Exposed – The $2400 5D Mk II viral ad

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5D Mk II meets wave

Does $2400 buy coverage on nearly every DSLR related website? And do ads need to be honest?

As anyone who follows me on Twitter recently will know, I’ve been really unhappy with some camera blog standards. There’s the gimmick blogs typified by Gizmodo and Petapixel, where you can’t have too many Canon 600D shaped cakes and pinhole cameras made out of cereal boxes.

As well as poor content and too much advertising, on many sites advertising is now being disguised as editorial. And it’s this I want to warn you about because it is not always easy to spot.

Personally I want to know when something is an ad, and when it is genuine.

Standards are getting lower and people don’t seem to care. Now as I flip through my RSS reader from one advert disguised as editorial after another, today I came across a video at CanonRumors.com.

Now the video itself is genuine and didn’t start as an ad when it was uploaded to Vimeo yesterday. But as it became a viral due to so much feeble blog coverage something strange happened – the coverage was hijacked by a misleading back-story

I don’t mind if stories are hijacked to promote a company like an ad, as long people are told that is the case. In this case, it was all dressed up very differently with a fake motivation.

In the video just 24 seconds long a poor Canon 5D Mark II is washed away by a wave. Not exactly Hitchcock, but within 2 hours of being blogged by CanonRumours and around the web, the video had amassed an enormous 300,000 views. Nice going.

(As an aside, what annoys me about those numbers is if so many blogs continue to hold aloft such feeble trash, genuinely worthwhile material gets sidelined. There are tons of things more worthy of attention than this. This guy probably worked his arse off for years and put out great stuff on Vimeo which had no attention, then suddenly his camera gets washed away and he is 300,000 eyes up in 2 hours.)

As the hit counter on Vimeo crept up suddenly some back-story popped up out of nowhere and within 30 minutes CanonRumors had an updated article with a link to B&H PhotoVideo in it.

B&H claimed that they sent the poor guy a brand new 5D Mark II to replace the one he apparently lost. Why would a business do that? Purely unselfish reasons? Or to get their link on a mega-viral story?

B&H is presented as a altruistic hero in the coverage with the implication is that their motivation is pure and unselfish. Well if that is the ad, I am sorry but it isn’t a truthful one and they have lost me as a customer. They only gave this guy a camera to hijack a viral and because it suits their bottom line. End of story.

But the dissapointing thing for me is lots of people don’t see this. They buy the kool-aid. B&H’s reputation gets enhanced, it is a marketing trick and they drive a huge amount of traffic through massive coverage. This viral will probably go on until it has been on almost every big DSLR related website on the net, where it will stay. The story becomes a legend, the myth propagates.

I am extremely unhappy at this, because it is basically dishonest and I don’t believe for a second that a filmmaker who gets his 5D Mark II washed away would have B&H see the video and angelically send a free replacement at their loss, if it wasn’t for getting their name in the viral coverage. If a business went round giving away cameras to every poor soul who had dropped, lost or dunked one they would go bankrupt.

As ever on EOSHD – this is just my opinion. Feel free to make your own mind up after studying the facts! But whatever you do – don’t buy the bull… Especially if you are a blogger. I am sick of reading it.

Further reading: an example of the blog coverage of the viral can be found here

About Author

British filmmaker and editor of EOSHD, Andrew works in Berlin on his own self funded filmmaking and video projects.

33 Comments

  1. I’ve worked in PR, its probably 99.9% likely the whole stunt was set up by B&H. There is a massive industry in creating so called ‘real’ virals for big companies.

    If so, its sneaky and dishonest, but then again, since when has advertising ever been truthful?

  2. Indeed and I can appreciate the marketing side. Possibly what angers me more is that the blogs spread the crap so readily and people get mislead. Advertising does need to start to be more ethical, it is going too far. This isn’t creative. It is low-brow

  3. I am a first time poster. First let me say that I am a huge fan of your blog Andrew. I think it is the best photography blog on the web! Maybe I am just biased in favor of the GH2. Anyway I believe that the “stunt” that B&H pulled off does not victimize anybody and does not misrepresent anything and therefore cannot be construed as “low-brow”.

