One (More) Red Paperclip

Posted by

This is a pretty sad (and humorous) story courtesy of the Globe And Mail entitled, Paper-Clip Story Shows Profit In Translation.
Here’s the top-level scoop:
“Yang Xiuyu never believed the story of the Canadian blogger who bartered his way from a paper clip to a house. But as soon as he heard the tale, he began dreaming of quick profits.
Mr. Yang, one of China’s growing legion of Internet marketing promoters, took the Canadian story and turned it into a pile of money – and made himself a much-hated figure in China along the way.
The result was a classic saga of the new Chinese media. The promoter discovered how an earnest Canadian idea could be transformed into a Chinese business phenomenon, even if it meant discarding the truth and sparking controversy over his ethics. It demonstrated the power of show business and the celebrity machinery in a country where both are growing at a frantic pace.”
Yep. You got it. Kyle MacDonald – the guy who traded One Red Paperclip via his Blog in a series of trades that lasted one year up to a house – has been “knocked off” in China. We’ve come a long way when the Chinese are knocking off ideas as fast as electronics in the past.
The funny part is that the culprit didn’t even change the idea (he literally used one red paperclip). The tragedy is that he didn’t even bother to change the idea.
We all know that there were many knock-offs for the Million Dollar Home Page. We also know that it rarely works. We all know that word of mouth is powerful. We also know that if you are doing this stuff with the Intent to market something else (in this case, Yang was actually behind the scenes and the “Kyle” in his one red paperclip story was a girl who was looking for a recording contract and thought that the media attention that the trades would bring might translate into her big break) it winds up coming off looking like spam. But people are making millions with spam, so why not with word of mouth marketing programs that are inauthentic?
“Keeping his role secret, Mr. Yang helped the 23-year-old singer set up a blog. She announced her plan to seek ‘a miracle’ in the emerging barter industry. She had no money, but she wanted to turn a paper clip into a house within 100 days.
Ms. Ai soon became a sensation in the Chinese media. She was praised for using ‘the magic of the Internet’ to create wealth from nothing. Hundreds of media outlets gave publicity to her quest. More than 1,000 people offered to swap products with her. More than 7,000 sent her e-mail messages. Millions of people followed her story on the Internet.
After exactly 100 days, it all came to an abrupt end. Ms. Ai signed a contract with a record company and quit the bartering scheme. A few weeks later, Mr. Yang revealed that he had masterminded every move of her Internet career – and the Chinese media erupted into fury and outrage.”
What will be the impact on her debut album, and what does the original One Red Paperclip guy, Kyle MacDonald, think about all of this?
The big wins in marketing rarely happen for the copy-cats. Whether it is one red paperclip or a million dollar homepage, what attracts people to these initiatives is usually the uniqueness about it, their ability to talk about it to others and, most importantly, their new-found ability to actually play in a role in its success.
The biggest win for Kyle and others would have leveraged the Internet for viral marketing or word of mouth marketing success has been the participants’ ability to be in on the action (my third point above). This bears highlighting. Before our ability to create content, all we could do is let others know how cool something was. When we are contributing to making it a success, we are much more vested. Marketers can learn a lot from that one single lesson.
You can read the full article here: Globe & Mail – Paper-Clip Story Shows Profit In Translation.