All publicity may be good publicity, but as social media and commerce become increasingly intertwined, is publicity becoming synonymous with bribery? For years, companies have capitalized on Twitter’s capacity for seemingly limitless free advertising. Amazon, however, has recently succeeded in upping the ante, launching a promotional campaign intent on seducing customer loyalty with a gift begged. In his classic work, The Gift, French sociologist Marcel Mauss posited that a gift is never free. At what point does a present become a bribe?
Amazon is offering 5 dollars of credit for Amazon Video to anyone that follows @amazonvideo and @amazon_movies, an action which will subsequently generate an automatic post to one’s Twitter feed, exclaiming, "I just got a $5 credit for instant movies and TV shows @amazonvideo. Click http://amzn.to/oWmBFy to get yours. #get5". While this maneuver may win Amazon a few more followers and possibly generate a trend or two, the move reeks of furtive desperation. Amazon, not unlike the ubiquitous elementary school loner devoid of any true friends, is luring attendees to his birthday party with shiny games and enticing goodie bags. Sure, the cool kids may show up, take a turn in the bouncy castle and act cordially to the loser, but once they nab their goodie bag with the Discman in it, they’ll sneak out the back door. It’s unclear how Amazon can profit from this venture. A tweeted sentence in and of itself won’t generate any revenue, and it’s not like Amazon is a company that lacks name recognition. If you own a computer, you know what Amazon is, and if you don’t, you certainly won’t be using Twitter. Even if you’re a staunch luddite, the wild success of the Kindle and the booming e-book business has become impossible to avoid. While Amazon may be the king of the e-books industry, it’s a mere pawn in the streaming video business. While Amazon may be looking to advance on Netflix and Hulu, it’s possible that they’re setting themselves up for a stalemate.
Moonmen in 140 Characters
This past Sunday, I planned on watching the MTV Video Music Awards, a yearly spectacle where awards don’t matter, and the only true winner is whoever is being talked about on Monday morning. With that in mind, Beyonce was the clear winner. (If we learned anything from Natalie Portman’s Oscar pageant, it’s that pregancy is huge.) Throughout the telecast, MTV bombarded viewers with requests to tweet about what they were watching, while various correspondents presented a ‘Twitter Tracker’ to the viewing audience, where we could see which artists were trending worldwide. I watched as my TV screen was cluttered with snippets about social media. Plus, if we squinted with painful precision, we were able to see the avatars of a select few people that tweeted about these performers. MTV kept #VMA at the bottom of the screen throughout the show as a constant reminder that we had to be tweeting at all times. Being a passive voyeur simply wasn’t going to cut it.
From a critical standpoint, the entire endeavor was a mess. All of the tweet talk was distracting, and could’ve been used for a legitimate musical performance from a deserving songstress. While there were some sensational musical moments by Beyonce, Adele, Lady Gaga and Bruno Mars, the way Twitter was incorporated into the show was off key. Commercially, though, the show was a major success. It was MTV’s highest-rated show in its history, and the biggest non-sports cable show of the year. It even beat up Jersey Shore’s beat. If you can fist-pump Jersey Shore, then you’re really on to something. So while the show, at least in my eyes, suffered, overall, it was a major hit. Twitter must have had some influence in the staggering success of the broadcast.
Can Tweeting Go Corporate?
What we have here is a disconnect of sorts. What about the Twitter interaction worked for MTV, but felt so forced when Amazon tried it? Twitter works best when it can be used to eliminate the media middle man. It connects users to celebrities that they admire, and it makes communication disturbingly simple. If Shaquille O’Neal wanted to retire 5 years ago, he’d have to hold a press conference. Press would have to show up, and they’d report the news to the public, and probably put their own spin on it. Now? Shaq can go on Twitter, post a video saying exactly what he wants to say, and the public sees it. Simple. The news-makers can create the news. The same concept worked for the VMAs. Some of the celebrities that were there tweeted developments to their followers as the show progressed. The audience persistently tweeted about what developed, and the competition for which celebrity was mentioned the most escalated into a championship as the night went on. Consequently, viewers were transfixed. MTV made the show interpersonal, and it achieved its ratings goals, even if degraded the quality of the entertainment. For Amazon, the connection simply isn’t the same. Little Monsters tweet to and about Lady Gaga because she’s a person, carrying a torch in hopes that their Mother Monster might read and respond to their declarations of love. Amazon, unlike MTV can’t provide followers with the illusion that they’re on the edge of glory, it can’t give them access to the fame. It’s doubtful that anyone desires to connect to a big corporation in the way that they want to interdigitate with Demi Lovato. In postmodern culture, celebrities are gods, and live tweets may be the closest we can come to Livin’ on a Prayer.
As much as Amazon may attempt to forge a closer relationship with their potential consumers through social media, the fact that they sell entertainment as opposed to aspiration won’t change. While the performers at the VMAs are also agents of commerce to a degree, there’s the possibility of establishing a human connection that can’t be duplicated by a corporation. Companies just can’t produce that feeling in a boardroom, no matter how hard they try or how many deals they decide to offer. While Beyonce may have been on the VMAs to boost sales for her albums, viewers were genuinely happy for her when she made the big reveal that she was pregnant. Twitter creates the illusion that we can siphon a celebrity’s social capital and status with a mention. We clamor for their recognition, a validation for all our followers to see. Twitter makes us feel that we can exist in their reality to the same extent that they exist in ours. What we feel, we tweet, and getting movies for free won’t change that.