Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Dead Giveaway Phenomenon: 1 week later

It's been one week since we were introduced to Charles Ramsey, the Cleveland man credited as the hero behind the rescue of the three kidnapping victims. In the wake of the kidnapping, and Ramsey's various media appearances, a series of phenomena unfolded, including the Charles Ramsey meme, in which the inner city everyman's persona started turning up as a form of Internet currency. Perhaps the most high profile of these memes was The Gregory Brothers' Dead Giveaway, a video and song that captured the spirit and essence of the media-friendly Ramsey, even as the horrors of the larger news story unfolded.

This blog has been keeping tabs on the phenomenon over the course of the past 7 days, and now offers this '1 week later' look at its various angles and players.  (Update to 5/22/13: The second chart below adds the data for two weeks following the video's posting on YouTube).

Ed. Note: And please bear in mind that I am not meaning in any way to downplay the extreme seriousness of the story of three young women help captive for a decade and subjected to unspeakable conditions. It is truly a heinous story. This blog merely looks at the parts of the story related to media, digital distribution, and brands. Thank you for your granting me this understanding.

The Gregory Brothers Brand

My previous post tallied the numbers for the Dead Giveaway video in detail and today, 5/15/13, as of noon Eastern time the video's total number of views on YouTube is 12,207,329. As this screen shot from today shows, the Gregory Brothers' total view count for their YouTube channel is 523.3 million views and their subscriber count is 1.75 million.

Compare these figures with their 1.68 million subscribers at this time last week, and their approximately 502 million channel views. This mean they have accrued ~20 million new views to their channel, of which ~13 million have been for Dead Giveaway as of today. At the time of Dead Giveaway's peak popularity late last week the video was receiving  ~100,000 views/hour, and now, one week later that number has fallen to ~500-600,000 views/day. This graph illustrates the growth of YouTube subscribers in the days leading up to the launch of the Dead Giveaway video, where average subscribers to the Gregory Brothers' channel came in at ~1600/day, and went as high as 18,000/day at the story's peak last week. The number is now now plateauing toward ~5000 channel subscriptions/day and it will be interesting to see the level at which the new number of daily channel subscribers eventually settles.

Daily subscribers to Gregory Brothers' YouTube Channel May 5-14, 2013

Note:  Data for 2 weeks following the posting of the Dead Giveaway video shows daily subscribers to the Gregory Brothers' YouTube channel starting to settle around the 2800-2900 per day level, up from an average of ~1600-1700 per day prior to the video being posted on May 7th, 2013. In other words, the Gregory Brothers have, at least in the short term, increased their daily number of subscribers by approximately 80%. As of today, 5/22/13 their total subscriber count is 1.78 million.

Daily subscribers to Gregory Brothers' YouTube channel: May 14-22, 2013

If you're wondering where The Gregory Brothers sit in the pantheon of YouTube celebrities, as of today they are the 177th most popular YouTube channel with 523,304,931 views. You may or may not have heard of them prior to this story, but this musical commentating combo has managed to carve out a nice, sustainable niche for themselves and have done so by building their audience from the bottom up, on a publicly shareable, online, on-demand video platform. And in the process hey have created their own new link in the value chain, with their wry, autotuned twists on stories of the day. They have successfully created their own branded channel on YouTube, their own line of merchandise, including t-shirts and the Songify app, and are also bookable for speaking opportunities and your special events.

Among the takeaways from the Gregory Brothers angle of this story is that for phenomena with a short shelf life, the strike must be surgical, with deployment of the content within hours of it first appearing. There is literally no time for the this is something that can only happen outside the architecture of a hierarchical industry. The Gregory Brothers are an example of today's media production as cottage industry model; small, self-directed, and agile but with global, instantaneous distribution.

The Charles Ramsey Brand 

From Cleveland dishwasher to hundreds of thousands social web mentions and media exposure worldwide, that's the kind of week Charles Ramsey had. But as the chart below indicates, those mentions are now tapering off.  

Social web mentions of Charles Ramsey May 6-14, 2013

So what happens now, you may ask. Does Ramsey eventually return to the obscurity of his Cleveland day job? Does he get his own reality show? Does he become a commercial pitchman, as the Internet-famous Double Rainbow guy did for Microsoft? Too soon to call, but I have just learned that the Charles Ramsey action figure, both the talking and non-talking versions, has just become available.

And now, let us begin our analysis with the corporate brand most closely associated with Charles Ramsey:

The McDonald's Brand

In his his first televised interview, on Tuesday May 7th, 2013 Ramsey said:

And here's how McDonald's responded to their brand mention the same day the story broke:

Note the number of retweets and favourites, illustrating a level of approval from the body politic that is the Twitter community.

The company responded swiftly, which some lauded, and others criticized. As it turned out, this is a spokesperson with edge, and not only on camera. We learned on day two of the story that Ramsey also happens to have a history of domestic abuse convictions (Ed. Note: for which he has served his time, and which was, according to Ramsey, a corrective experience that made him a better man.)

Micro-debates about the best way to honour Ramsey flew around on Twitter, PR experts chimed in, some suggesting that McDonald's reacted prematurely, and perhaps should have exercised the option to remain silent until further details emerged. Business publications such as Forbes offered their viewpoint, spelling out the ways in which engaging with the story may be 'treacherous territory'.

Meanwhile, the online public was busy. Very busy. Here is a gallery of some examples of what the people have been up to online with the McDonald's/Charles Ramsey story:

Photoshopped Charles Ramsey/McDonald's billboard
Charles Ramsey as Ronald McDonald

Add-your-own-caption photos of the Charles Ramsey meme
Fake Charles Ramsey Twitter accounts

But back to Charles Ramsey.The printing presses churned with t-shirts, local Cleveland restaurants created Charles Ramsey sandwiches and pizza slices, with proceeds going to the rescue victims. And then there was the local Cleveland man who had his calf tattooed with an image of Ramsey's face.

What happens next remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the Internet has been busy with all things Ramsey. And while the pundits and PR execs think about how to proceed, the faux-mercials, like this one, will continue to be posted.

May 23rd update:  After almost two weeks of corporate silence McDonald's donates $10,000 to a missing & exploited children's fund and offers Ramsey a year's worth of free food, while a group of Cleveland area restaurants have added Charles Ramsey sandwiches and burgers to their menus in addition to offering him free burgers for life. Ramsey's attorney, speaking on behalf of his client, said that Ramsey would like any proceeds to go to the victims and that he has not authorized any merchandise made in his name.

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