Did We Just Get Duped? Rebecca Black's "Friday" May Have Been Viral Video Marketing At Its Best

Did We Just Get Duped? Rebecca Blacks Friday May Have Been Viral Video Marketing At Its Best

Since gaining attention last week, the video for aspiring singer Rebecca Black's "Friday" has gone super-viral. It currently has 33 million views (10 million more than Lady Gaga's latest music video). The video is about 6 weeks old, but didn't go viral until sites like Buzzfeed and Reddit posted it last week. And when it was posted, it was posted as "the worst song ever." That's right, Rebecca Black's teen-pop anthem "Friday" has gone viral to the tune of 33 million views solely because people are making fun of her.

Before we go any further, it might be helpful to watch the video--assuming you haven't already seen it or that you can handle seeing it a second time:

Popular Media Reactions

There are currently two popular angles for the media covering this story:

1. It's so wrong for the Internet to make fun of people like this.

I agree with this argument. But I also agree that people are free to say whatever they want. I also agree that uploading a public video to a public website generally means you're not allowed to get upset if someone doesn't like it.

But I hear you, gentle readers. I feel bad for Rebecca Black too (I'm not sure I want to live in a world where we hold 13-year-old amateurs to the same standards as millionaire recording artists). She's been mocked and ridiculed for more than a week now, and all she did was the same thing 13-year-old kids have been doing since the invention of video cameras. Like most kids, she dreams of being a pop star. Recording the song and making the video wasn't her mistake... allowing it to go online was. And for that, I think we can probably blame her parents more than her.

Despite my genuine sorrow at the humiliation Black must be feeling, I can't condemn the Internet for mocking her. Whether it was her decision alone, or the decision of her parents (with some likely pressure from the music company)... the video was shared with the world. You can't turn around then and blame the world for not liking it.

2. Rebecca Black is having the last laugh.

Seems the song, now that it's ironically popular for all the wrong reasons, has rocketed up the iTunes charts.  As of this writing, the song is #33 overall on the iTunes charts.

Using some of that sketchy YouTube-speculation math, Forbes says Rebecca stands to make over $1 Million between the iTunes sales and ads on her YouTube video.

Good for her--whatever profit she makes off this. She seems to have a pretty good attitude about it and is even planning to release more songs in the very near future.

My Reaction - Something Doesn't Add Up

We're all being trolled so hard. I'm surprised there aren't more skeptics out there among you. We've been set up and manipulated--played like a second-hand guitar.

Did We Just Get Duped? Rebecca Blacks Friday May Have Been Viral Video Marketing At Its BestNot by Black, mind you--I remain fairly convinced that she's just a normal 13-year-old. I think the real puppet master here is Ark Music Factory. Ark Music Factory is the company that produced the video, and I think they made this whole thing happen. To be clear: I think they knew the song was bad... I think they uploaded it anyway... and I think they set about using social bookmarking and social media sites to specifically gain the video some views based on its poor quality.

I'll go ahead and tell you I don't have any proof... obviously. But I do have plenty of red flags and circumstantial evidence. Let's take a look at my logic:

The video is on Ark Music Factory's channel, not Rebecca Black's. That's a little suspect to me right off the bat. The reported story is that Black's parents paid $2,000 to Ark to have the video produced. And maybe part of the $2,000 goes to cover basic distribution--placing the video on Ark's channel. But you would think the finished video would be something given to Black, to do with as she pleases. Instead, it's loaded on the video company's channel.

How was this video picked by the Internet as the one video we were all going to mock last week? I check aggregation sites like Buzzfeed, Reddit, Devour, and more on a daily basis. I do it because I enjoy good content, but I also do it to find videos worth talking about here at ReelSEO. And I saw this video pop up on virtually all my usual content-discovery sites on the same freaking day. Granted, it's possible that a video could spread that fast, but it's pretty rare. Usually I'll see something on Reddit one day, and on Buzzfeed the next--or vice versa. But all on the same day... within hours of each other? Almost never.

Do you have any idea how many awful songs by teenagers there are on YouTube? What are the odds that this one song would be picked up by so many curating sites in such a short span of time? I've recently talked about how long the odds are that any specific video even gets a shot at finding an audience.

Ark's website has banner ads to buy their artists' songs on iTunes. Why? Could it be because Ark is the one actually making the bulk of the money off the downloads? There are more ads to buy Ark artists' songs than there is legitimate content on the site.

