A lot of headlines were made over the past few weeks about a new app Rumblr, which promised to be the Tinder of street fighting. If that sounds like a bad idea waiting to end up in court, you’re probably right. Rest easy, because Rumblr will not be coming to fruition anytime soon, at least not from the trio that thought up the idea.
No, there was no legal intervention or protest that sidelined Rumblr, the app just never actually existed. It was all an extremely elaborate hoax to promote a new consulting firm, von Hughes.
The self-described “team of college dropouts” started the idea as a joke, but then realized it could be a great way to show off how well they could market a brand, with mentions in many national publications, including the New York Daily News, USA Today and GQ. The founders were doing the media rounds on local television stations, all the while insisting that Rumblr was indeed real and would launch on November 9.
If their goal was to get as much media attention as possible for Rumblr and get a fever pitch amount of buzz around the app, congrats to von Hughes, they won. However, in every other meaningful way as it concerns the future of their consulting business, they broke a lot of guiding principles that ethical marketers and public relations managers should be following.
Marketing a fake company makes no sense
On the surface, it may not seem like a big deal that von Hughes decided to market a fake app, because it is similar enough to something that could be conceived in today’s app boom. However, what they did is create an idea in a lab with the sole goal of forming a product that would both excite and outrage. It’s a special blend that leads to massive viral appeal, but it’s not realistic at all.
Neither we at BA Strategies, nor any other marketing professionals we’ve come across have ever gotten to create brands from scratch with marketability as the only goal. Almost always, profitability is the goal with marketing an avenue to reach that goal. Brands don’t come to consultants as completely moldable hunks of clay, but more closely resembling a vase that could use a handle or a fresh coat of paint. It’s a lot easier to take a brand tailor-made for media hype (and nothing else) and get it media hype than it is to take a struggling small business or brand new startup and get it recognition, and the ability to do the former doesn’t necessarily mean you can do the latter.
In 2015, doesn’t it also seem pretty plausible that someone would see potential out of this mess and actually build this kind of app that essentially sets up committing assault on another stranger?
They burned quite a few bridges
The goal of public relations is to get a brand or service great media attention to help boost that brand’s profile in good times, and manage the message to limit the impact in bad times. Von Hughes accomplished this very clearly with all of their major media mentions, but they also shot themselves in the foot. By promoting – and lying about – a fake company, von Hughes very well could have burnt many significant bridges when they actually do get a few (real) products to promote.
Part of being successful in PR is building a rapport with journalists so that they trust you, believe you and want to work with you in a symbiotic information/coverage relationship. Trust is a huge part of that equation, whether it’s trusting that you’ll be able to get reporters key information, trusting that you’ll keep them in the loop as you’re able, or trusting that you won’t straight-up lie to them. Journalists are held to as high a standard as anyone in society for being accurate and truthful with the information they disseminate, so making a whole host of media members look like fools for publicizing a fake service is a really easy way to get on black lists for their publications.
What you can take away from Rumblr
There are some good things that your brand can take away from the Rumblr hoax. Viral buzz can quickly boost your brand, but understand that there is no magic bullet. No matter whether the brand’s goal is to gain media coverage, users or just notoriety, the key is to do it all with integrity. Find a great consultant that will work with you on real and sustainable ideas to build your brand, and remember not to mortgage your brand’s future just to be a flash in the pan today.