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Meltdown Marketing

VIDEO: 'Caught on tape' tantrums are so viral, big biz is faking them.

Aaron Chapman 24 Jun 2008TheTyee.ca

Aaron Chapman is a musician and writer. He spends a lot of time on tour in hotel lobbies, being polite as possible.

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Viral sensation: 'Businessman Has Meltdown in Hotel Lobby'

Listening in on an argument is one of those vicarious things that few people will admit to enjoying. It perhaps speaks to our darker nature, and a fascination with seeing others' nerves stripped raw (and not our own).

Our point-and-click world has a keyword to easily locate these voyeuristic moments -- "meltdown." Grim? More so, perhaps, is how Madison Avenue is now using people's misanthropic fascination to sell them products.

In the clip "Businessman Has Meltdown in Hotel Lobby," a security camera records a 30-something man as he angrily reacts to being unable to reach a contact and therefore locate a meeting. His assistant, the front desk staff and the rest of the public (minding their own business) suffer as a result of his frustrations, especially when he discovers that the people he's seeking have started the meeting without him, and he reaches a boiling point.

But even the casually media literate can see something isn't right here. The video has remarkable resolution for a hotel security camera, and we can hear every word, which means the key figures in the clip have been miked. Like with Lonely Girl, there are a few tiny clues that we're watching actors.

Many commenters in the forum beneath the clip have picked up on this as well and say they feel cheated. Other commenters think it's humorous whether it's "real" or not.

But what might not be humorous is the fact that at the end of the clip we're given the URL for Don't Have a Meltdown, www.donthaveameltdown.com. The site is no longer up; in fact, the URL only brings you to the results of a Google search. But it still can be viewed on YouTube.

We're taken to a quirky one-on-one therapy session lead by a "master life coach," which slowly reveals itself to be an advertisement for Cisco Systems: a multinational corporation with an annual revenue of $35 billion, which regularly advertises its "Welcome to the Human Network" commercials on CNN. Cisco's "Unified Communications" systems are supposedly for businesses who want to keep all their employees connected.

Within a few short minutes, a manufactured viral video surreptitiously placed on YouTube with over 250,000 hits takes us like fruit from a poisoned tree to an advertisement for corporate communication technology.

We are left to wonder just how many people, after viewing the clip, followed the buried path to Cisco's front door. But it was enough for the marketing braintrust involved to convince Cisco it was a valuable idea to pay thousands of dollars to produce.

And to ask which is worse -- that many viewers privately enjoy clips showing another human's misery and meltdown? Or that a corporation is banking on our interest in it?

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