Lee Odden

You Make Me Sick – Viral Video Response

Lee Odden     Online Marketing

[Minor edit: Be sure to read the comment thread below for a response from the agency CEO.] An employee of an  Interactive agency sent out pitches to a number of bloggers this morning promoting a “viral video” that I wanted to share. Mind you, I’m not going to share the actual video because it’s sick, racist and violent. “Man makes racist insults, gets asphyxiated and beaten to death by young Asian girls and their parents while another man obliviously chats on his Bluetooth headset nearby.” If you’re into that sort of thing you can find it on your own.


What I AM sharing is the pitch email and a few screen shots. I get so many pitches each day even though there’s nothing on our contact form to indicated we’re interested in being pitched. It’s so easy to just click delete and move on to the day’s work.


This one was simply not appropriate and while some would argue I am indirectly contributing to the video’s objectives of drawing attention to the product being promoted, I think this is too good an example of what not to do.


I did post my response to the pitch on Twitter, which was simply, “You make me sick”. Quite a few people replied with responses ranging from, “that is so wrong on so many levels” to “reprehensible as it may seem….I see a whole younger demographic finding that video hilarious.”

I’m not so sure I agree the target market for this product will find the video “hilarious”, but rather “desperate” and “disgusting”. I do believe such a video could be made to achieve the desired messaging and distribution without the macabre angle.

Here’s the pitch [name removed]:


Hi Lee,

As a fellow marketing/advertising blogger I just wanted to let you know about a new viral video that is being launched just this morning by Aliph, maker of Bluetooth headset Jawbone. I’m thinking it’s going to be pretty controversial.

Here is the URL and a brief description: [Lee: You can find it on your own]

Aliph eliminates noise with their Yves Behar-designed Bluetooth headset Jawbone but the company’s making noise with a series of provocative, stereotype-busting films now circulating on the web. In this video from a series directed by legendary music-director Samuel Bayer (Green Day, Garbage, etc.) and guided by agency of record Anomaly, an offensive, suit-wearing loudmouth gets attacked by Asian girls at a dry cleaner after offering to “love you long time.” The result is thought provoking, unexpected, and, ultimately, shocking.

I’ll be checking your blog a little later this afternoon to see if you’ve deemed it post-worthy.

Looking forward to hearing your impressions!

[Info removed]


Now you have my impression. If you’ve seen the video and are unsettled by it as well, perhaps you can leave comments on the blog above.

PoorSo SoOKGoodAwesome (4 votes, average: 3.75 out of 5)

Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on B2B marketing topics including content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely running, traveling or cooking up something new.


  1. Thanks for posting something about that, Lee, and without the link. The only thing I find “thought-provoking” is the twisted motivations behind this and the equally shameless promotion provided by this PR firm. Attempting to position this schlock as supposedly “controversial” is an even bigger embarrassment.

  2. It wouldn’t be that hard to do a similar type of video without the racism and violence. What happened to being funny?

    It’s surprising to hear about the PR firms promotion of the video since PR people are supposed to be the experts at what’s cool.

  3. Ed, that’s what I thought too. Clever humor can go a long way in a viral effort.

  4. With viral becoming the newest and greatest advertising scheme for “innovative” and “hip” companies, *someone* has to set a standard. Glad you’ve done so in such a public way.

    Though personal opinions will always vary, and thought the FCC hasn’t got its stronghold on the WWW, there should at least be consensus among marketers and the general public that there’s a line between “controversial” and “reprehensible.”

  5. Well, I took a look at their blog, site and list of clients. I think this viral will have a huge impact. A negative one on their reputation that is 🙂

    I do agree with Megan a set of standards is highly needed. Without them more people will start to think such videos are a good idea.

  6. I’m amused by the line, “…a new viral video that is being launched.” There’s no such thing as launching a viral video. There is such a thing as launching a video and hoping it goes viral. There’s a difference. The company launching the video doesn’t decide if it’s viral or not — the rest of us do. Semantics, perhaps, but I think it goes to the attitude and understanding of the company/PR firm.

