Unfortunately, those insights come down to this: where there’s an overnight sensation, there’s also always someone, somewhere, willing to take credit for making it happen. Perhaps from here on in we can call this simply Alex’s Law.
To recap, here’s what happened this week to Alex, the hunky bag boy at a Target somewhere in Texas: After a girl named Brooklyn tweeted a picture of him, it went viral, so viral that within a few days, the Alex in question actually found himself sitting on the set of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” trying to wrap his head around his newfound fame. It’s about the only time, on that talk show -- or any other -- that a reference to “my manager” has meant the manager of a local retailer.
As Alex explained, he knew something was a little strange when his manager showed him that a picture of him surreptitiously taken at the register at work was blowing up on Twitter. Things for Alex got even stranger when a few girls he didn’t know showed up at the store and showed him his Twitter page, and its 5,000 new followers. In a moment of delicious understatement, Alex told Ellen: “I was just really confused.”
Other than his good looks, Alex admitted to no talents except being a really good bagger of groceries, and that’s where the crazy exulting of an average American teen crosses a certain line. It’s the line where people in this industry rush to claim they have the ingredients to the secret sauce, the exact recipe that will guarantee something goes viral. After the phenomenon got rolling, a viral marketing start-up called Breakr said it had stoked the phenomenon, making it sound as if it had plotted the whole thing from the very beginning.
The post that claimed credit, from Breakr’s CEO on LinkedIn, says the following: “Yesterday, we had fun on Twitter with the hashtag #AlexFromTarget which ended up to be one of the most amazing social media experiments ever. We wanted to see how powerful the fangirl demographic was by taking a [sic] unknown good-looking kid and Target employee from Texas to overnight viral internet sensation.”
What I’ll call the sham-paign began, per Breakr, with a girl -- not named Brooklyn, but described by Breakr as one of its fangirls -- who posted a picture of Alex. Breakr then fanned the flames among its fangirls with the hashtag and on YouTube, and also was behind a parody video that sprung up.
Kind of sounds like Breakr started the whole thing, doesn’t it? In fact -- but only after Alex, Target, and the fangirl distanced themselves from the company -- was that what Breakr really did was exploit an event that was already occurring.
The LinkedIn post, like the supposedly organic nature of #AlexFromTarget as a trending topic, seems built to deceive.
Breakr says about the experiment: “After the dust settles, there is a lesson to be made here; from brands, talent agencies, music labels and influencer marketing companies: if you can earn the love and respect from a global community such as the 'Fangirl' demographic - you can rally them together to drive awareness for any cause even if its [sic] to take a random kid from unknown to stardom over night.”
The real lesson? Whether you’re a start-up or a brand, don’t mislead people when you’re trying to become the next big sensation.