Did We Just Get Duped? Rebecca Blacks Friday May Have Been Viral Video Marketing At Its BestFrom their entirely-too-busy website, it's not clear what services the company provides. We know they create video productions for singers, but are they also a record label? They certainly talk frequently about "our artists." But there's also a loose social-networking component that gives it a MySpace feel (there's a link to "sign up," and all the "artists" on the roster are listed under the "site members" section).

The singers are referred to as "exclusive artists," which suggests Ark is handling all aspects of their career. And Ark's website goes a long way toward trying to make you think they're legit--check out the photo gallery, where a bunch of people you've never seen before stand in front of an Ark banner wearing fancy clothes and we're supposed to believe this is some major premiere or celebrity event that Us Magazine and the paparazzi showed up for.

Know what I don't see on their website? A street address. Or even a city, state, or country. Always a good sign.

Talent and respect no longer required for riches or fame. Paris Hilton proved it first--everyone now seems to forget that her claim to fame is starring in a homemade sex tape and appearing on a reality show about how dumb she is... and yet, the media and fans at home now treat her like any other celebrity that earned their keep.

Ditto Kim Kardashian, who, as far as I can tell, hasn't done a single thing at all to warrant fame and money aside from being born into it. Don't forget the cast of The Jersey Shore--each of whom now makes millions a year.

Did We Just Get Duped? Rebecca Blacks Friday May Have Been Viral Video Marketing At Its BestHow about Charlie Sheen? He seems to--on some level--know that he's the butt of the joke... but he doesn't care, because he's already sold out his upcoming stage show. He's incredibly popular... and it doesn't matter to him if you tune in to see an implosion or because you genuinely love him, because he makes money either way. CBS is even talking about bringing him back to Two & A Half Men now--which is as sure a sign as there is that there's money to be made behind Sheen's antics.

Why should the Internet be any different? It no longer matters if the person becoming famous is being praised or mocked. It doesn't matter if the audience finds them disgusting or appealing--so long as people are watching.

What if Ark Music Factory knows this... and decided to use it to their advantage? Is it so far fetched? No, I don't think it is.

People Game Curated Sites For Marketing Purposes. I know that users don't like to believe this, but companies game sites like Reddit and Buzzfeed for marketing purposes all the time. You can plug your ears and live in denial all you want, but to blindly assume that every submission hitting the home page is innocent and harmless is just stupid.

One of the most famous users accused of gaming Digg back in that site's heyday was MrBabyMan, who is now a top editor at BuzzFeed. Please be clear: I'm not saying MrBabyMan is paid to promote marketing content... I'm just saying it's naive to believe all editors and users at sites like Buzzfeed are unbiased. The marketing firms are clearly going to go after them... offer them money... and if you believe all editors turn that down out of some noble duty to fairness, then I have a handful of bridges to sell you.

It's no shame, really. You shouldn't feel too bad. We get gamed all the time, and it's not always a bad thing--Thinkmodo's building a pretty nice reputation on creating clever "faked" videos for major brands.

But let's stop pretending that one man somewhere stumbled onto the "Friday" video and it spread organically from there. Because that is basically impossible.

Burning Questions

So who's making all the money here, Black or Ark? Who really started this whole thing off... some random user who found an obscure video and posted it online for friends to mock... or the company that created the video? If it was Ark that pushed this thing viral with a bit of guerrilla marketing, then they're geniuses.

The adage that "there's no such thing as bad publicity" has never been more true than it is today. If it weren't true, then Charlie Sheen and Rebecca Black would both be broke and without prospect. If you think marketing companies aren't savvy enough to know that and attempt to capitalize on it--even to the point of mocking the thing they're charged with promoting--then you're pretty naive.


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About the Author -
Jeremy Scott is the founder of The Viral Orchard, an Internet marketing firm offering content writing and development services, viral marketing consulting, and SEO services. Jeremy writes constantly, loves online video, and enjoys helping small businesses succeed in any way he can. View All Posts By -

What do you think? ▼
  • http://twitter.com/Verilliance Verilliance

    When I saw it, aside from being tempted to stab my eardrums with a fork, my first thought was that it was "purposefully" bad.

  • katatinka caroon

    Rebecca Black is a star. The song is great. Stop verbalizing in your heads, and get up and dance.

    • JeremyScott

      You have clearly never seen me dance.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_I22IOKM3TA6MRLRC22W3OK3KZM Emily

    Thanks Jeremy for writing this. I've been racking my brain since last week when I first saw this video saying the same thing, "THIS DOESN'T ADD UP!" The terrible nature of this song & video is too clean -- too "perfectly awful" if that makes sense. I strongly believe that someone tried hard to make sure it would seem horrid to as many people as possible -- instead of how most pop songs only seem awful to parents. :) Thanks again for your efforts to get to the bottom of this!
    Best!

