Caleb, not his real name, was really looking forward to this year’s South by Southwest festival (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. He had tickets for several of the big film premieres that would take place during the 10-day festival and had been waiting all year for the event.
On the opening night, the atmosphere was amazing and Caleb, who is single, thought about finding company. He turned to Tinder to see who was out there. After a couple of less than interesting profiles he spotted Ava – a stunning 25-year-old brunette, who was also in Austin and checking Tinder. Without hesitation he swiped his iPhone and a few seconds later Tinder confirmed he had a match.
Pausing to catch his breath Caleb messaged her: “Hey Ava, nice to meet ya!”
“Hello, Caleb. I’d like to get to know you. May I ask you a few questions?”, was the almost instantaneous response. Caleb messaged that he was more than cool with that and Ava began to ask all manner of intriguingly deep questions: had he ever been in love, what made him human, what had attracted him to her profile. Each time Caleb tried to be concise, witty and non-creepy – his usual winning formula for Tinder. He felt a growing rapport with Ava as the conversation flowed, so when she asked him: “If you could meet me anywhere, where would you choose?”, he decided to go for broke. “We’re both in Austin, it’s Saturday night, it’s SXSW, so I’d suggest here. I know an awesome bar on Davis”.
He waited for what seemed an eternity. “You’re clever”, came the reply. “You’ve passed my test. Take a look at my Instagram and let me know if I’ve passed yours :)”. When Caleb visited the @meetava site he, like dozens of other SXSW attendees, was in for a shock. It was the promotional site for the film Ex Machina, which was holding its premier at SXSW ahead of its US opening in April. The sci-fi film is an outstanding tale of the struggles of an everyday guy, played by Domhnall Gleeson, who has to assess how passably human a newly-created robot called Ava, played by Alicia Vikander, has become.
Of course, the photos of Ava on Tinder were of Vikander and the promotional team in charge of the film had used Tinder’s geographic proximity features to target everyone attending SXSW in the hope that SXSW participants, like Caleb, would engage with the character and its simple AI interface.
It is a breathtaking piece of marketing because it ticks all three boxes that any great tactical work should achieve. First, it’s bang on the positioning of the film, which is about the Turing Test and the inability of humans in the future to be able to discern between humans and computers. Second, it satisfies the strategic goal of the campaign, which is obviously to drive awareness of the film ahead of its launch. Tales of SXSW attendees’ experiences with Ava and the general brilliance of the idea have filtered far and wide through Adweek, People Magazine, Mashable and other top-tier American publications. Finally, and not unusually for truly disruptive tactical work, it cost virtually nothing.
Despite the apparent excellence and effect of the campaign, what has also been interesting is the general response of tech-heads and social media adherents in the US. Most have been negative about the campaign, with many characterising the approach as “counter-productive”, “an invasion of privacy”, “trolling” and “trickery”.
Which all seems a little bit bizarre to me. We have all this bullshit, thoroughly ineffective social media being ludicrously oversold to the marketing community and finally we get a genuinely innovative and effective bit of social media that achieves its objectives while being on-brand and it’s decried by the digital crowd.
Perhaps they have been so deluged by bullshit for the past five years that they are fundamentally unable to spot a strategic silk purse from the usual social sow’s ear. Or perhaps it’s too much for the best and brightest digital adherents to be hoodwinked in such a clever and embarrassing manner.
Whatever the reason, it’s heartbreaking, especially for Caleb who managed to fall for Turing’s Test, lose a hot date and become a viral marketing tool in less than three minutes on Tinder.