  7. It’s vicious out there.

  8. Standards would be tough – it’s a “free country” so to speak and people can make any kind of horrible video they want. Outside of being offensive, I just think it’s a poor business decision to associate a brand with this kind of content.

  9. If viral means 200 views, they’ve achieved their goal. 🙂

  10. Exactly. (To everyone.)

  11. Thanks for the email Ana. Strange thing to “personally” pitch all those prominent bloggers if you’re not connected to the video.

    To all – this one video was one in a four part series that are located at jawbonefilms.com. I have not watched the other 3, but there is a clear warning for viewer discretion. What are these people thinking???

  12. I watched the video on YouTube and it was pretty disturbing (especially since I am Korean and dry cleaning is a common stereotype). I also watched some of Jawbone’s other commercials and they were all pretty similar – shocking and in most cases inappropriate. I think they could have promoted the product in so many better ways than the way they are doing now.

  13. That’s a good point Gyutae, I think that if the product is really that good – something more tasteful would apply. The product design is classy, upscale – the videos are trash. Product placement on Entourage would decimate anything these silly videos would achieve – offensive material aside.

  14. The aim of controversy bait is to gain attention by provoking a reaction out of you – in that aspect the link bait succeeded. Is any publicity good publicity? Britney Spears proves otherwise. Still, I cannot respond to a link bait like this without somehow feeling like I’ve been punked.

  15. As the CEO of Digital Axle, I want to respond to the charges laid out above.

    1. Digital Axle did not produce nor do we have anything to do with the video in question. We have not been paid by anyone to flog it to blogs. We did not “pitch” this video. We have absolutely zero financial interest in it’s circulation per se. Most importand, we find the material as offensive as everyone else here.

    2. If you read Ana’s email carefully, you will note that she sent her email purely to start a conversation and open a dialog about something she herelf felt was highly controversial and inappropriate.

    3. While I find the video in question as offensive as anyone posting here, and while I wish that Ana had not sent out this particular email (not to run away from my personal responsibility, Ana writes under my authority, although I rarely review her material in advance), she was doing nothing more than attempting to begin a dialog among online bloggers about the use of offesive material in viral campaigns. To have called Ana’s email “a pitch” implies an association between the makers of this video and our company that does not exist and never has existed. To associate our good name with support for offensive and racist thought is not only wholly inacurate, it is flat out wrong. Criticize us for trying to start a conversation, if you must, but please don’t inaccurately drag our name through the mud of racism to live in a Google netherworld forever.

    4. Frankly, Lee, I wish that you would edit your original post to more acurately reflect what happened here and the acurate intent of Ana’s email to you. Without such a correction, you know as well as I do that your post will live on forever, condemning our hard earned good name to be associated with support of racist material. In fact, we are all good bleeding heart San Francisco liberals here. I’d sure appreciate a correction. Thanks for your consideration.

  16. I’ve seen (and done, but shh) some of these type of indirect, oblique and sometimes even negative (check this out, its sooo wrong) pitches and they work, sometimes even better than an direct and obviously positive pitch.

    Marketers get paid to work, why else would she have emailed you (and who else?) about a video she had no connection with?

    Unless it was an attempt by a competitor to magnify what they saw as a neg reputation story.

    Anyone who is a marketer knows that by talking or spreading a story you are doing something, you are adding value, she had to know that when she emailed you.

    On the other hand I did show some of my friends the video, but it wasn’t a pitch as I already knew them and did geniunely want to get their take on it.

  17. I think the key term is unsettling. I let the video load, then slid the slider forward some, because I was bored. I thought I landed in a snuff film. Absolutely ridiculous, and anyone that considers this a form of PR is an idiot.

  18. haha, funny thing i just got an almost identical pitch about a similarly controversial ad. but this person identified themselves as working with the ad company.

  19. Oops, maybe a little back-peddling is in order. Calling people idiots isn’t too productive. Sorry for those that see value in this.

    I think I’m overly sensitive to this ad in particular, because honestly, the “snuff” part, and the bag over the head reminds me of a scary movie scene that I wasn’t supposed to be watching as a child (you know; peaking around the corner when you’re supposed to be in bed… you’ve been there.) Did it scar me for life… a little.

