The Catfish Strikes Again: How SXSW Fell In Love With a Robot

A Google search for ‘catfish’ will result in two forms of the word: noun & verb, with two separate definitions for each.

Let’s start with the noun form:

  1. A freshwater or marine fish with whisker-like barbels around the mouth, typically bottom-dwelling &
  2. Another term for wolffish.

And for the verb form:

  1. To fish for catfish, & the recently adopted definition
  2. To lure someone into a relationship by means of a fictional online persona.

Oh how sneaky can someone be these days? How many meet ups have been sparked by your interest in someone’s photos, only to find out they are nothing like that hottie you saw online? I personally think one is too many, but what if you’ve catfished thousands of people over the course of a weekend?

Think those kind of numbers are only reserved for the suavest nightingales on the internet? Think again.

The media team behind the new movie ‘Ex-Machina’ conducted a hall-of-fame catfish campaign over the weekend at SXSW in Austin, TX. Tinder users at the conference were encountering an attractive woman named Ava within the app. One of Adweek’s sources actually had a match with her & took a swing with a text conversation:

However the gentlemen who followed Ava’s invitation to check her profile were in for a surprise. The profile was essentially empty except for one photo & one video, both promoting the movie ‘Ex-Machina’ which just so happened to be premiering at SXSW in Austin that same weekend. Users were also surprised to see that Ava wasn’t Ava, but in fact Swedish actress Alicia Vikander who plays an AI within the movie.

Oh what a letdown! Though, with a closer look you have to give kudos to the ‘Ex-Machina’ team for a creative way to connect their campaign to the overall premise of the movie.

‘Ex-Machina’ is essentially about robots and their quest to understand humanity and one of its most fleeting elements: love. Ava’s questions had an interested yet mechanical feeling to them, but you couldn’t help but want to peek at that Instagram profile and see if you could help Ava experience love for the first time.

As hurt as some users may have been, the Instagram profile blew up in the few days of SXSW. The @meetava profile on Instagram gained 2,862 followers in a matter of days and their Tinder campaign has done nothing but generate buzz around SXSW reporters. Some marketers have even gone far enough to predict that more campaigns will follow suit and we’ll see an increase in Tinder brand catfishing.

Uhm, no.

While this was definitely a creative use of the platform, this isn’t the first time it’s been done (a pet adoption agency fooled 2,700 Tinder users in a week). It also is not the last time as well, but I do not predict it’ll become a trend in the coming months.

We can simply take the ‘Ex-Machina’ campaign as a reminder that marketing tactics are getting smoother & more subtle everyday and we have to maintain a level of awareness if we don’t want to feel taken advantage of.

Marketers need to continue with this trend in creating intelligent & effective campaigns that have a deeper connection to their product / brand. For instance, you wouldn’t use a Tinder campaign for Lay’s Do Us A Flavor contest would you?

Therefore, don’t neglect your research. Find what it is about your product that people can effectively engage your audience, and ride that until the wheels fall off. But you have to admit, you would’ve swiped right too☺.

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