4 reasons marketers should stay away from Chatroulette!

by James Duthie on March 25, 2010

It’s official. Chatroulette is the hottest thang on the web right now! The buzz machine has rapidly filtered through to the mainstream media, who seem to have found a (temporary?) alternative to the Twitter hype. comScore data tells us Chatroulette’s user base increased 900% to almost a million US users in February. Whoa! And as we all know, where people go, marketers follow. We’ve already seen brands such as FCUK & Sunny Queen Eggs enter the fray. To which I say… ho hum! Just because a service achieves instant popularity, doesn’t mean that marketers should jump in blindly. In fact, I can think of a bunch of reasons why marketers should stay the hell away from Chatroulette…

1. Chatroulette is seedy

Really seedy! If there’s one warning that continues to emerge from people trialling Chatroulette, it’s to prepare yourself for what you’re going to see… cocks. And a lot of them. Informal research revealed a 14% skew towards perverts and masturbators. Anecdotally, some claim it is much higher. Regardless, it’s an environment few brands would want to be associated with. In fact, the only industry that should be gravitating towards Chatroulette right now is XXX. Stick a pornstar in front of the webcam and watch the perverts flock to their webcams…!

2. Chatroulette is random

By nature, Chatroulette is random. Completely random. Which is of course the novelty of the whole thing – connect with a complete stranger and see what happens. Which is exactly what makes it a disaster for marketers. The point of any marketing campaign is to connect and communicate with a defined audience. Yet the random factor makes it impossible to achieve that simple goal. Businesses can’t select who they communicate with. And more importantly, customers can’t connect with brands if they want to (I’m highly doubtful they would want to in this environment anyway). So what are we left with? A brand searching randomly/aimlessly for people to speak to. Sounds kinda like advertising to me…

3. Chatroulette is private

Unlike Twitter, Chatroulette is a private environment. Chat sessions are a one-to-one experience, as opposed to the one-to-many format that Twitter and Facebook embrace. This is a significant difference. Brands can’t (and shouldn’t) penetrate private communication channels. You don’t see brands trying to invade private conversations on traditional instant messaging services such as MSN or Yahoo Messenger. Nor do we attempt to infiltrate private telephone conversations (although we do try to create new ones via telemarketing). So why should Chatroulette be any different?

4. Chatroulette fails to offer any tangible benefit

As far as I’m concerned, there is next to no benefit for brands participating on Chatroulette. We already know it’s untargeted. Furthermore, it’s lacks a registration process. The implication for brands is the absence of a branded profile, such as you might see in Twitter or Facebook. So we have no profile (and therefore no crawlable links), no history & no ability to generate real web traffic. Just random interactions with strangers. Heck… even if you do create a positive experience, there’s still no word-of-mouth benefit because the interaction is private. The sharing element that makes other social environments so appealing to marketers is absent as well. All we’re left with is that fuzzy fallback position that display advertisers love - branding… ewww!

Getting past the ‘shiny new toy’ syndrome

Chatroulette is hot. But so what… Just because something achieves fad status, doesn’t necessarily make it an effective marketing tool/channel. Being the first to implement a campaign on a new service is not a marketing goal. Nor is making your agency look “cool”… at least not for your clients (who are the one paying the bills after all). The rush of brands towards Chatroulette was entirely predictable, yet ill-advised in my opinion. Yes… marketing on the web will always entail an element of innovation and experimentation. But that doesn’t mean innovation for the sake of it. If you can’t see a tangible goal at the end of it, what exactly are you trying to achieve…?

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben Rowe March 25, 2010 at 5:10 am

Great Post James,

I think you’re right. And only the first handful of brands that gain some publicity from “Chatroulette Stunts” will get anything out of Chatroullete, from a marketing point of view.

But the bigger picture – maybe the internet itself is evolving into a marketing no-go-zone. Perhaps we’re sick of marketers invading our lives (and even our twitter streams).

I’m not suggesting Chatroulette is the future … the novelty of being magically transported into the loungeroom of Russian masturbators is one that wears off pretty quickly.

But perhaps the web will move toward more personal, private and intimate experiences where marketers simply can’t get in the door.

Chris Anderson March 25, 2010 at 12:49 pm

It seems to me this is more endemic problem in society in general.
Everyone wants to be associated with the “new cool thing”. Never mind what it actually is. Popularity breeds more popularity, and fame breeds more fame. Just take a look at the bunch of “celebrities” around – famous for being famous.
This is probably why marketers are drawn to “new cool things”. If there’s a large population of sheep there to be herded towards whatever it is they’re pushing, why wouldn’t they want a piece of that action?

Promotional Products March 26, 2010 at 1:39 am

Agreed… Not going near that thing for two reasons 1) it is seedy and creepy 2) it is not beneficial, what are the odds that you can “run into” someone who shares your passions and is interested in what you are promoting. Waste of time and it puts you in a shady position.

Emma March 26, 2010 at 1:57 am

I can’t think of a client who would benefit associating their brand with this latest fad. Even if we were to gain any ‘seedy’ clients in the next few months it would be money poorly spent for them. I just can’t see any actual benefits to this, as you point out above James.
The move towards more ‘private’ internet experiences as Ben states is the next phase in online I believe, but is it sustainable or even attractive for any upcoming social media to block themselves out from marketers?

Steve March 26, 2010 at 5:23 am

Chatroulette scares the hell out of me. I wouldn’t let me kids go near it in a pink fit, yet I read a very large percentage of users are under 18. I agree. Seedy. I wouldn’t want to be associated with any type of marketing campaign, even if it were possible to create an effective one…which it isn’t.

Laura - The Schaefer Group March 30, 2010 at 3:59 am

I agree James,
I do not see any particular benefit from Chatroulette – I mean, even if you hired a legion of actors to repeat a script about a wonder product, it’d be too scattered for tangible results (unless you could restrict it to a demographic region).
Although, I could see it working for the adult industry – a quick ‘demo’ by a participant on the camera followed by a sales pitch and a pay-per-view link to an adult site.
Hmm.. new direction..

inspiredworlds April 2, 2010 at 1:42 am

i think it would be ok if your business was selling webcams….

Kev April 9, 2010 at 11:18 am

Its edgy, experimental and yes probably faddish. But FCUK carefully and tactically associated themselves with it and got some good publicity as a result. And its not so much about being in the thick of it, but perhaps being carefully associated with it and leveraging that association which may pay dividends. So I say ‘Never say never’. Marketers and their agencies are in the business of matching clients with opportunities. Chatroulette may not be appropriate for brands targeting the mainstream, but to suggest it has no application whatsoever for any marketer, that’s just plain short sighted. Mind you a few years back loads of marketers couldn’t see how Facebook could be harnessed either.

James June 7, 2010 at 7:02 am

No matter how effective a potential marketing campaign may be, you can’t get away from the fact that Chatroulette is the pits. If you’ve ever tried it you’ll know what I mean. Run away screaming…trust me. What legitmate, high profile marketing company would want to be associated with them?

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