    That being said, who could possibly have a positive reaction for the product being pitched after sitting through that? What demographic is this aimed at? I’m really at a loss for this one, and personally think it crossed a line. Sorry if I don’t “get” this one, but it is truly unsettling.

  20. @Bruce – I have to say that I too considered Ana’s email to be a pitch.

    While she didn’t say she represented Jawbone, the email construction was designed to definitely leave you thinking that way.

    The fact that she sent the same email out to more than one person suggests that this was more than just a “hey, Lee/Andy, this is disgusting don’t you think?” type email.

    Bruce, asking Lee to change the tone of his email, is not your biggest reputation concern. Your first priority should be why in the world you’re letting your employees send stuff out like this using their corporate email and corporate signature.

  21. I am sitting here thinking that the effect that they were looking for, and surely they knew exactly what they were doing,was achieved. Unfortunate.

  22. Did Ana pitch you? Yes, though I am curious as to what her motivations were…clearly, you aren’t a likely target for this sort of pitch.

    Speaking to Bruno’s comment, I take issue that Ana was giving a negative spin to the video…I actually think she was speaking out of both sides of her mouth here…words like “controversial, provoking, unexpected, and, ultimately, shocking” aren’t negative at all…she’s attempting to lay some bait to get you to watch the video and talk about it.

    I’m very hard to offend but there’s far too much racial tension in today’s world to put out this type of video…especially in a “business” context.

  23. Of course it was a pitch. an identical email was sent to a whole bunch of A-list bloggers. Ana said she would check back to see if we wrote about it. call it whatever you want. I don’t care if you call it George. it’s a pitch. and it’s a deceitful pitch for a disgusting video that no client should ever have approved and no agency should ever have agreed to promote.

  24. Well, I saw the video and will now never buy what it was trying to sell… So well done on the EPIC FAIL!

    I’m also inclined to agree with Matt that you don’t make viral videos – you make funny/clever/shocking videos and hope that they get a million views… That’s more than semantics saying you “just launched a viral video” is just not knowing what a viral video is…

    It’s like whatever company that made this heard about and then was able to sell a buzz word without understanding what it means… WEB 2.0! BLOG-o-SPHERE! VIRAL VIDEOS!

    I just really wish I could meet the person who was able to sell this kind of thing to Jawbone – he/she must be the best BSer alive

  25. Its hard to believe so many advertising people are ashamed of this video. Lets remove the product and keep the image and the message and it stands out as one of the best online videos ever. Who wants cutesy witty humor tailored for by middle class suburbia – Frankly i think the younger generation is tired of that sh#t and this is what it needs. Messages are meant to slice and hammer, cut through the cord of paradigms and conventions. As Nietzsche once wrote “writers must write with blood”.

    I am 26 year old Chinese male

  26. Avatar Doug Hudiburg says

    Was it a pitch? Absolutely.

    Kudos @Bruce for responding to this post, but I’m completely baffled by the disconnect between what your employee, Ana, was trying to do and your statement that there is absolutely no connection between your firm and Jawbone.

    Especially in light of the fact that Andy Beal and others received the same email.

    Lee, very good call for not linking directly to the video. This is a colossal mistake for Jawbone to make.

    @Song I’m no Nietzche expert, but I’m quite sure he is rolling over in his grave, for things are even darker than he predicted if young people find this acceptable.

    I on the other hand, expect this video to be uniformly rejected by humans, regardless of age.

  27. Bruce, thank you for the comment and your efforts at clarification.

    Ana’s email is copied word for word with the exception of the video URL being removed. That email clearly identifies Ana as an employee of your agency and the email is asking for a blog post.

    There is no doubt the email is a solicitation to view and write about the Jawbone video. The request came from a person that identifies themselves in the signature as being from your agency.

    The video is described as offensive, racist and unsettling, not your agency or Ana.

    If she was acting on her own behalf and in no part involved with an intentional promotional effort in exchange for compensation, then the email above is the strangest “conversation” starter I’ve ever read.

