Kathicam.com is fake! [NYTimes, free reg. req.]
February 28, 2001 8:56 AM   Subscribe

Kathicam.com is fake! [NYTimes, free reg. req.] A new twist in advertising online? ESPN.com has created a fake website called kathicam.com, put up a blinding pink background and created a character who writes poetry, has a webcam, is sorta attractive, and hates ESPN.com. Each page of "kathi's" site has a prominent link to ESPN.com, and they've gotten a ton of click-through traffic. Inspired? Insipid?
posted by acridrabbit (38 comments total)
Just horrible, but it's all been done before here in the UK with the nauseating Freeserve.com-sponsored OnlineCaroline.com.
posted by tobyslater at 9:01 AM on February 28, 2001

Did it work? I mean... I always thought that they were behind the site, you have to be dumb not to notice, especially when every page features a link to espn.com. "espn.com is undefeated, party tips - espn is still undefeated and so on. I for one will not be visiting espn.com ever. EVER. This is worse than usenet trolling.
posted by tiaka at 9:07 AM on February 28, 2001

Uhm.. if you've ever actually watched ESPN on TV, they've been running a bunch of commercials featuring "Kathi" from kathicam.com talking about how angry she is that ESPN gets more hits than she does & whatnot. While not a particularly inspired commercial, ESPN makes it blatantly obvious that kathicam is purely a creation of their marketers and nothing more.
posted by zempf at 9:13 AM on February 28, 2001

Also, if you take it from its proper angle -- ESPN being irreverent with its advertising, as they usually are, as exemplified in their 100-clip-strong self-deprecating "SportsCenter" campaign -- the KathiCam TV ads are a riot.
posted by werty at 9:21 AM on February 28, 2001

Fashion magazines have been doing this as well - Vivanlives.com - often mistaken for a personal site - is an advertising arm for Marie Clare Magazine.

Don't be naive about 'product recommendations' you see on personal sites, either - there are marketing companies out there paying people for product placement - sort of a new twist on epinions, except you don't know that the reviewer is being paid for his or her positive recommendations. It isn't huge money, but it sure beats the money to be made putting ugly banner ads up.
posted by kristin at 9:25 AM on February 28, 2001

I second the motion that realizing this was a joke site does not make you a rocket scientist. How can anyone get angry at this, what is wrong with everyone that they have to argue about EVERY single thing? This is a clever ad/website tie-in, which the article makes clear if you read it. Usenet trolling? What? Did you read the article? I can't even begin to comprehend how anyone could be annoyed by this.
posted by beefula at 9:28 AM on February 28, 2001

I think it's a very creative way to advertise-- unlike spamming and trolling. It reminds me of RubberBurner, a site that I saw before learning about the Buddy Lee connection. I felt bamboozled and angry at first, but really they accomplished their goal-- they tricked me!

(and yes, I am being paid each time you click the links above:)

posted by schlomo at 9:47 AM on February 28, 2001

Speaking of epinions, I would be unsurprised to find out that companies are hiring people to place positive reviews of their products there.

Or just that marketing types are posting reviews there as part of their job...

For that matter, I wonder about Amazon's reviews, too.

If it exists, it will be co-opted.

Watching the Frontline episode last night, "The Manufacturers of Cool", really left me with a bad taste in my mouth, but I can't say I was surprised. It's just more of the same - marketing droids doing anything possible to sell their product, with no regard for any negative effects on the world.

Oh well. Capitalism sucks.
posted by beth at 9:52 AM on February 28, 2001

I like the KathiCam TV spots quite a bit. I barely watch *any* TV at all but I've still seen 2 or 3 of them, so I have to wonder how so many people apparently missed 'em.

I don't think anyone was trying to fool anyone here.

The part I wonder about is whether they *knew* that there's at least one webgeekcamgirl out there who ordinarily wouldn't notice a commercial for ESPN if it smacked her upside the head, but would watch the KathiCam ads with interest :) [for the record, my guess is no, they were aiming for the webgeekvoyeurpervallamericanmale faction instead.]
posted by Sapphireblue at 9:53 AM on February 28, 2001

Big surprise. I operate on the assumption that corporations create fake web sites, (especially consumer review sites), and even employ people to post messages on such sites. It's a great, sneaky marketing technique. It makes sense. When I buy pricey items I do not turn to magazines for input. I look for posted user comments.
posted by fleener at 9:58 AM on February 28, 2001

I gave the company I work for a "love it" at epinions, but that's it.

