Chat Roulette – A risk worth taking?
This topic was brought to my attention a few months ago, when rebellious brand FCUK hit the headlines with a competition encouraging men to chat up women through an online ‘speed dating’ service called Chat Roulette. Since then, a number of other brands have used the platform to run awareness raising campaigns. But the frequent offensive content and questionable nature of the users and content found on Chat Roulette means it a controversial medium to run an ad campaign, to say the least. This article will look at whether brands can be successful using it as an advertising vehicle, and whether all the bad press is really worth it.
The concept is simple; users log on, armed with courage and a webcam, and are then subjected to an infinite number of meetings with other users in which they can choose to chat or ‘next’ their partner and connect with someone else. A quick Google search for ‘Chatroulette’ brings back a fairly even split between news articles criticising the service over safety issues offensive material and blog posts highlighting the amusing aspects of the random occurrences on it. The website has received numerous amounts of coverage from journalists trying it out and reporting back on their, usually disappointing and generally offensive, experience. I saved myself the awkwardness (I’m not a small talk kind of person anyway) and used Wikipedia to give you an idea of the average user experience
“On average in sessions showing a single person, 89% of these were male and 11% were female. 8% of spins showed multiple people behind the camera. 1 in 3 females appeared as such a group. That number is 1 in 12 for males. A user was more likely to encounter a webcam featuring no person at all than one featuring a sole female. 1 in 8 spins yielded something most people will consider objectionable”
So with this in mind…
Why would a brand want to use ChatRoulette to run an advertising campaign?
Despite the controversial publicity, a select few brands have appeared on ChatRoulette in an attempt to raise brand awareness and drive consumers towards purchase of their product. These include:
FCUK, who encouraged men to chat up women on the service, and offered a £250 voucher if they could prove they’d been successful.
GiffGaff; the O2 run mobile network employed ‘Pierre’ to draw caricatures of the other person while connected to them.
Dr Pepper, promoted their ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ message with a cheerleader encouraging their partner to dance with them.
Burger King took a less engaging approach and simply used their King mascot to direct users to a voucher site.
There is obviously a certain demographic using the site, and only specific brands with a young, slightly rebellious image have tried to use it. Maybe this is the key to getting away with the controversy.
But what are the real benefits of taking the risk?
Well, the most obvious reason is the one to one contact and engagement level you have with the user on the other end of the webcam. The majority of advertising nowadays is based upon targeting the individual rather than the masses; and you can’t get much more individual than GiffGaff’s ChatRoulette campaign in which ‘Pierre’ drew a caricature of the other person while connected to them. The platform is also free to use, so the only expense to the company is hiring somebody to appear in front of the webcam and do whichever stunt you have decided to pull, over and over again. In addition to this fairly cheap outlay those that have dared to play roulette with their brand have received numerous amounts of free publicity through press coverage, blog articles and YouTube videos of various encounters. Furthermore, the platform itself has succeeded in getting people talking about it, so user numbers are increasing rapidly everyday, with current figures around 1million a month.
So that’s the sell, but what about the negative impact on brands? Well as far as press coverage goes, they say that any publicity is good publicity; and for the brands that have used the website so far it has certainly bolstered consumer interest. But it certainly wouldn’t work for every brand. I think the key to the success of using ChatRoulette as an advertising platform lies with the current, and intended image of the brand. The nature of the platform is objectionable and controversial, so brands that want to reflect these values have been a success (such as FCUK). Many brands that have appeared on the site have been the underdogs to market leaders, such as Dr Pepper and Burger King, which usually means they have a rebellious side to their advertising, in line with the image of ChatRoulette.
But before more advertisers join the Roulette revolution I think it’s important to consider whether it’s really worth it. Although user numbers are growing on the service it’s only realistic that you’ll connect with a limited number of interested, relevant consumers in any particular session. As far as the added brand awareness you might gain from being in the press coverage about the platform, you’d need to have a pretty witty campaign to achieve any real success from it. What’s more, as clever marketing gimmicks go I think Chat Roulette may become exhausted pretty quickly, and brands might be more worthwhile spending their budget on something individual and unique to themselves, which will garner good publicity and influence more consumers.Tweet