  • polkadotpuppy

    When I first watched it on youtube before it actually went viral I thought it was a joke, some kind of secret Andy Samberg snl digital short and i laughed and also thought how terrible it was. And now it just pisses me off that someone can paid for a music video, it wasn't like she wrote it herself, it was all paid for and is absolutely awful yet still widely popular now and making thousands of dollars from a terribly paid for music video. There is something wrong with that picture.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Watson/2609612 Dan Watson

    This very article we're reading THIS MOMENT may be just another layer in the SEO scam! It's so intriguing! When you encounter a line in a song as badly written as "We we we so excited, we so excited, we gonna have a ball to-day," is it impossible to conceive that it was actually written in a spirit of dim-witted sincerity? Why has the meme-machine made that possibly incompetent songwriter out to be some sort of mad genius? Why must every analysis of a stupid cultural artifact require such ingenuity...

  • http://vitamincm.com/ VitaminCM

    Don't get me wrong, that song is painful. However, I'm not really sure how it's any worse than Justin Bieber?

    • http://www.reelseo.com/ Mark Robertson

      They both suck but neither as bad as http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OE2l6CPna4M

    • d_n

      JB can at least sing in tune. But RB can't sing to save her life -- even AutoTune couldn't help her.

  • http://twitter.com/JohnFHunt johnfhunt

    Totaly agree with you Jeremy @reelseo. The best PR is had when a negative twist can be put into the story line. Rebecca Black is not smart enough to pull this off. She is just a pawn.

  • http://www.gsmpedia.net GSMPedia

    Sry i couldn't get past the 20 second mark...that's how bad it is!

  • http://profiles.google.com/stevejarvis78 Steve Jarvis

    The sad thing is the majority of the people panning it are the same sheep that buy tracks released from the X-factor which are no better than this song. People hate this because they have been told to, people like the X-factor because they are told to. Lesson here? People are sheep.

    It is terrible but like i said its no worse than half the stuff in the charts.

  • tumbleweeds1979

    So, I get the fact it was a viral, I get the fact it's purposely bad, and I can see how that gets millions of hits.

    But what I'll never ever understand, is the fact people parted with their money for it it's at number 33 on iTunes.

    • d_n

      You wanna know who's bought it? The "Disney kids". The kids that worship Justin Beaver, have Hannah Montana bed sets, and would die to see Lady BlahBlah.

  • http://twitter.com/aardvarkfilms Aardvark Films

    Makes me think of the Mel Brooks film The Producers...

    I don't know, I'm not convinced this was a deliberate effort by Ark. In my opinion, to make something that's *just* the right level of bad to be passed around rather than ignored takes actual talent. It has to be car-crash bad in that way that you just have to watch it again to make sure you saw what you just saw. Most of the bad teen music videos (professional or amateur) just make you want to switch off. Or shoot yourself.

    Ark's other videos, for other artists are still bad, but I can see why they haven't caught anyone's attention. They're just mediocre. Friday seems to have something that makes people go 'You have to see this'. Friends I know who hardly ever share anything were facebooking and tweeting about it early in the week and I know they're not reading buzzfeed or reddit, and I'm pretty sure they're not part of the conspiracy. They just saw it, thought 'Oh. My. God.' and passed it on.

    Not saying Ark aren't doing all they can to capitalise on the attention, of course. They'd be massive idiots not to.

  • Bronson Page

    It's the return of the Fool.

  • GilbertGotFreed

    Alright let's settle down here. We are so cynical these days we can't possibly comprehend that a video would just become popular on its own accord (without some scheming, ulterior-motive driven individual behind it).

    Here's what happened:
    - teenager convinces Mommy and Daddy to pay $2000 to a music video-making company so "I can be a star, too!" (as this is how all adolescent girls aspire to get anywhere these days)
    - video turns out to be hilariously bad, although the star (Rebecca) is cute/engaging enough that it warrants our attention
    -people rail against the video and spread it around the internet because "This is how bad the state of music is! That crap like THIS can be popular!" in an irony-driven dissemination the likes of which we have never seen before...

    Bam. Here we are today. Let's not give credit to people who just happened to incidentally put together ingredients that led to this whole phenomenon.