As I mentioned at /usr/bin/girl, this type of thing really doesn't sit well with me. It truly makes the line between the corporate, icky web and the personal, potentially-not-as-icky web blur. I'm not big on blurring that line.

Clever, perhaps, but I have issues with it.
posted by hijinx at 10:02 AM on February 28, 2001

As a side note, hey, what if ALL YOUR BASE ARE BELONG TO US was a Flash animation created by Disney as the promotion of an upcoming action movie? And all of those sites and posts were by Disney employees?
posted by hijinx at 10:04 AM on February 28, 2001

To clarify, I wasn't surprised either. I don't watch ESPN, I had never heard of or run across this site, and I wasn't angry or fooled. (Was someone angry? Maybe I missed that)

The part I wondered about was whether anyone *was* fooled by the site, and thought "Kathi" was a real person and not an actress.

Marketing is interesting - and web + tv cross-marketing is interesting too (at least to me).

Vivianlives.com was new to me until last week, when I read a story about some schlub who proposed to his girlfriend on the site. Vivianlives is blatantly commercial, but the girlfriend apparently thought of vivian as a friend - as a real person, rather than a well-paid marketing tool.
posted by acridrabbit at 10:12 AM on February 28, 2001

hijinx---but but, if no one's trying to pull a fast one (and I really don't think they are here), what's wrong with it?

other than the predictable oh-those-culture-raping-capitalist-pigs sneers that occur when Madison Ave co-opts a bit of pop culture to sell stuff. all your thirst are belong to us, as CrazyUncleJoe put it.

there was an article in USA Today (a.k.a."McPaper") that was actually pretty interesting---Feb 6 2001, "Lurker prowls Web to clarify issues, answer questions". It was about hotel chains who pay people to do nothing but cruise travel message boards on the web and respond to people's issues with those chains, a decent read if you can dig up a copy (pay archives at their site). I think that's super-cool, but yeah, if it *was* covert, it'd be pretty sleazy.

I have no problem with corporations trying to speak my language or reach out to me via my preferred medium. It's when they get all sneaky and manipulative that I get pissed.

(hee. while i was writing, you were thinkiing too about the crime it would be for AYB to be just another capitalistic ploy---the horrors!)
posted by Sapphireblue at 10:16 AM on February 28, 2001

Um. Anyone who was fooled by that site deserves to have their confidence in webcams betrayed. It's not even a troll, it's just a joke.
posted by sonofsamiam at 10:17 AM on February 28, 2001

Sapphireblue -

hijinx---but but, if no one's trying to pull a fast one (and I really don't think they are here), what's wrong with it?

Well, that's where the personal side of it comes in, and ymmv and so on.

It bothers me because there is often a clear separation of purely commercial content on the web from the rest. You know that adobe.com is there to sell Adobe stuff. But when it trickles down to blogs, personal sites, and so forth, how can you be sure?

The only differentiation could be, for the time being, the design of these "personal" sites. They're crude. I think back to the Buddy Lee ones and think of how basic they were, but then, didn't everyone start out with a crude, basic site? It's kind of like the recent Simpsons' eps that featured real live websites... except those sites were made for the show.

I like to know where my commercial content begins and ends, I guess, and if/when you confuse me successfully, you not only get me angered, but you lose any potential interest in your product. So, Sapphireblue, stop selling me those Brillo pads! ;)

Lurker prowls Web to clarify issues, answer questions

I'll have to find that article, but I don't mind that - so long as they aren't going around as Joe Consumer and trying to alleviate fears that way. There is an element of trust involved; all too often, I'm more inclined to trust a person's opinion (hence, epinions) versus a company's. If you portray a person but are really a company... ethical questions abound!
posted by hijinx at 10:34 AM on February 28, 2001

Remember the Blair Witch Project? Didn't the producers set up a bunch of "fan" sites to try and generate buzz about the film? From what I remember they never owned up to the spoofing they were doing.
posted by tranquileye at 10:56 AM on February 28, 2001

