The movie "Ex Machina," which premiered this weekend at South by Southwest, tricked Tinder users in Austin with its promotional campaign. Is this marketing ploy smart or sneaky?
By Yuyu Chen
At South by Southwest (SXSW) this year, Tinder users who matched with "Ava," a beautiful 25-year-old brunette, might have felt a tinge of disappointment when they learned that her presence on the dating app was nothing more than a marketing gimmick for the film Ex Machina. The social stunt drummed up lots of chatter about the upcoming movie, but was it too sneaky to be beneficial?
It "toyed with my emotions so hard," said Brock, a Tinder user who hit on Ava but soon found her profile unreal.
After he swiped right, Brock matched with Ava and initiated a conversation. The brunette first asked him, "Have you ever been in love?" and then followed up with a number of chatbot-like questions such as "What makes you human?" and "What attracts you to me?"
Then after some back-and-forth, Ava told Brock that he passed her test, and further invited him to visit her Instagram page @meetava. But when he opened up Ava's Instagram account, Brock found that there was only one image and one video, both of which promoted a movie called Ex Machina featuring Alicia Vikander, who looked exactly the same as Ava on Tinder. The link in her Instagram bio directly went to the movie's official website.
The marketing ploy has stirred up plenty of controversy. Some in the industry think that it's clever, as "Ava" plays an artificial intelligence character in the movie, which explains why she sounds like a chatbot on Tinder. But others see it as deceptive. Among them is Joe Maceda, managing director of Invention Studio at Mindshare North America, who believes the tactic is a little too sneaky.
"It's somewhat similar to hidden camera programs, but unlike those pieces, this campaign lacks a celebratory moment at the end that lets the 'victim' in on the joke," Maceda says. "Ex Machina might have been better off tricking just a few people to generate content and then use that content as the buzz-driver."
However, the marketing ploy has helped drive awareness around the film. From March 14 to date, 32 percent of all Ex Machina consumption (which is how often the term is being seen online via mobile and across social) has been Tinder-related. And compared to the period from March 12 through March 13, Ex Machina consumption has increased 353 percent from March 14 through 15, according to data from Amobee Brand Intelligence.
But Maceda doesn't think that brands should leverage technology this way. "Almost every expert at SXSW has emphasized the importance of brands using technology to deliver against a consumer's needs. This activation ignores that advice and seemingly does the opposite," he notes. "It begs the question of whether entertainment marketing can play by different rules than consumer product brands, and I don't think they can."
"I think it leaves far too many people talking about a negative one-on-one experience with the film. And at SXSW, those conversations spread even faster than talk about Meerkat or virtual reality," he adds.