  4. I follow several photo and filmmaking sites and B&H is know to loan all kinds of camera equipment to these sites in exchange for a review and a link to their site. What I gather from the story is the guy was a B&H customer who lost his camera and B&H felt like giving him a camera. Perhaps he was a very good customer and spent a lot of money at B&H. I don’t see the harm in B&H getting a little press for giving the guy a camera. I buy from several retailers and my experience has been great with B&H. I guess I disagree with your assessment.

  5. more likely than not the cam was in UW housing, and it is in fact a 5dump? my new word for 5D.

  6. I find George Orwell is the best guide on advertising. Everything is an inversion of itself (except when it’s not). Every flaw is a feature. Spontaneous actions are not planned; they are rituals. If a product is called OpenSomething, it’s probably closed – that’s the whole rationale of the branding excersise. (Test: what is The Big Society about?)

    You make a good point, Andrew and it’s only going to get worse. Mass media advertising is folding in on itself. Word of mouth and trusted reviews count for much more. The values of the web are replacing the values of the mass media. Personal, authentic, and timely beat scripted and polished. Personal recommendations and trusted reviews beat mass media messaging. You want real? We’ll fabricated some real for you! We’ll appropriate some reality for you. We can fake authenticity like you wouldn’t believe.

    An ad needs to appear as an ad or the entire edifice collapses. Nothing is real. No one can be trusted. No one is talking to no one.

    (In the future, this blog article would be part of the script. The ‘naysayer’ voice which rekindles interest in the controversy about the reality of the psuedo-event.)

    (Answer: The Big Society is about starving society; making it shrink; disappear.)

  7. I’m happy for the guy he has a new camera, he must have felt devastated when it was destroyed, B&H IS a hero for replacing it.. and so what if they only did it for the advertising, They exist to sell gear period, I dont expect them to be a charity. Its the way of the world but in this case, both parties win. Its a happy story, no one got hurt, there are other things happening in the world we can get outraged about.

  8. Calm down dear!
    As a society maybe we are bored by the samey arty farty works that gets lost amongst millions of other prentiously same shits. Something that is different, spontaneous even though amateurish gets the public imagination and we try to identify with it therfore arouses greater interest. While I appreciate art I also value originality over predictable technical perfection. An analogy I have is glamour photography being doing it for about 6 years and seen plenty of excellent looking images but because they all looked the same I got bored but some of the more interesting ones tend to be controversial that werent exactly excellent in technique and because they werent great it lend to credibility. One of my fav glamour photo was when the model was chased by a bee during a photoshoot, her face was in such horror while being completely starker :)

  9. Hi Bill. Thanks for disagreeing. I am ok with that. In my opinion intercepting a virus is a low brow marketing ploy especially when people don’t see it for what it is and believe in it. I just want to buy from a company that has ethics in how they communicate. I want the communication to be truthful and I want to know when I see an ad and not have it disguised as ‘a good deed’ when it is just an ad. This isn’t the same as an untruthful ad… nearly all ads exaggerate the allure of a product in a false way right from when A Mars A Day Helps You Work Rest And Play was coined. I don’t mind that at all. But this one is by the back door I’m afraid.

  10. Don’t you see? B&H is a hero is exactly what they WANT you to think, so they can take your money.

    Really people… It is time to start judging companies on their REAL merits not what their marketing teams want you to think.

    It does matter and it is a serious issue in our consumerist society. It is a form of brain washing in fact.

  11. Everything. Arty farty films = plenty, repitious, predictable, the things that don’t grab peoples attention. Apart from a few enthusiasts you are very unlike to get anybody sharing video clips to comment how good technically a clip is filmed or how stylish it is. Riviera only get talked about by a few geeks on dedicated forum sites (like this one). What get send around and go viral to the masses are the unpredictable, controversial often home movies that was captured by chance in a million, these are the ones that get people talking.

  12. I disagree with absolutely every word of that.

    By putting virals on a pedestal you are rewarding luck and chance not skill. It usually doesn’t take skill to make one.

  13. cameraguyphilly on

    Interesting that a camera would be placed pretty level, and left unattended over wet sand that gets washed over every two to two and a half minutes by an aggressive, shallow-running surf.

