September 10, 2009

Who’s who online?

sellersThe other night I watched a great movie – The Life and Death of Peter Sellers starring Geoffrey Rush. One of the things that really stood out was his identity crisis. As Wikipedia say “his ability to speak in different accents (e.g., French, Indian, American, German), along with his talent to portray a range of characters ensured his success as a radio personality and screen actor yet Sellers’s private life was characterized by turmoil and crises”. He only seemed to be confident when he was inhabiting a character. When Kermit the Frog told Sellers he could relax and be “himself,” Sellers (while wearing a Viking helmet, a girdle and one boxing glove), replied, “There is no me. I do not exist. There used to be a me, but I had it surgically removed.”

The internet has allowed so many people to reinvent themselves whether it is via chatrooms, Second Life, World of Warcraft or a MySpace page. In a world where everyone wants to be Googled there are many tips from people telling you how to manage your online identity. At the same time we’ve seen people having their identity hijacked by others. Sometimes it is in good humour like the Fake Steve Jobs but other times it is truly criminal. Like Natasha Cann who “endured the Father’s Day from hell when hackers broke into her Facebook account and proceeded to scam her closest friends out of significant amounts of money”.

It is the same with brands who are trying to reposition themselves and define their identity in the digital world. Everyone wants to dabble in social networking, perhaps marketing via Twitter or experimenting with user-generated campaigns. But if people’s online identities are fake (or at least enhanced) can brands really rely on the response they are getting? Are the online identities that brands are projecting really true to their values? Let an intern loose (so they claimed) on your Twitter marketing and brands like Habitat come across as opportunistic and untrustworthy. Are fake brand personas connecting and interacting with fake consumer personas? Is the internet suffering from an identity crisis just like poor Peter Sellers? Do we need a little more truth in online advertising – from both sides?