Hey Beth, there are companies that will infiltrate chat rooms and message boards. It's made me very suspicious of some links posted to Metafilter, actually. One that I'm semi-familiar with is called HiFrequency. They seem, to me, to just be the creepiest thing.
posted by Doug at 10:56 AM on February 28, 2001

I guess the only answer to these kinds of things is to listen to what I REALLY want and think and let that drive my choices instead of what I read or see. That way I wouldn't be looking for someone else to tell me what was real or relevant or commercial or not - I'd be looking at things based on my OWN ideas. Of course, figuring out which part is ME and which part is trained monkey is the challenging part. *grin*
posted by thunder at 11:03 AM on February 28, 2001

hijinx---I understand this is just your personal opinion. For my own part I get a certain masochistic enjoyment out of trying to understand people's prickle points :)

So my next question is, where do you draw the line of "clear separation"? To me, KathiCam was pretty glaringly obvious as a corporate advertising thing.

In fact, I'd seen the commercials and idly thought, "Be funny to type in the URL sometime and see where it goes", but never did 'til this thread today. I imagine that the thrust of the ad campaign is the TV spots (which are *obviously* ads for ESPN) and the website's there solely to support those. Are there ads for KathiCam itself anywhere online? Is KathiCam listed on any cam registries? I searched for it on all the cam portals listed on Dan's webcam page and not a single hit.

So would anyone find KathiCam *without* seeing an ESPN ad? Are there pre-teen girls linking to Kathi and saying "here's a rilly cool site by a rilly cool grrl"? If not: where's the fuzziness, where's the confusion? I just don't see it.
posted by Sapphireblue at 11:25 AM on February 28, 2001

So my next question is, where do you draw the line of "clear separation"?

As a preface, lemme say that KathiCam is an obvious advertisement, particularly if you've seen the TV spots; I don't disagree with this. I'm also rather glad that you couldn't find links to KathiCam that didn't see it as an ad... because then I'd be worried.

For me, the line really is drawn when you've got people working within a corporation going out onto the web, and imitating, in some fashion, people who wouldn't ordinarily have anything to do with that corporation. If I work at Wendy's, and start putting up anti-McDonald's sites, and post anti-McDonald's messages, yet claim no vested interest, then I'd be doing something ethically questionable.

When the corporate influence becomes so subversive that we don't even know about it is when I really get frustrated. .. if it comes down to, say, a myriad of corporate-run "individuals" putting up a lot of the web's content. (I think back to my first days on the web and one of the first things I ever saw was The Spot. And shoot, I didn't know it was fake! Until about a day later. While it wasn't one big commercial, it probably would be today.)

It's kind of like The Truman Show in this sense. What if someone grows up thinking that the web is all about Microsoft products, and has this urge to buy things and do things that he/she reads about on sites, and accepts it blindly as gospel? For that person, the web is one big advertisement - and, some would argue, that person deserves to buy those products and do those things.

My fear is that the web could degenerate into one big corporate free-for-all, where even the content that was once a sort of "hollowed ground" for individuals becomes infiltrated with ads and similar crap. And AOL runs the show. He (or she!) who controls the content has the power.
posted by hijinx at 11:37 AM on February 28, 2001

Capitalism sucks.

True. So does life.

Life without capitalism, however, sucks even more.
posted by daveadams at 12:12 PM on February 28, 2001

My fear is that the web could degenerate into one big corporate free-for-all

Uh... I've got a bit of bad news for you...
posted by Loudmax at 12:37 PM on February 28, 2001

I'm waiting for the answer to Saphireblue's question... did anyone find this site on their own? And the big question is this -- if there are as many fiendish "hackers" out there as the media indicates, why hasn't one doctored "Kathi's" site? Oh, the possibilities!!!
posted by apollo at 12:43 PM on February 28, 2001

mathowie: come out and admit it. Cameron Barrett is a creation of Jerry Della Femina under contract from MetaFilter to post disparaging comments and drive people here.

hijinx: hollowed ground?

If Kathicam and Rubberburner et al. are any evidence, there's no chance anytime soon that Disney or whomever will be able to create content that believably masquerades as real. Except for the odd credulous duck or two.

