Why LonelyGirl15 blurs the lines of marketing
After much sleuthing, Silicon Valley Watcher today revealed the identity of LonelyGirl15. She is …gasp… not a 16-year-old schoolgirl called Bree but Jessica, a 19-year-old actress from New Zealand.
Over the summer, YouTubers have been fascinated with the apparent outpourings of teenage angst on LonelyGirl15’s vidblog. Her videos were averaging 200,000 hits each and were regularly atop YouTube‘s daily most viewed list. At first, viewers were enticed by the mystery of it all: who was this girl? what was this strange religion she referred to? But as time went on, it became increasingly obvious that Bree was a real fake – and not the work of a budding young filmmaker or prankster, but of Hollywood. Her email address was traced back to Creative Artists Agency, although the company has neither confirmed nor denied its involvment. Read the full LA Times story here.
Finally, the “creators” posted a bizarre message to their “incredible fans” claiming that we were witnessing “the birth of a new art form” and that their desire had been to tell a story using the medium of video blogs and the distribution power of the Internet. Of course, they did not reveal their identity, declaring they were filmmakers and “just like you.” Oh please. Their plan is to “usher in an era of interactive storytelling where the line between “fan” and “star” has been removed, and dedicated fans like yourselves are paid for their efforts.” Huh? The mention of remuneration did not please the fans, nor did the fact that they had been hoodwinked for so long and let down so badly.
Point being? The whole sorry saga certainly shows the distribution power of the Internet. And I suppose I’ll have to give credit to the creators for making something so apparently compelling. But the lack of transparency does not jive with the spirit of the Internet. Whether it turns out to be a new “art form” or just another marketing vehicle designed to reach an increasingly impenetrable audience remains to be seen. Personally, my money is on the latter, and if that’s the case, it’s ethically questionable in my opinion.
Lastly, all credit to Tom and his son Matthew for breaking the story. But I can’t help feeling that all of us – me included – have spent way more time on this than it deserved.
UPDATE: The identity of the LonelyGirl15 creators was revealed today, September 13. They are a Bay Area-based screenwriter and filmmaker, Ramesh Flinders, and doctor-turned-filmmaker, Miles Beckett. Check out this NYT article for the full details. According to the NYT, the project appears to be “the early serialized version of what eventually will become a movie.”
Tom Foremski’s takeaway from the whole experience is that we may just have found “the media model for the future: a mediasphere that uses the best qualities of professional media combined with relentless pursuit of information by citizen journalists.” Hmm, I wonder if the same citizen bloggers would be just as motivated to uncover the truth behind less frivolous mysteries.