Thursday, March 13, 2014

How to go viral without making a cent

It's been almost five years since I started this blog. I don't do it for money, as I already have a full-time job as a Creative Director. So there are no ads, and I don't get paid for clicks. I just write these posts as part of my ongoing professional development, reviewing the fruits of my industry and thinking out loud about the ethics and social issues involved.

I've managed to generate a bit of a following. The numbers aren't huge, but they include some people who themselves have huge followings on advertising, culture, and social science blogs. As a result, every once in a while, the content in one of my posts goes viral. That happened again this week.

Here I was, just not minding my own business as usual, and I saw some really shitty photoshop from Target show up in a Facebook post by Photoshop Disasters. Since sex, sexism and body image in advertising are some of my regular topics, I whipped up a quick "Ethical Adman" post about it, then promptly returned to my day job.

Then this happened:

That mountain range is an analytic spike that hit on Tuesday. It turned out that Jezebel picked up the story and linked me as the source, but not Photoshop Disasters. That gave me about 6,000 extra views. Then Buzzfeed picked up the story from Jezebel, and didn't credit me. I got no direct traffic from Buzzfeed, but may have gained some secondary hits via Jezebel.

Even more traffic came when Kim Komando, "America's Digital Goddess®" teased the Target story and very kindly added, "Click here to see the full story and more photos from The Ethical Adman." Woo-hoo! That was worth almost 10,000 extra hits.

Next thing I knew, I was linked as "an observant blogger" on the Today Show's blog. The frigging Today Show! But surprisingly, that only racked up another 6500-or-so hits. (I guess they'd better stick with mainstream media.)

With all this attention, I was bound to get some of the negative kind. Several people, claiming to be graphic designers, accused me of overreacting and seeing hurtful "thinning" in what they saw as just sloppy Photoshop. But the real surprise came when fanatical followers of the fitness blog, Blogilates, started an organized campaign to accuse me of "stealing" content.

For the record, the Blogilates post went up after 11 pm, Pacific Time. By that point, the Photoshop Disasters/Ethical Adman/Jezebel/Buzzfeed posts were already hours old. Blogilates author Cassey Ho did, however, manage to become the credited source for a post on CNN's HLN blog.

Since CNN, Blogilates, The Today Show, Kim Komando, Buzzfeed, Jezebel, and Photoshop Disasters are all commercial blogs, they all made money off of Target's bad Photoshopping. I didn't make a penny. How stupid am I?

Oh well, like I said at the top, I already have a job. If anything, this whole affair helps me with my online brand as a "concerned advertising guy" and adds to my credibility when I give clients advice on social media and content marketing strategies. This whole thing also helped my all-time pageviews top the two million mark.

So in the spirit of karma, I'd like to give a big shout-out to the person who apparently first caught the Target fiasco and submitted it to PSD, and also made no money from it:

If you don't already, I suggest you follow Adam Z Lein on Twitter. You'd be amazed how ahead of the curve you can be when you know the right people.


  1. If it's any comfort, a pageview seems to be worth about $0.001 in ad revenue, so with all the extra views, you missed out on maybe $20-25, unless you started engaging in really sleezy (fraudulent) practices; then you might have pumped it up to $50.

  2. > For the record, the Blogilates post went up after 11 pm, Pacific Time.

    i have seen my emails get posted with time tags that are hours before my local time. unless everyone is set to their correct time, time tags are playgrounds.

    11pm pacific = 2 am the next day, your time?


  3. btw, thanks for not going copyranter in your blog!


  4. and, umm... congrats on getting all that recognition in the media! i hope that does not pressure you?


  5. Ha! I guess it wasn't Photoshopped. That's what the model really looks like on Ellen: