business news in context, analysis with attitude

Wired has a story about documentarian Oobah Butler, who has a film entitled "The Great Amazon Heist" airing in the UK.

Here's what you need to know:  Butler - described in the piece as "a journalist, presenter, and renowned puller of stunts" - details how he went on Amazon's Marketplace as a third-party vendor to sell an energy drink called Release, which "had all the hallmarks of a beverage sensation. Striking design, bold font, and the punchy name."  At one point, "Release even attained number one bestseller status in the 'Bitter Lemon' category."

The kicker:  "Each bottle was filled with urine allegedly discarded by Amazon delivery drivers and collected from plastic bottles by the side of the road."

Now, "allegedly" is a really important word here.  Wired writes that Butler "resorts to interviewing delivery drivers, who tell him that they’re penalized for slow deliveries to the extent that they have to urinate in bottles because they don’t have time to find anywhere to stop for bathroom breaks.

"Drivers urinating in bottles has been reported in the past, but what wasn’t known is that some claim they also get penalized for having those urine-filled bottles in their truck when they return to the warehouse … To avoid penalties, they end up discarding the bottles by the side of the road. Butler searches the roadsides near Amazon warehouses from Coventry to New York to Los Angeles and more often than not strikes liquid gold."

Amazon, of course, says that "this was a 'crude stunt; and that the company has 'industry-leading tools to prevent genuinely unsafe products being listed'."  And it denies that its policies lead to drivers peeing in bottles while driving.

You can read the entire story here.

KC's View:

Let me answer your first question:  According to the story, "No members of the public were actually sent driver urine; instead Butler corralled a group of friends into making the purchases …  When he saw the product listed for sale, Butler felt 'initially really excited and found it very funny,' he says. 'Then when real people started trying to buy the product, I felt a bit scared'."

When I first saw this story, I checked the calendar.  Could it be April 1?

I have not seen the documentary, but it does sound like a cousin to Morgan Spurlock's "Super Size Me."  And it sounds like Butler is not just a one-trick pony - he spent a lot of time digging into Amazon's employee policies.

I agree with Amazon on one thing - this is a crude stunt.  But it also sounds like it could be effective.  Let's see if it gets traction.