    After reading the comments of our blogs’ readers above, it seems they agree.

  28. Lee: I appreciate your clarification.

    To those who keep saying this was a pitch, I guess we could debate the definition forever. I simply want to make clear again, as some responders seem not to have understood my initial statement, that my agency has zero, zippo, nada relationship to Jawbone. We no economic or political interest in promoting them or the contents of their video.

    Yes, Ana did send her email to several bloggers. I can attest that her only objective was to start a conversation and that through this conversation, that it might generate some traffic to our own blog. That’s it. Nothing nefarious or sneaky intended.

    On any given day, Ana is an ace writer who writes fun, entertaining coverage of this industry. Check it out some time at http://blog.digitalaxle.com (OK that was a gratuitous plug) We pay Ana to write interesting stuff for our blog and to use the world of tagging and trackbacks to help drive traffic to our blog. I absolutely encourage Ana to be outrageous (within bounds) because there is so much boring crap written about this industry. No doubt, this particular email may have represented a lapse in judgment.

    But bottom line, as wildly strange as it may seem:

    a) This was intended as a conversation starter (I guess that worked although not as intended) Commentators, if you can’t buy that, your problem, not ours.

    b) We absolutely condemn the point of view in the Jawbone video.

    c) Nobody at our agency is getting paid by Jawbone or anyone else for Ana’s email. Nobody here had ever heard of Jawbone until we saw this video. You can call it a pitch, if you must. You can call it George. But if you are going to be intellectually honest, you can’t call this some sort of devious attempt to promote a tasteless, racist advertiser. Because it simply wasn’t.

    Again Lee, I appreciate the clarification.

  29. So Ana used a racist video as a marketing ploy to promote digital axle, like ET and The Insider considered using Heath Ledge’s video to get higher ratings. It all makes sense now.

  30. Avatar Doug Hudiburg says

    Well, I’ll take the word of a CEO over that of a writer who is paid to help drive traffic.

    Sounds like it was a mistake to me. They happen in companies all the time. Ana was trying to stir up controversy and get some traffic and buzz out of it, and it backfired.

    The appropriate thing would have been to write a post on the Digital Axle blog and tap into the conversation that way. Why ask other bloggers to make the post?

    Clearly, her approach was deeply flawed, but at least accept Bruce’s clarification.

    Maybe I’m being naive but Bruce has made his company’s position clear in his comments.

  31. We need to begin to applaud and encourage commercials like this. I for one have battled this for a long time. I am from China and educated in the US. I happen to own a jawbone. It does a great job at beating out noise.

    I viewed this film as something highly provoking.

    Finally someone has the courage to kill the very thing that we fight every day.

  32. Wow. Wow. Wow. Talk about poor judgment, Bruce Carlisle. It seems you and your little “Ana” just don’t get it. No one will want to have a conversation with either of you now. Prepare the pink slips, call your attorney and start filing for bankruptcy. Digital Axle has lost all credibility. Pack it in, buddy.

  33. “Sheila” I don’t think that’s really called for. If what Bruce and Ana are saying is true, it was a mistake. A very bad one, but a mistake all the same.

  34. It seems to me that Ana WAS pitching. The pitch goes something like this:-
    “Hi Lee
    This is controversial. What do you think?
    Have I opened a dialogue with you now?
    Its still a pitch Bruce, whatever sugar you wrap it in! Using the video in this way is effectively the same as flogging the product with the video.
    Lets just call it a lapse in judgement as to the content of an appropriate pitch.

  35. Sorry Lee…i have to take issue with this.
    You made this story about you. Something any self-respecting press-man would never do.

    I’d say you have taken something very trivial and tried to generate your own publicity…if i were being critical, i’d also point out that you’ve over reacted to the content in the first place. As an ABC, i honestly take no offense. in fact i like when products spur conversation about race etc.

    if you thought it was so bad, why ever post it?
    and also, look around the web…it’s entertainment not life and death.

    sorry to be harsh but you’re way off the mark here.

    – steph

  36. Stephanie, you’ve qualified this as a story in your own words and it wouldn’t be so if numerous people didn’t respond, react and share opinions.