By the way, I have it on good authority that television networks have been luring people to watch stories of people that are entirely fictional, yes, made-up, and all to get us to watch a little bit of advertising. Yes, you heard it here first.
posted by dhartung at 12:48 PM on February 28, 2001

Note that the term "hollowed ground" was used in quotation marks to indicate a lighter tone and looser usage.

As of right now, the sites that the corporations produce are rather lame, yes. But yeah, that seems familiar.
posted by hijinx at 1:06 PM on February 28, 2001

hijinx: so we're actually in agreement here---"sneaky is bad" ?

last thing---anyone who grows up accepting what he reads on the web as gospel, I would say, has much bigger problems than being made a victim of the capitalist advertising conspiracy :)

("hallowed", i think, is right, and i think is the reason for dhartung's spocked eyebrow there.)
posted by Sapphireblue at 1:42 PM on February 28, 2001

I think what may be disturbing many ppl about this issue is that the lines of trust are blurring. Many ppl have turned to the web and online communities as a major social outlet in their lives. When these outlets are threatened by corporate takeovers, where will we be left to turn? Is hyjinx a friend or a 'random post generator' run by a kitty-litter conglomerate?

We (ok I) want to believe that the people I am talking to now, are people, and will always be people, without any biases, save their own.
posted by fiery at 1:45 PM on February 28, 2001

not to whine, but...
other than the predictable oh-those-culture-raping-capitalist-pigs sneers that occur when Madison Ave co-opts a bit of pop culture to sell stuff. all your thirst are belong to us, as CrazyUncleJoe put it.
that was optamystic. :D

i think it's a pretty cool idea, but only because it's relatively clear that it's an ad. but i love the issues it's bringing up. like, what if kottke all of a sudden started mentioning pepsi every other entry? how long would it take before that trend became apparent to everyone?

should ad websites have to put the "this is an advertisment" thing they put on magazine ads that are formatted to look like content and on infomercials?
posted by pikachulolita at 1:51 PM on February 28, 2001

sapphireblue- I agree. Circle gets the square. You and dhartung might want to note that I said hollowed ground, not hallowed, which could be called a wonderful play on words, given my argument. (In reality, of course, it's called "Paul doesn't know how to spell 'hallowed'.")

fiery has hit the nail on the head... trust is the issue for me, but then I have been preprogrammed to relay this response by my programm... oops
posted by hijinx at 1:55 PM on February 28, 2001

hyjinx: Interesting to note how you immediately mentioned a 'human' name 'Paul' after I feretted out your true nature, down kitty.

Now lets all take a vow that all of our biases are our very own and have not been bought and paid for.....
posted by fiery at 2:07 PM on February 28, 2001

hijinx: if you work for the Fresh Step people, could you please get in touch with your higher-ups and see what they can do to make the product less likely to stick to kitty feet?

I would appreciate it, eversomuch. :D
posted by Sapphireblue at 2:08 PM on February 28, 2001

(oh god, i can't resist:)

all my biases are belong to me.
posted by Sapphireblue at 2:09 PM on February 28, 2001

Saphire: hahahahahaha

All my biases are belong to me. also, as well.
posted by fiery at 2:12 PM on February 28, 2001

Hey, sapphireblue (if that is your real name, Michelle!), I'll have you know that Fresh Step is a genuinely good product! It never sticks to my kitty's feet and I'll have you know that I use Fresh Step all the time! It's the l33t litter for your cool kitty.

I'm sorry, my program must be malfunctioning.
posted by hijinx at 2:54 PM on February 28, 2001

This is just so lame and stereotyped. Not so much that it's deceptive, it's just...aaaagh...it reinforces gender stereotypes and hostility. And everything on there is something you have to hate if you're a man. Like poetry. Have to hate that, or else you're a fag. Hate poetry. Like sports. Otherwise, yer just a sissy.
posted by dagnyscott at 5:14 PM on February 28, 2001

Enjoying the many interesting perspectives here! I just wanted to chip in by reminding you that the next time you need a "home away from home," try the Hilton line of lodging options! After all... "it happens at the Hilton!"
posted by jbushnell at 10:07 PM on February 28, 2001

I think that kathicam.com is a work of genius, from the #ff31ce bgcolor to the blink tags, it's not just inspired, it's sublime.
posted by Chairman_MaoXian at 7:53 AM on March 1, 2001

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