3M Steals Viral Image Idea To Avoid Licensing It

There is probably nothing more pathetic in the world of marketing than watching a big corporation try to do something “viral”—usually they end up looking like Elaine dancing. But sometimes, they’re so cynical and soulless about it that they don’t just come across as incompetent, but as exploitative cheapskates as well. In 3M’s case, they wouldn’t pay $2,000 to license a well-known photo with its own viral history, and instead recreated a fake version of it to save a grand. We guess they’re just hoping none of the sites and communities that made the photo popular in the first place will notice. Oh wait, this is supposed to be viral or something…

Melanie at All About Content has the entire story, from the original office prank that went viral thanks to sites like Digg and BoingBoing, to 3M’s attempt to appropriate it, to their shabby treatment of the owner of the photo and their subsequent workaround.

Michelle, the “eMarketing Supervisor” who was negotiating with Scott, comes across as particuarly disingenuous in her email to him:

We were quoted about $750-$1000 to shoot our own, but if you could allow us to use yours on a couple in-store displays for 6 months within that range, we could arrange for that instead.

Really, Michelle? Only two displays throughout the entire country? Are you a really bad eMarketing manager, or lying to Scott about how much you’d use the photo? [We think mmmsoap makes a good point about how this was probably meant.]

We guess what’s most offensive about this is 3M can surely afford to pay a legitimate licensing fee to the owner of the photo, which would have also served as a goodwill gesture to the community that most likely gave it the campaign idea to begin with. As Melanie puts it in her article:

But let’s pretend the legality of this move wasn’t even a question for now, and focus on this: Social media marketing campaigns rely on the social media community to carry them. As a marketer, you have to respect the community and its members. Ripping off community members and then turning around and asking that same community to generate buzz for your campaign is just ballsy… or stupid.

The irony: The YouTube contest rules say “Remember, creativity and true brilliance will get you noticed.”

Is that part of the rules, or a threat from 3M?

“3M Carjacks the Post-It Note Jaguar” [All About Content] (Thanks to Craig!)
(Photos: 3M display and original Post-It car by Scott Ableman)