Increasingly marketing firms are using popular social networks on the Web as part of their campaigns - creating fake user profiles to sell their products. On one hand this is not a good thing for social networks, because the last thing they want is to be clogged up with marketing campaigns masquerading as users in their systems. But the reality is that marketing campaigns are becoming a popular aspect of social networks now - and in virtual worlds such as Sims - and so they help drive page views and therefore advertising for those social networks.

One interesting marketing campaign crossed my desk recently, which has stats to show how successful it was (see below). Niccolò Magnani from the Italian office of MRM Worldwide told me about a campaign he ran for an Italian beverage company called Campari. Now I should at this point warn you that the following material is not necessarily work safe!

The theme of the Hotel Campari website is of a raunchy hotel. Purely for research purposes of course, I browsed around the site. It is a Flash-driven website with sensual music and a lot of interactivity (mainly involving the opening of doors). The campaign and website features the lovely Salma Hayek too.

Campari Social Networks

To complement the website, MRM developed a social network campaign based on youtube, myspace, flickr and many more.

The MySpace profile features the same soft porn music as the Hotel Campari website - and is fronted by a "28 years old" female from Milano in Italy, called "Red Passion". Her interests include "Photography, movies, traveling..." and she is a fan of the movie Eyes Wide Shut. She is on MySpace for "Dating, Friends" and lists her orientation as "Not Sure". There are also some, ahem, photos of her that adorn the MySpace page. All of this of course is a fake profile, but I guess the casual MySpace user might think it's real should they come across it (especially ever hopeful teenage boys).

As for the Flickr site, it has a lot of photos and once again comes across as a real person's Flickr site (well, a real person who lives the high life in Italy that is!). The YouTube profile features some videos from the campaign, prompting one YouTube user to comment: "masks are cool". You get the picture.


Campari MySpace


Campari Flickr


Campari YouTube

Results

Niccolò told me the results of the social networks campaign have been very good. The Hotel Campari website got 170,000 views. For the social network sites, they got more than 3,000 "friends" and 2,500 comments across the sites. The number of views across the social network sites is currently around 92,000.

All up, 13.5% of the total traffic to Hotel Campari was thanks to the social networking sites. Niccolò also told me they achieved "a lot of buzz around the website" and he pointed me to a del.icio.us page showing relevant links.

On the strategy of the social network campaign, Niccolò said:

"Our strategy was to focus on viral seeding and social networking, no traditional media adv online. I have no idea of the exact number of people going from Social Networks to Website [...] because we worked with a lot of social networks.

More than quantity, what I like to point is the quality of the relationship between users and Campari. Client is very happy about the close relationship between the brand and the users.

What I like is that we created a community of people that we can further talk about red passion."

Some people might argue about the quality of the community - because the profile of "Red Passion" (the 28 year old Italian woman) is fake. How can you have a real social networking community around a fake, marketing-driven user profile?

But there's no arguing that as a marketing vehicle, the fake social network profiles did their bit to drive traffic and interest in the Hotel Campari website. We're going to see a lot more of this type of usage of social networks. From a business angle, it makes sense. But on a personal level it makes me feel a little uncomfortable, because most of the appeal of social networks is that you are networking with real people. So I'm interested in knowing what Read/WriteWeb readers think about this...