Ooops! Tourism Qld faking it loses friends and credibility

“best joThe Best Job in the Worldb in the world” Tourism Queensland had a great advertising/PR strategy going with the gig – it made a huge splash in New York when I was there, capturing the imagination  of people in deepest winter and recession induced depression.

The premise? Apply for the ultimate caretaker job and get paid to scubadive and lie on the beach and blog about it. Tourism Queensland got millions of dollars of free publicity from mainstream media (it was on prime time network news in the US!), as well as major news syndicators.
There are thousands of applicants for the “dream job” obviously a real job but with the net aim of promoting the Queensland Barrier reef islands as a desired destination for those who missed out. So it was with interest that I read on Sydney Morning Herald, the rather dreadful news that the Tourism Queensland advertising agency CumminsNitro was involved in faking a high profile application for the dream job.
The fake job application got even more free publicity because major international news sources reported one of the applicants went as far as getting a Barrier Reef tattoo in an effort to secure the job. Only thanks to detective work done by mUmbrella, the tattoo sporting applicant was found out to be a CumminsNitro employee.
Oops! What a debacle. Tourism Queensland  admitted it “messed up” by not making it clear a video of a woman tattooing the Great Barrier Reef on her arm was an example and not an entry into the $150,000-a-year job contest. Faking competition entries has got the BBC, Channel 4 and 5 and ITV into major and costly strife, so there is more incentive at least in terms of punishment not to lie.
So why does it matter – what is the end result of the fakery here? Sure they may get the 10,000 entrants mostly from the overseas audience they were seeking (the competition site has already had more than a million views as reported in the UK), and the millions of dollars worth of free PR. But the downside to faking it is the damage to the overall credibility of the brand, undoing some of the fabulous word of mouth and mainstream PR gathered over the already newsworthy applications. CumminsNitro look like digital and social media amateurs, and Australia looks like a dopey backwater. All they had to do was a disclaimer and show the video being an example. Instead the agency got caught out and the client had to apologise. And then the faker in the eye of the storm blames lazy reporting to try to divert the attention. Major oops.
Social media strategies have to have long term commitment to two way dialogue with the audience – and integrity – to win credibility.

UPDATE 9th Feb 2009: The Best Job in the World has been described as a roaring social media success by Digital Buzz Blog with more than 2.5 million hits to the site – way more than the expected 400,000 hits. And more than 11,000 video applications (user generated content). Which just goes to prove that they didn’t need to fake anything for it to be a huge success.