    And he placed his camera there. Yes – “placed.” If all you have are rocks and logs, then to get a camera somewhat level, you must “place” the camera – carefully. And you have relatively little time to do it, if you want to stay dry.
    Two and a half minutes.
    I can hold my breath longer than that.

    Also interesting that said camera – when hit with water – doesn’t budge a millimeter. It doesn’t even shake.

    Good thing he fades to black as quickly as he did.

    It only works if you fade to black quickly, followed by some lame title to make it feel like it was all part of the edit.

    You know what they say – story is king. No one said the story had to be true, though.

    Unless you believe that morals are a good thing. But if morals get in the way of a free 2nd camera . . . well, at least he wasn’t given some huge peace prize or something before engaging in a new war and waging personal hit jobs on fellow citizens.

    So, from a relativistic morality perspective, he’s just playing in the tidal pools.

    Pun intended.

  14. typical ‘guerrilla marketing’ – as they call it. Not what I’d call it. Id reserve the word ‘guerrilla’ for good things like guerrilla filmmaking and guerrilla warfare.
    well, I hate advertising in every shape and form. Its totally unnecessary. So this is just the shit icing on the shit cake really.

    No idea what Simco123 is on about. Talking out the a-hole.

    Bill – you have the wrong idea. It is victimising – its trying to trick you that this is an original piece of work with no financial backing and also instill the idea that B+H has some kind of social morality. This is clearly a lie.

    Good blog, more stuff like this, it makes sense to have perspective, this is not just a ‘geek blog’ like some idiots like to think.

  15. So you wouldn’t mind if B&H gave you a free camera if yours got destroyed? Even though I hate marketing tricks I probably wouldn’t complain. What strikes me as odd is why was the camera was left in such a vulnerable spot. Any owner who does that is a bit of a fool and here the “fool” gets rewarded for his mistake. What kind of message does that give to the public? Now every goof who destroys his camera is going to come crying to the global confession booth of the internet in the hopes that their salvation will be given with a replacement of their lost tech toy. Its disposable material culture glorified. Yes, these sad but viral stories feed the spectacle. Its up to 800k views now which is 1600k eyes!

  16. What keeps me scratching my head is why anyone would put their non weather sealed camera directly in front of a wave in the first place. The sand was wet all around the camera for crying out loud.

    Someone should take a gopro, or hell, any camera in a zip lock bag to that spot and make the sequel. How not to be an idiot in 24 seconds.

  17. Honesty? You mean like when you overpraise some legacy lens that you coincidently have for sale on ebay? Or when you post a dithyrambic “review” of dslr magic crap adapted CCTV lens that you just got for free (along a nice paypal transfer I’m sure)? Coincidences, right? Great old honesty! What a fucking p.o.s. hypocrite, you fucking failed filmmakers are. The only reason you attack B&H tactics is because you didn’t get a slice of that pie. You so full of shit, bloggers are not professionals, they never were and nerver will. There’s just histrionic shit-stirrers like yourself trying to scam people. There’s no such thing as professional journalist bloggers bound by a code of ethics, and that, is honesty.

  18. Know what irks me a bit is something similar….stupid hack tests of trees and gop motion get bigger hits than quality films made by people who work hard to write,script and want to make films on places like vimeo.
    But aint that always the way.
    People prefer to watch shit like fluffy cats on youtube than something with content.

  19. It irks me a bit too that my tests get higher ratings when they reveal a new capability of a camera, but that is what people in this context are interested in, so it is understandable and clearly labeled as a test. This viral isn’t clearly labeled as a big B&H ad, which is what it has become.

  20. I just see that this blog is also making B&H (and Canon) a huge favor by covering this story… :)

  21. Hi Andrew – I feel your pain on this one. Yeah I picked up the video on my blog. But I just thought it was idiotic is all. Over time I have been distancing myself from such things. Don’t forget, the photography world is now infested with the least common denominator of the population. Yeah, sorry to sound haughty, but it’s true. I strive for some original content on my blog, I recently wrote a piece on the Andreas Gursky $4.3 million photo silliness which 5 people probably read. My pursuit to get out of my creative box as I muse and write about it has an audience of about 3. It’s all about Which Button Do I Push to Do That, 10 Tips to Shoot Perfect Fireworks, Glamour Retouch in 3 Minutes or Less. It’s Unbox Your New Gear So I Can Salivate. What bullsh&t. It’s all hit and run and move on to the next big thing.

