Humour or Hubris

Those with not enough to do (or as I prefer to describe myself and others like me “those with an interest in social media and the property market” have aching sides having watched the YouTube film “UnderOffer2011”, described as a ‘Mockumentary’ and set in an estate agent office somewhere in London. I spoke to about half a dozen Douglas & Gordon staff yesterday, not one denied that the YouTube video was at least a D&G approved production. A few more even emailed it to me but of course a formal link to the firm may just be in my imagination.

To be honest, the glimpse of what looked very like a branded Golf, the recognisable blue and white umbrella and the iconic D&G note pad not to mention the fact that at least one member of the fictitious staff seems to have an identical twin listed as working in the firms Hammersmith office on the the D&G web site all point to this being a classic attempt at ‘viral marketing’. The production of a video that is included in an email which the recipient thinks amusing enough to forward to his contacts. Like a chain letter it multiples and within a very short space of time the film (and the underlying message) is being viewed by thousands. An Aussie agent produced one that was very effective a few months ago.

I should declare that I think the film was incredibly funny. Like all good jokes, it was all the funnier because there is an element of truth in it. I know a lot of estate agency offices (mainly in London) which are just like the one depicted in the film. I thought that the director of the video (from Real Property Tours I believe) had probably not had to distill too many hours of film to come up with the finished product and the results were a great advert for them (Real Property Tours at least).

The reason for releasing a viral marketing campaign is that it is an incredibly cheap and efficient way to get your message, brand or product out to a huge number of people. The more people who email the film, Tweet or blog about it the better (I’m happy to be doing my bit!). I expect that there will be one or two more funny episodes with a final ‘reveal’ which will no doubt try to suggest that somehow Douglas & Gordon are not like the agent depicted in the film. The job of bringing the brand to the attention of the industry and perhaps to potential clients will have been done.

But there is a fine balance required to make a successful viral product. Good taste is often the first casualty since humour is always something of a question of taste. Bernard Manning wasn’t everyone’s favorite comic. Jim Davidson admits he often steps over the line. The blizzard of jokes that follow a national tragedy are often very funny but not something that one feels should necessarily be repeated. I’m sorry, I laughed at the “Trapped minors, a job for Gary Glitter” line that did the rounds hours after the Welsh mine disaster earlier in the month but I stopped short of repeating it myself.

So it is with the ‘Under Offer’ film. One famously stuffy property boar sniffed when he saw the film claiming (as always!) “I’d seen it some time ago and to be honest I didn’t think the menstrual cycle reference was very funny”. Now the fact that this particular man didn’t laugh is, for me almost the definition of something that must be funny but the serious point is that some people will think that this was a film made in a D&G office, not on a set and not with a load of actors. Rampton Basley, the south London agent whose for sale board is seen being hacked down thinks the film is hilarious and Joel Baseley himself is an ex-D&G employee but there are some who think that the management have made a colossal error. Since we don’t yet know that it is D&G and they seem reluctant to take the credit it must be possible that this is some kind of spoiler put out by a competitor. And that’s the problem. It is so close to the bone that for some it could just be a piss-take. It could quite easily be a film made by an ex-employee to highlight what they might see as the insensitive, misogynous and bigoted values held by a firm who fail to live up to their own boasts of high moral and ethical standards.

By the time we have seen the next episode, the final reveal and have confirmation of who really is behind it we will be better able to judge whether this is a great piece of marketing or a colossal mis-judgement – a ‘Ratner’ moment. Personally it feels like the former and regardless, the fact that it is a trending topic both on and off line suggests that it has achieved what presumably the makers set out to and has got at least some people talking.

More here – Smashing the competition
and here – The £2 million pound drop