Not Catfishing, but still real fake characters

One of the things that continue to crop up in class is the tenuous link between real physical people and their online avatars. This has been abused, perhaps, as a form of crude entertainment.

But in an era where consumers crave engagement and (the illusion of) conversation,* is there an opportunity for entertainment and the media to feed this desire and promote their brands at the same time?

Netflix recently joined the original content battle to ensure they remain relevant as competition increases from players like Amazon’s Video On Demand unit. They did so via the series House of Cards, which is a loose interpretation of a book and BBC miniseries before it.

One of the decisions Netflix made was to release the entire series at once, instead of weekly installments. Apart from interrupting the social cooler rituals around regularly scheduling program (“Did you see Lost last night? So crazy. Numbers. Island. Monsters.”**) this also led to marketing challenges.

If you can’t promote the show on Network outlets, every week, how do you maintain and grow viewership. What does it even mean to maintain viewership when the target consumer inhales the series over the course of a few days, and not many months?

Which leads me to the cast of Twitter accounts that have sprung up around House of Cards and continue the conversation with fans. In a brief review, at least half a dozen accounts for characters have sprung up. Most are engaged by the verified @HouseofCards account, which lends at least a veneer of legitimacy.

One curiosity is that the main character (Francis “Frank” Underwood) has two twitter handles going (see images). And the account which explicitly states that it is not affiliated with @HouseofCards has 19x the follower count and is regularly engaged by @HouseofCards. If this a Netflix-controlled account, it is appropriate for them to disown it publicly? And if not, as a marketing/social media manager, can you integrate this rogue account into your brand messaging and management without any formal control over it? It is like sponsorship deal where the sponsor has no formal authority over the sponsored athlete/celebrity. How dangerous is this?

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There is also a certain amount of irony that two other fictional characters, carry the handles “@RealPeterRusso” and “@RealZoeBarnes.” And there is some evidence that these characters are aware of this:

And some fans expect the digital fourth wall not to be broken, but will break it to point violations out.

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*My source for this is the fact that people tweet at Celebrities the most inane things possible and get responses. See http://twittercounter.com/pages/100

**I’ve never seen a single episode of Lost.

4 comments

  1. Interesting blog! I would have never thought of the marketing challenges that Netflix faces because it released all of its episodes of House of Cards at once. It can’t just have teaser commercials each week like other shows. And it does not keep people waiting months to see what happens to their favorite characters. The use of twitter is a very interesting idea to keep people engaged. But, as you mentioned it can also create problems if someone were to create a Twitter for a character that is not controlled by Netflix. I am surprised how the account that is not affiliated with House of Cards is more popular than the legitimate one. I think the best thing for a marketing/social media manager to do is embrace the other account. Didn’t someone once say that “any publicity is good publicity?” That may not necessarily be true, but you get the point. Obviously the person who created the fake account is creative and viewers like what they have to say, so it would be beneficial to integrate this account into their marketing in any way possible. If you want to keep people interested, embrace what they like, and they like the “catfish” account.

  2. That’s actually a very interesting question. Whether these accounts are encouraged or sponsored by Netflix. I would assume that they are. Nevertheless, I could see a situation in which this turns into a type of “fan fiction” where people play the roles of their favorite characters on Twitter (and the best ones get the most followers). There are obvious risks to that approach, but some obvious benefits too.

  3. I like the thinking here, as to whether or not Netflix is managing an account they claim they don’t manage. Perhaps it gives them a bit more flexibility on what can and can’t be said.

    The whole parody twitter account thing is huge. I’m not sure how I feel about it, but Twitter and Facebook seem to have developed a way to really create “characters.” Whether they are real, fake, based on real, based on fake…

    Good stuff!

  4. Interesting question. I assume also that Netflix is promoting this type of accounts just to keep alive their characters. Related to this strategy, I just saw this morning in the news that the producers of the movie The Last Exorcism 2 are promoting it using ghosts in the mirror (see here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BKYW2VCf4hE)

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