    There was one shooter that I admired for a few years. So when I became Twitterized etc I naturally plugged him into my lists. But do you know what? Every post, and I mean every post by him is a plug. And no, it’s not Ken Rockwell. At least Ken admits he’s shameless. One night I took a good solid look at Mr Plugger’s work – and guess what? It’s basically crap. I guess if you buy plane tickets to foreign lands and get yourself a bunch of photoshop plugin packs, then write about it 5 times a day, you too can get noticed.

    So I just sift through the noise now and I’ve gotten back to my craft, to the stuff I really want to do. And I’ll keep writing for that audience of 3. Or maybe I’ll just go and drop my D3 into the ocean and hope for a replacement from Nikon.

  22. Here’s my take.

    First, it’s PR, not an ad. There is a difference.

    Here’s the bottom line, a 5dII user’s bad luck = a ton of eyeballs (photographer’s equivalent of rubber-necking on the highway). B&H sees an opportunity to emphasize their philosophy – http://www.bhphotovideo.com/find/HelpCenter/AboutUs.jsp – and they took it.

    Even though it’s not a paid advertising placement, they need solid return on investment for the $2,400 they shelled out—it only makes sense and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous. Yes, they latched onto a story, it’s how PR works. You either generate a story or you attach yourself to one. Is it unfair that other photographers who have lost cameras have to pay for replacements? Sure. But, as you said, if they replaced everyone’s busted camera they wouldn’t have a business.

    Nothing has been “exposed” here. It’s a simple value proposition. Guy gets a replacement camera and B&H gets positive PR. There are more insidious PR methods than this transparent story.

    For the record, I’ve purchased from B&H, Adorama, Amazon, and several local camera shops over the years. I have no preference for B&H one way or the other.

    P.S. I’m with you on drivel being posted over quality content.

  23. Andrew, suppose on one of your shooting spree in Tokyo or Shanghai, your GH2 gets knocked down or destroyed accidentally, and you shared this with the community on your blog. B&H upon reading it, decided to send you a new GH2. Would you feel that your sharing is equally considered a viral ad and would feel equally unhappy towards B&H for replacing it for you, be it out of marketing latch or just props to you for the benefits you have given to the community through your blog?
    I personally would feel honored and happy to receive such gift if I were in that position. The blogger also probably didn’t know his post would generate so much hits and eventually considered a pseudo-ad.

    By the way, I’ve been reading your blog for the past few months (only discovered it recently :D) and I have definitely enjoyed your valuable info. I’m not an affiliate to B&H in any way, I can promise you that.
    Just my thoughts on this in regards to your post.

  24. I find it interesting that, as a film-maker, you can take issue with both misrepresentation of reality, and the use of hidden advertising in media. Films have been billboards for companies wanting to subliminally advertise their products for decades. Everything from clothing to cars to computers to candy has been slipped into films via product placement (in documentaries too). As a film-maker you already know this. Many films unlitmately aim to suspend disbelief, and it is a medium that can make you believe, if only for a moment, that what you are watching is truly reality, no matter how foreign or unreal it is – which also explains why films act as the perfect billboard. Again, as a film-maker you already know this.

    So then, how can you take issue with the above example? How does the fact that this video has now become a marketing vehicle change the content at all? Just like any other film you watch, you can choose to accept or reject the information put to you.

    You suggest that this type of hidden marketing needs to be regulated, or monitored. Does that mean you imagine a world in which every film we watch has messages flashing onscreen saying “Warning: this product was included in the film via a paid endoresement,” right throughout?

  25. At least Andrew has the fairness in him to publish negative posts like this one. If anything, I trust him more than someone like, say, Philip Bloom, who refuses to post anything even slightly slanderous towards him or his affiliates.