    This is a blog where I share opinions, observations and insights both personal and professional – but mostly professional.

    This post is about a mistake and appearance of lacking transparency on the part of the agency employee who sent an unsolicited email asking for a blog post.

    Context is as, or more, important than content in this case. The email above follows a typical pitch as closely as I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen many. We get 3-5 pitches from PR people and bloggers each day. I know what a pitch looks like.

    Claiming it’s not a pitch and just an innocent, “Hey, this is a controversial video, check it out” simply runs contrary to common sense.

    “it’s entertainment not life and death” yes that’s true and no one is saying it is anything different. My point of the post is to draw attention to how NOT to pitch and that sending a template email to well known bloggers without being clear of intentions is a big mistake.

    As to the subject matter of the video, I am as is everyone else who reads this blog including yourself, entitled to their opinion.

  37. Two of the biggest problems here:

    1. Ana should’ve been transparent about her intentions from the start.

    2. Ana should’ve just written about the (incredibly grotesque) video herself, then invited other bloggers to the Digital Axle blog to discuss it.


  38. Thanks for the comments Rachelle – it’s good advice. It should be noted that I have never heard of or had any communication with Ana. Her email to me was completely unsolicited.

    Not that it will help matters in the short term, but I’ve decided to remove some of the identifying information as I have no interest in this post ranking on the agency’s name.

  39. What a fun… Even the CEO is passing by!

    Most amazing thing, you recieve 3-5 e-mails like this every day. That amazes me the most, I am sure here in The Netherlands you would be surprised even recieving once a year a “hint” like this.

  40. Avatar Chris from Massachusetts says

    I totally agree.

    Here is my review of all four commercials.
    Uncalled for, Outrageous and should never have been created. This is not a conversation and it surpasses controversy.

    You would think after viewing them that there was decancy among the advertising community. Just because these are viral videos and not tv ready commercials does not mean that there are not limits to what can be created. There needs to be limits set on what kind of content is created. I am all for free speech but this is pushing the limit.

    We also have become a culture that should be done with getting ahead by putting others down and that is exactly what two of these videos do as they attack the Asian community very harshly as well as the gay community. By attacking stereotypes I do not think that we are breaking them down but providing an outlet for those that have them to express them.

  41. When did we as a culture, jump the shark so to speak, and assume or presume that this was acceptable? there has to be some mindset or precedent provided by someone (Us as a collective group?)that lets them “think” that this is “do-able” without repurcussions.

    Are we becoming so desensitzed that eventually even this will be “derigeur”? Or was this the unconscious opening salvo to break us down wherein the next time it happens, the reactions may not be as volatile?

  42. The irony of this post from an online reputation management perspective is that it ranks on Google for the agency name only because the CEO used it in his comments. All other references in the post have been removed.

    A good lesson for those responding to dissenting blog posts.

  43. Really good point, Lee.

  44. Until last month I worked in a store that sold Jawbone head sets, and they had a really awesome store video that was nothing like this. Also, they are an incredible product that shouldn’t have to resort to this. Even though I am totally for freedom of speech and communications, I find it a pity that Aliph has degraded their product by producing such a trashy ad.

  45. Avatar Ciara Carruthers says

    I gotta say, I don’t think you should have even mentioned it. Marketing ideas such as the above are created not be clever, not be funny, but to be controversial and therefore have people talk about it. And it has worked perfectly well as now I’m sure after your post a lot of people will have done a search for the video and done exactly what the video creators wanted.


  1. […] The viral video that really makes you puke. […]

  2. […] Odden at Top Rank Online Marketing Blog, criticized Ana’s methods in a post entitled, “You Make Me Sick – Viral Video Response.” In the post, Leo posted the majority of Ana’s email to him and blasted Digital Axle […]

  3. […] Uncategorized | Tags: media relations, pitching, pitching bloggers, public relations |   This post is from one of the most popular marketing blogs, the Online Marketing Blog by Lee Odden. As you […]

  4. […] 2/25/08: Check out Lee’s additional comment for another good […]

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