retail news in context, analysis with attitude

Yesterday was supposed to be a big deal for Netflix. The company was expanding its online video streaming service into Canada, and was celebrating the move with a big event in Toronto. A big crowd showed up for the event, many of whom expressed considerable excitement about the prospect of being able to access Netflix’s online content.

Except for one thing. A number of the excited consumers were actually paid actors carrying a piece of paper instructing them “to look really excited, particularly if asked by media to do any interviews about the prospect of Netflix in Canada.”

The Toronto Star writes, “After word of the ruse spread on Twitter, Netflix apologized and said the extras should not have been talking to reporters.

“A spokesman for Netflix said the handout for extras was required to obtain a film permit for the launch. The instruction sheet referred to Wednesday’s event as a ‘corporate documentary.’

“‘I was unaware that script was handed out to extras and that was not supposed to happen,’ said Steve Swasey, vice president of corporate communications for Netflix. ‘Some people got carried away and it’s embarrassing to Netflix’.”

All of which means that some low or mid-level public relations person probably is going to lose his or her job. In Canada, they’d probably call that being a sacrificial moose.

Here’s the amazing thing. Netflix knows who all its customers are. If it wanted to put reporters in touch with enthusiastic customers, all it had to do was import a couple of dozen from nearby Buffalo, New York, and have them available to the Canadian press. It couldn’t have taken Netflix more than about five minutes to identify happy users; hell, they could have called me and I would have gone to Toronto and waxed rhapsodic about their service. (They would have had to pay my air fare and throw in Blue Jays tickets, but then, I’m easy.)

The central lesson is this. More than ever, the truth will come out. Authenticity cannot be faked, no matter how hard you try.

And that’s my Thursday Eye-Opener.

- Kevin Coupe
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