  26. I feel that you might be taking all this a little out of context and attempting to make people feel like they are being robbed somehow by B&H. There is a term known as Good Will and it has a value in a companies worth, this is part of how a brand is valued and it has existed long long before viral videos, certainly the Internet kind. Basically brands will do a seemingly altruistic gesture like this to give warm fuzzy feelings about an organization, it isn’t about ‘advertising’ per se. In this case B&H aren’t trying to profit from the original video, they are creating a completely separate act that would hopefully (for B&H) create lots of additional interest due to the popularity of the original video.

    Mining companies for example do many similar things, they pay for schools and youth centers, public resources and so on in a community to raise good will towards that company. other companies such as Apple promote product (Red) products, they do this to increase good will for their brand. We wouldn’t sit around saying that Apple are profiteering from AIDS now would we? We say they are doing a good thing and that it is helping the community and that makes us feel good about what they do (well those who don’t hate and despise them anyway – this is an example it isn’t meant to spark debate over Apple as a company or product). McDonalds do the same thing with Ronald McDonald House Charities – they do these things to increase Good Will, so you will feel better about buying from them.

    B&H are doing the same thing here, they aren’t out and out saying ‘well if he’d bought this product from us it would have x-factory super coverage’ blah blah. They are also NOT trying to sell something specific here, they aren’t promoting a product, they are giving a price or a benefit, they aren’t even trying to ‘say’ they are better in some way than another competitor – B&H are trying to make you feel like they are a brand worth supporting.

    The problem with your argument is because they aren’t advertising as such, it is a bit hard to say ‘this is an advert’ because in reality it isn’t and even if it was, the advert is them giving the guy a new camera, not the viral video of the camera being destroyed.

    Press releases work in much the same way, I don’t read every article that you write, though I do visit here every so often, but I can recall having seen some press releases on your site (correct me if I’m wrong) and this leads to lots of nice free coverage for all manufacturers when they bring out a new product, lots of free press, well a retail channel such as B&H doesn’t have a lot of ‘worth’ in free press as they don’t really do anything other than sell goods – unless they do some goodwill gesture. And hey it worked! Even your site is making comment on it and all publicity is good publicity, even if you are giving B&H a hard time for it – to prove the point even further, I hadn’t and wouldn’t have even heard about it until I read about it right here at EOSHD.

    There are dirtier ways to advertise, I think that B&H have done pretty ok here, I think people can see it is for publicity but it still makes them feel good about the brand and that is what it is all about.

  27. I appreciate the debate this interesting situation has generated. I appreciate everyone here who posted thoughtful comments, either way. I do think a couple deserve individual attention though.

    “B&H claimed that they sent the poor guy a brand new 5D Mark II …”
    We don’t claim we did — we really did.

    “…its probably 99.9% likely the whole stunt was set up by B&H.”
    In fact we came upon this situation after it was posted to Vimeo, No stunt and no set-up.

    “I’m happy for the guy he has a new camera, he must have felt devastated when it was destroyed, B&H IS a hero for replacing it.. and so what if they only did it for the advertising,”
    “Even though it’s not a paid advertising placement, they need solid return on investment for the $2,400 they shelled out—it only makes sense and to pretend otherwise is disingenuous. Yes, they latched onto a story, it’s how PR works. You either generate a story or you attach yourself to one. ”
    Thank you. Of course we did it for the advertising/publicity. We could have taken the same money and bought more pages in the back of PopPhoto or more air time on WCBS-AM, but in our opinion this was a far more useful way to spend that money. We did a guy who had a loss a favor and we got some PR for doing it. We’re not a charity and we didn’t do this for entirely altruistic reasons. But I’m glad we did it, glad the guy’s got a new camera and glad it’s generated the conversation it has.
    – Henry Posner / B&H Photo-Video

  28. PS:
    “It is time to start judging companies on their REAL merits not what their marketing teams want you to think.”

    I agree with this 100% and have no trouble with B&H being held to this standard at all. Ethics & integrity cannot be replaced and there’s no marketing or advertising that substitutes for a company doing what it should and treating customers as they should be treated.
    – Henry Posner / B&H Photo-Video

  29. I think you are looking too far into this. B&H may have done this for selfish reasons, but like garnetcampbell said above, both parties win. B&H was a good company before this happened and I don’t think this is wrong. I’m sure they did this after they saw the video blowing up, but they still took care of a customer and that’s what they do on a day to day basis. Who cares? By the way, I love the blog!

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