  • http://mainspring.tv MainSpring Video

    Interesting. Yeah, these things can always labeled conspiracies after the fact, but determining which ones are and aren't can be an endless debate. That said, the song's been stuck in my head all friggin' week, so someone please save me.

  • http://twitter.com/Jonisthebestt Jon Irwin

    Registrant: patrice wilson 16752 Debra Cirl huntington beach, CA 92647 US Domain name: ARKMUSICFACTORY.COM Administrative Contact: wilson, patrice pwilson@servicechampions.com 16752 Debra Cirl huntington beach, CA 92647 US +1.9492239380 Technical Contact: Admin, Domain DomainSupport@homestead-inc.com 2632 Marine Way Mountain View, CA 94043 US +1.8004283170 Registration Service Provider: Intuit Websites, hostmaster@homesteadsupport.com 1-800-428-3170 http://www.intuit.com Registrar of Record: TUCOWS, INC. Record last updated on 09-Nov-2010. Record expires on 11-Aug-2011. Record created on 11-Aug-2010. Servicechampions.com which is the email registered to the admin takes you to anA/C Company. Isn't this weird o.O

  • http://beanvideo.com beanvideo

    Utter genius if you ask me. "We all, like sheep, have gone astray.." Is. 53:6
    If we could only garner that much attention (i.e. revenue) for videos we've created. People fall for it, and buy it, 'cause it's just a buck. Makes me want to start my own Music Factory ;-) and roll the dice.

  • Crawford Aucott

    I'm convinced this is a brilliantly executed viral campaign and here's who I think created it and why..

    Goldring Hertz & Lichtenstein LLP are an entertainments law firm which represents amongst other high profile names (such as Justin Beiber who came out massively in support of this song) also represents an artist by the name of Kaya. Kaya Rosenthal apparently signed a deal with Clarence Jey and Patrice Wilson back in April 2010 (source http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/doug_moe/article_6dcb6cf0-83d7-11df-a6f0-001cc4c002e0.html). So there seems to be a link between these two (owners of ARK Music Factory who signed Rebecca Black) and Goldring, Hertz & Lichtenstein LLP. Also there is a coincidence (?) in the artist type (what could be referred to as aimed at the tween market). See below quote also where Kenneth Hertz talks on the importance of the tween market..

    quote from Kenneth Hertz of Goldring Hertz & Lichtenstein LLP
    "Tweens heavily influence buying way out of proportion to their numbers," says Ken Hertz, an entertainment lawyer and branding expert whose firm represents Will Smith, Beyoncé Knowles and Gwen Stefani. "By the time someone has reached their late teens, they're much more difficult to influence." Tween consumers can get happily sucked in for life. "If you can get a fan at tween age, you have a good chance of keeping them for a long time. It's not a new thing. That is what allowed the Spice Girls to sell out Madison Square Gardens in 10 seconds. And that is why New Kids on the Block have a reunion coming up." (source http://marcosalas.blogspot.com/2008/04/we-like-our-venuses-young-when-annie.html)

    Goldring Hertz & Lichtenstein are also principals in Membrain LLC. Membrain LLC is "an entertainment consulting firm, which provides strategic marketing and business development services to businesses operating in the digital content, technology and entertainment marketing space. Principals of Membrain include entertainment attorneys Ken Hertz, Fred Goldring and Seth Lichtenstein, and veteran music industry marketing executive Phil Sandhaus." (source http://www.bigblueball.com/forums/general-other-im-news/28246-meca-communications-membrain-join-forces.html).

    Fred Goldring of Goldring Hertz & Lichtenstein was the producer of arguably the Obama "Yes We Can" viral video (source http://news.yahoo.com/s/politico/20081102/pl_politico/15182_1) so at least one of these partners is already a big noise in viral marketing.

    I'm sure there's a lot more out there. None of this is by any means proof that this is an orchestrated viral campaign aimed at the tween demographic. In any case, who wants to believe that they can be sold to without even knowing it :-) ?

  • JJ

    I just hope all this doesn't ruin her life. Someday she will realize she was used.

  • partofthepuzzle

    Whatever may have been taken place behind the scenes to help market the Friday video, it's becoming clear that there's one very simple fact behind it's huge success, that many adults are missing : millions of kids close to Rebecca's age (i.e. plus or minus two or three years) genuinely LOVE it! Why? Because the video hits in two elemental ways: she's just fragile and awkward enough that she remains one of them. Of course that's portrayed in the video but her fans are more likely to buy into the peer thing with her because she's not some hyper- talented, freakishly dedicated and flawless disciplined prodigy. At the same time she's has just enough more talent and courage than they possess and they admire her for doing something most have been afraid to try. So even if they don't act on it, she's an inspiration they can relate to. They're rooting for her now and that's the kind if fans you want.

