At least once a week, I receive dispatches from "readers" who gently nudge me towards certain content. Usually the message goes something like this: "Hey, Reporter's Name Here, loved that story you wrote the other day. Check this vid out, it's awesome: [4,200-character URL]." I can't help myself: I always click. In related news, my computer is patient-zero for the Windows equivalent of viral meningitis.
And so it was with this week's "awesome" clip, which featured Tampa Bay Rays third baseman/most underpaid man in baseball Evan Longoria saving a helpless reportrix from a batting-practice line drive. The execution is impressive; the average user watching the clip on a phone or tablet won't think it's staged.
Of course, it is. The batting-practice details are all wrong: there's no cage around home plate or screen in front of the mound, and there are too few players and support staff milling about the field. Just as tellingly, this casual clip somehow manages to capture, in crisp detail, three Gillette banners in the background.
Other Cyber Nancy Drews contacting Gillette for confirmation or denial got exactly the response you'd expect: A wink, an arched eyebrow and a coquette-ish giggle (as an aside, we could really use an emoticon that denotes "coquette-ish giggle"). Rather than rage against the company for sucking the fun out of OMG-trick-shot sports clips, then, I figured it'd be more didactic to propose rules for future go-viral-or-go-home endeavors.
1. Mind the details: Get the batting-practice stuff right. Maybe stick the reporter's name and station affiliation at the bottom of the screen, just like we're accustomed to seeing on the local news. The money shot (Longoria's casual stab of the liner) looks authentic, but nothing else does.
2. Hire method-trained supporting actors: The woman portraying the reporter is studiously bland, right down to the neutral-color pantsuit (says the guy currently wearing plaid shorts with blue socks). Her real-world peers, however, have taken to dressing all bright and spring-y and whatnot, given the time of year and warming weather. Also, if there's a person on the planet who wouldn't flinch in that situation or punctuate it with a "what the f..." exclamation of distress, she missed her true calling as a ninja.
3. Work the wording: The question posed to Longoria ("Evan, there's been a lot of changes this off-season for your team. How do you feel your chances are in the AL East?") is too generic. That's the kind of question my seven-year-old nephew would ask Evan Longoria, right after "my name is Evan, too. Do you like being called Evan? Because it's working out pretty well for me so far." Anyway, given how this Longoria clip is part of a larger Gillette campaign, the script for the Ray Rice follow-up shouldn't begin with "Ray Rice, you're a football player who plays football on a football team. What do you think about football-related matters?" Lead with something about the Steelers, or the preponderance of orifice-gouging at the bottom of goal-line scrums.4. Hide your tracks: Or at least cover them up far better. The mysterious, grammar-reluctant citizen of YouTubeia who posted the clip, MrSprts12, links only to Gillette videos. While you can't blame Gillette and its agency for attempting to get their money's worth out of the program, they'd be wise to downplay the connection as much as possible (say, only one Gillette banner in the clip and better-obscured ties to other Gillette tomfoolery). You lose the real-or-fake mystery, you lose the fun.