“Ugliness is so grim. A little beauty, something that is lovely, I think, can help create harmony which will lessen tensions.”
— Lady Bird Johnson
Just as the plethora of billboards ruined the skylines of Route 66 and other great highways of the past, advertising today in its most blatant forms has invaded any mental domain imaginable. Nowhere is safe, definitely not Twitter. It’s no surprise that online marketing and advertising would pounce on a free medium to promote their wares. To a point, I don’t blame them. Publicity is king; notoriety can be manufactured into benefit. Like I said, to a point.
Squarespace understood that point. They offered a free iPhone (actually a $199 gift card at an Apple Store). Each mention, each day, constituted an entry. Soon enough, the density of messages that had the #squarespace hashtag became deafening. Even their statement that one entry a day was enough was not enough for some some people. So Squarespace decided to reduce the noise even more and said that one entry serves in perpetuity.
Moonfruit (not to be linked here), on the other hand, has upped the stakes by giving out ten MacBook Pros. So far, they have not followed the Squarespace ettiquette, and my Twitter stream has been dominated by messages mentioning the company. It’s reached the point where a few of the people I’m following have posted numerous, consecutive messages with the hashtag in it.
The odds of winning in this game may be astronomical, but the power of denial can’t be denied. In the meantime, everyone’s Twitter streams have been littered with promotions, and, as Dan Zarella (@danzarrella) noted, it “is going to spawn like a million clones.” If it does, it looks like Twitter will be powerless to stop it. Hashtag contests are turning the people I following into spammers.
This, too, is different from a lottery. Games of chance where participants pay to play are usually regulated. Free raffles are usually not. Take note that I am not yet ready to call shenanigans on this, but instead of paid participation, people offer up their time. In a world of free content all vying for our attention, our time remains the most valuable asset we are all too willing to give up.
Moonfruit’s campaign and the clones it will spawn will lead to a general degradation in the aesthetic of the Twitter stream. To a user, we have but two choices: bear through it, or unfollow someone. Getting spammed three messages at a time by half of my users is a painful thing to sit through, because I’d rather not block or unfollow these people. They are still worth following, and it is this good will that I and others extend to the people we follow that companies capitalize on whenever they do these awful contests.
The Highway Beautification Bill went through an acrimonious process before being passed. Twitter, however, has only people who refuse to play such games to help prevent it from being a wasteland of useless hashtag promotions and nothing more.