Opinion: Lessons of Lonelygirl15

By Edward Cone  |  Posted 09-13-2006

Kids today. Sometimes they aren't what they seem to be....

Take lonelygirl15, the YouTube phenomenon who captivated viewers with her ruminations on life as a smart teen, but turns out to have been an actress playing the part.

So many possible lessons for marketers here....

On the one hand, faking it in a so-real medium like Web video can get you a lot of attention, although maybe it won't end well.

NYT: "The discovery and the swift and subsequent revelation of other details surrounding the perpetrators of the videos and the fake fan site that accompanied it are bringing to an end one of the Internet's more elaborately constructed mysteries. The fans' disbelief in lonelygirl15 was not willingly suspended, but rather teased and toyed with. Whether they will embrace the project as a new narrative form, condemn it or simply walk away remains to be seen."

(Some companies, meanwhile, are going viral with footage of less opaque provenance.)

Another lesson: your target demographic understands itself best. LG15 was unmasked by Tom Foremski's Silicon Valley Watcher...on the strength of reporting by Foremski's 18-year-old son, Matt (much as FDR is said to have justified hiring Joe Kennedy to run the SEC by saying "set a thief to catch a thief"...).

Foremski pere says the sleuthing that revealed LG as actress Jessica Rose also demonstrates the power of traditional media and bloggers working together, a concept much in the news these days (disclosure: I am part of Jay Rosen's informal advisory network for the NewAssignment.net project).

A soon-to-be-published column by Dan Gillmor in CIO Insight argues that fake reality on the Web turns people off. I'm sure that's true in many cases. But in the annals of just-spell-my-name-right publicity, and the shorter history of viral marketing, lonelygirl15 seems like a winner.

And given the number of imitators sure to follow her, she won't be lonely for long.