    In addition to the way fans are personally relating to Rebecca, I think the perhaps the more important and compelling message is that the video itself is a celebration of teen camaraderie and community. Yes, it's sappy, silly, superficial and guess what: I assure you that almost all of the kids from approx 11 on up can see that that too. Because, despite what I keep hearing a lot of adults saying, most her fans are NOT idiots. They've seen thousands of music videos and grown up watching the American Idol judges critique pop singers and they can see and hear how Friday and Rebecca stack up in terms of professional singing ability. But I'm kind of amazed how many people seem to have completely forgotten that instrumental and vocal talent are NOT always the most important element in musical performance. It's really about telling a story and communicating emotion! Those *are* ultimately what matters the most. The story with Friday isn't about having a super voice, writing a great song, being a 13 yr old Beyonce or being the star of a clever, technically mature video. I agree those stories aren't there at all. I also think that another story that is NOT there is how bad the video and song are. Despite what a lot of people have been quick to say, Friday it NOT one of those videos that's so horrifically bad that we're hypnotized and can't pull our eyes from the pathetic FAIL unfolding before our eyes. Before you scoff, I maintain that if you watch it again without prejudging it, you'll see what I mean.

    they know that the video's silly but the feelings that it evokes mean something to them.
    Everyone's kid is super friendly and supportive of each other as well as supporting Rebecca's career ambitions by participating in the video shoot. There are millions of teens (and plenty of adults!) that would love to have this in their lives.
    If you've only watched Friday once, I suggest that you watch it again, from the standpoint of what aspects of it might be *genuinely* appealing to kids in her age group. I think you might be quite surprised at how cleverly it was conceived. At some level, whoever created and directed it was very smart about a few things. The implicit sexuality is at just the right level to hold kid's interest, without creating controversies by crossing any obvious lines. I can assure you that every thirteen year old watching this, wishes they had 16 year old guys in convertibles on their way to school, spontaneously beckoning them to jump in a car filled with their friends! Plus, the video (and the song) show 13 year old kids "partying" (completely unsupervised!) with older kids (e.g. the drivers). Perhaps your typical 15+ year old kid might not find that particularly intriguing or cool but many 12-13 yr old kids can only fantasize about that kind of scene. Then to this this slightly renegade party vibe, add an attractive adult male, literally driving his cool, urban, confident swagger right through the middle of the video. Sure, some viewers will find it easy to dismiss that section as gratuitous and cliched; perhaps a stab at bringing at least some real talent into the project, as well as providing relief from Rebecca's voice for few seconds. Personally, I think that including a brief hip hop element added a little bit of street sensibility and professionalism to the video. I'm taking it as indication that Ark and Rebecca aren't totally clueless dorks.

    An then there's the song itself. It's not pop poetry, duh! No great insight there. And sure we can shake our heads at how bad it is compared to millions of other songs, but that's irrelevant. All the song does is tell the story about how insanely great it feels to get out of school on Friday. That's it. But as teen stories go, it's a good one. Maybe many of you don't really remember just how great that feels, but I sure as hell haven't. The anticipation for the weekend that built up all day until, when we finally got out that door, there's was no holding back that triumphant, intoxicating rush: a heady mixture of relief, excitement, exultation and unbridled joy. Does the song capture or express the way that felt? No, and it didn't need to. All that silly little song did was bring back a great memory and with it some of the great feeling. Rebecca picked a great story. Oh, I almost forgot, the goddamn tune is ungodly catchy. I had to resort to extreme counter musical therapy to just to clean out my brain: I promise that an hour of Otto Von Shirac is not something one does for fun =-0!

  • https://twitter.com/Kmarketing Nigel Kay

    So kick start Your Viral Youtube Campaign with mass Social Bookmarking. Monetize the "Record Company" site with Itunes Downloads and make cash off the Video with Youtube/Adsense Advertising...

    Bonus: It Costs nothing to produce the Video content because the parents pay for it...

    I wonder If you could Apply this model to Other Niches.
    Regardless, Thanks for the great tips and Insight Jeremy.

  • samanthaterror

    With Tumblr though, many things are going viral faster, though I knew for the beginning this was a troll.

  • http://gigieatscelebrities.com/ gigieatscelebrities

    Man I need your help!!! GARHHH!!! I have done everything!