Posted by: Manuel Delgado | September 17, 2009

The Uncanny Valley

Are the Schwab ads creepy to you? How about the Polar Express movie?

Have you see the Geminoid or the baby robot from Japan? Creepy.

Welcome to the other side of the Uncanny Valley.

The Uncanny Valley is what people cross when something that is not human looks so human that it causes revulsion.

Some people also get it with animals, like that dog / horse thing on YouTube or the Furreal toys. Others get it with Carrot Top on the latest BK ads.

It’s hard to put your finger on what causes the valley. It’s a feeling, deep in our gut, that something’s “off” with the “person” we’re seeing.

Social Media also has its Uncanny Valley. It’s when looking at a video, or reading a blog, we feel it’s almost real… but not quite. It’s when something is trying to look authentic, but the authenticity is not there.

I’ve recently come across two social media marketing efforts that gave me that feeling.

The first one is from HP. “The Pixel Boutique,” a blog by a graphic designer, was giving away a printer. The post began as:

Leave it to HP to come up with something revolutionary…again.

I’m a huge fan of HP; of their products and their services like SnapFish and Creative Studio. I’m also a fan of practicality and affordability.

Do people talk like that? Blog like that?

The disclosure here is that HP is one of our clients, and we love them. They always do good stuff… but this fell a tad short.

The other case came from Sara Lee. The company just launched a “Mama Saga” social media campaign, featuring “real moms who share motherhood’s woes.”

Looking at the videos they seem posed. Contrived.

(Is using the word “contrived” contrived?)

Starting a social media campaign is very easy and cheap. Everybody can do it.

But in the same way that knowing how to use a word processor doesn’t mean that you know how to write a great book; being able to create a fan page on Facebook doesn’t mean that you can create a social media campaign that engages consumers in authentic conversations.

How do you drive authenticity?

Well, you have to really mean it and be ready to handle “the truth.”

Social Media is organic. You can control some variables, but the reactions are going to be completely up to the people that engage with you. So, to get authenticity you have to let go. Don’t tamper with responses. Address concerns.

Second, you have to enable it. Humans are driven by self interest. Even if they’re trying to be honest, many bloggers will lean towards providing a positive review if that means they will get more free products from sponsors.

Recently, Sony launched an effort to reach out to “daddy bloggers” and get them to review their products. However, there was a catch. The bloggers had to return the products at the end of the evaluation period. So, nothing to gain or lose from the reviews. That for sure drove honesty.

Third, if you’re going to find other people to carry your voice, you have to do a good job at finding the right people. Again, if someone knows how to use a web cam, that doesn’t mean they will “work” well on camera for your brand.

There’s an intangible element to having a “Social Media” personality. Whether it is charisma, creativity or just the ability to hold someone’s attention, some people have it. Others don’t.

Your quest for authenticity has to be combined with casting the right champions, to make sure that the authentic conversations about your brands sound and feel real.


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