Internet Marketing gimmick focused on increasing affiliate sales. However, I realized there was no affiliate ID in the link URL and no links in the future comments. No Internet Marketer would be that subtle or patient. That got me thinking, this is being done by someone who has an interest in the success of the book at a macro level. This narrows the list considerably.

Something like this requires time, resources and money. This is an organized effort to get these comments past moderation queues, spam filters and all the various preventive measures blogs and sites have. Someone has worked hard to give the “appearance” of being genuine, interested and supportive readers of the book all with goal of tricking you. My understanding is that this book has done quite well on its own and is by an author who is well respected. It is sad that someone felt further promotion warranted employing deception.

Make no mistake about it, whoever is behind this made a conscious decision – let’s try to trick those social media/blog types. However, the fact they went through all this trouble to use fake names and phony email addresses to spread their message about the book just betrays their own understanding of the fact that they are up to no good.

So who is doing it? I don’t know but I certainly have my suspicions. What I do know is whoever is behind it feels just fine using my site and the readers I work hard to serve as part of the playground for their deceptive marketing gimmick. As such, I feel just fine calling them out.

Lesson: I know what book I’m not buying.

[Note: I intentionally did not link to the book but did leave the link live in the original comment for context.]

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  1. says

    I agree with the PR firm assumption. Though it begs the question: do the majority of PR firms even know where the line is drawn between spam comments and legitimate comments? In this case, it would appear that they do simply because of the efforts made to veil their identities. But if they had truly presented themselves as representatives of a PR firm paid to promote the book would anyone take their comments seriously, if allow them to appear at all? Maybe the PR firm should have made more of an effort to put the book in the hands of readers/bloggers who will share their unbiased opinions.

  2. says

    Now that you know this, why not submit those comments back to Akismet as spam? They are too subtle to have caught the first time as you lay out, but now you know so why not add that information back to the larger sphere?

    I’ve gotten to where I’m very wary about any comment that comes in on an older post, particularly when it is fairly generic. I hate to do a timed comment close because sometimes you get great legitimate ones after a year or three but the risk vs. reward equation slowly shifts away from that.

  3. says

    Well said Michael. This has been going on for awhile and my guess is that it will continue for a long time. Until companies understand what you and other digital marketers having be saying about being “authentic.” It seems that no matter the medium, some businesses will do just about anything to increase sales, including posting fake comments. It’s good to know that you will be calling them out. On the flip side, it’s proof that companies are recognizing the power of this digital space, so much so, that they’re willing to tarnish their own image to try and manipulate it. Hmmm, amazing if you thing about it. Just think about the significant gains they would see if only they would take the time, energy, and money to do it the right way. Not to mention street-cred. Thanks for the blog-alert.

    Stefan Holt

  4. says

    Recently a similar comment surfaced in the moderation queue on my site, touting the title mentioned above, and posted by someone with a @fontdrift.com email address.

    It bothered me right from the start; heavy on the marketing speak–to the point of insincerity–and nearly irrelevant to the parent post.

    Astro-turfing is a lot more widespread than is being discussed. I personally know an executive assistant who spends a good part of her day commenting on various author blogs “related” to the subject matter of her superior’s book.

    The book in question is also a Viking title, but I’m almost positive that’s a coincidence. In both cases it’s probably done without the knowledge or sanction of the publisher.

    Whether the culprit is a PR firm or an overzealous author–or their overworked assistant, no matter. If someone has something valid to say, they’ll provide a real address, rather than hiding behind a fake one.

  5. says

    I had the same thing happen with me. Two fontdrift.com addresses, but they came from IPs that were virtually the same. The first one I let through, but the second one that came through – practically the same message – I decided to submit both the comments as spam. Ridiculous. It makes it look like it was a real person, but so obviously not… two people, same domain, two similar IP addresses, virtually the same comment? What’s the probability? Its obviously a ploy, and the thing is, it demeans the credibility of my own site if I were to let the comments through! It would have made a lot more sense if they had submitted only one comment per website. But spammers never seem to make sense.