The Hot Startup That's Really An Marketing Ploy?

from the sneaky... dept

There have been a lot of little “hot” startups or online projects lately that have a ton of buzz. Offerings like Flickr,, Furl, Bloglines and others seem to be what everyone has been talking about. In cases like Bloglines and Furl, the companies have quickly been snapped up by larger players, and there are plenty of rumors about others (such as the popular rumor that Flickr is being acquired by Yahoo). However, one of these offerings that has been getting some attention lately is a project called “43 Things” which is sort of like a modification on typical social networking offerings. Instead of just linking to people you know, the site asks you to describe things you want to do in your life, and then (via “tags” — which most people probably remember as “keywords” but tags is apparently much more hip these days) shows you everyone else who wants to do the same thing. Think of it as courage through social networking peer pressure. Well, rather than it just being a fun little startup getting lots of buzz, it might just be a marketing ploy to eventually drive you to is breaking the story that, rather than being “acquired,” it looks like 43 Things has really been a project stealthily built by Amazon all along. There seems to be a bit of confusion over the matter, and some insistence that the company is really separate, with Amazon just being the sole investor. Either way, it shows how companies like Amazon are looking to these hot startups as a sort of stealth marketing technique, building up buzz around a cool service, and then (eventually) trying to drive that traffic back to their own site.

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Comments on “The Hot Startup That's Really An Marketing Ploy?”

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Often Offended (user link) says:

Outrageous ploys!

Mike, you seem very offended by something as superficial as a marketing ploy — just because it is on the Internet?

It’s like the strange commercials you see during the Super Bowl, they are trying to shock you so you remember them. In the same way, a lot of people will remember spyware like Gator or GAIN or whatever they call it. That’s because they were effective and persistent and got the message out.

Symantec and other anti-virus makers do not see spyware as the same threat as virii, because the user is purposely and deliberately not taking care of their operating system.

To take care of a PC, you must keep it updated, you must delete rogue programs that auto-install, you must be responsible for your own PC. Who will my neighbor sue because he didn’t defrag his hard disk?

Let’s stop the collective whining about new marketing ploys. Just ignore the adz. (hint: run Ad-Aware SE and get back to work).

Steve says:

Re: Outrageous ploys!

> Mike, you seem very offended by something as superficial as a marketing ploy — just because it is on the Internet?

Not sure I’d say I’m terribly offended exactly, but I am at least amused at them being caught out in an implicit lie (and what else is most marketing…) and I’m happily emailing friends, telling how Amazon got caught out in some sleaze.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Outrageous ploys!

Hmm. Sorry if my tone was misinterpreted. I wasn’t offended. Just thought it was worth noting how big companies are doing this. I was pointing it out because it seemed interesting that a company would use such a method for marketing, rather than to express any value judgment on it.

Anyway, if you thought I was offended, you were wrong. Sorry that I somehow implied that I was.

thecaptain says:

Re: Outrageous ploys!

You know what?

Count ME offended.

This isn’t like weird or shocking commercials (don’t care about those) but I’m tired of “marketting ploys” TRICKING me (ie: misleading, lying etc…your basic dishonesty) into TRYING to get my business.

Seriously, why can’t marketting lose the whole “stealth” paradigm? Try being HONEST for once and in a LONG time (because you have LOST it and have to earn it back) you WILL get our trust.

No one seems to ask WHY “stealth marketting” is necessary. I’ll tell you why. Because the public is so flooded with inane misleading messages, we 1) Tune out, 2) disbelieve. Why do you think that is? Let’s hear a marketter on this.

Michiel (user link) says:

Re: Re: Outrageous ploys!

Following this discussion, I noticed I really don’t care about wether Amazon is behind it or not.
Does it detract from the usefulness of the service?
No. it still works as intended. When suddenly a million todos pop up on 43things stating ‘buy so-and-so’s book’ then maybe I’ll reconsider.
Is my privacy compromised in any way?
No. I already knew all data I put out there is 100% visible to anyone. Possibly some marketeer could pry some information about me from 43things (and I’m pretty sure they’ll try to, and fail) but any marketeer could do that as I share that data with all the world.
How much do you know about, for instance, Joshua sounds like a cool guy with some great ideas but for all you know his service has already been bought by BabySealClubbers, inc. There’s no policy or nothing on his site, and there doesn’t need to be. The data on that (and all other social network-oriented sites) is public anyway. YOU choose what to put out there.

W.B. McNamara (user link) says:

Present or future tense?

From the Salon story by itself it seems more than just a little unclear whether Amazon funded 43 Things from the start, or they had recently invested but weren’t yet prepared to discuss nature of their investment. The story has a disconcerting tendancy to shift between present and future tense when talking about the Amazon funding, which makes me think that the author didn’t really know which was the truth.

In some ways I hope that Amazon has been funding it all the way along. I’d view that as an impressively forward-looking move on Amazon’s part: three or four guys who have done good work for Amazon have an interesting idea that doesn’t quite fit with Amazon’s core business and is rather speculative in any case. Amazon then provides funding for these guys to try it out, the same way that any angel or early stage VC would — taking on a small amount of risk for a potentially large return.

I see a lot of value, to both Amazon and the new product, in taking an approach like this: Amazon is insulated from a potential failure, and the new product doesn’t have to deal with the attention that comes from being a new offering from an online giant.

Maybe that idea should strike me as more deceptive…oddly, though, despite the questions that I have about stealth advertising in general, this idea just doesn’t bother me.

Jiminy Cricket says:

Re: Re: Present or future tense?

There’s lots of perl floating about in amazon, especially in their backend tools. Most of the web site is written in C. It’s definitely a Linux & Oracle shop.
And I’m highly suspicious of the whole mystery behind the 43Things startup too. Sounds like yet another version of astro-turfing. Or, an admission that you can’t get anything done in amazon’s massive corporate structure anymore, so you have to spin off little “startups” to actually get work done.
But, to be fair, plenty of startups are founded by several people who used to work together (be it ex-Microsofties, ex-Amazonians, etc.) – and they often purposefully create something that would appeal to their former employer in hopes they’ll get bought out quick.

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