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Fitna: Buzz Marketing and the Internet

Friday, March 28, 2008

The islamophobic film FITNA of the maverick Dutch MP Geert Wilders made its debut last night. This blog is not about politics but since Marketing and the web have played such an important role in the promotion and controversy surrounding it, it is worth looking to the issue not only from its political but also from its marketing perspective.
There are clear marketing elements here since the buzz around the film came about by the free publicity eagerly provided by both traditional and Internet media long before the film was even ready. Furthermore Wilders carried out a very professional teasing campaign that every marketer could dream of. The whole thing became even more exciting when TV stations here in Holland refused to air the film and the Internet host of the site where the film would be shown banned the site pending an internal investigation as to whether the film violates in-house guidelines.
The second interesting element is that the film finally reached the public through the Internet (although this morning it was impossible to access the film online). Fitna - based on the fragments shown on TV - seems to have all the usual characteristics of amateur creations distributed through the social media: A low-budget video extensively using copyrighted or other material without permission; the Danish cartoonist Kurt Westergaard whose cartoon opens and closes the video and a rapper whose photo also appears in the film have threatened already with legal action against Wilders. Selectively used, flimsy yet cleverly edited content and old well-known videos, all aiming at creating maximum sensation; in short much of the same stuff – only a bit longer and politically more sensitive – than the thousands of amateur videos flooding YouTube and other video-sharing sites every day. The following stage, at least looking to past experience, will be mockeries and spoofs and most probably some similar efforts from the other side exposing crimes of the crusaders and the dangers from the Inquisition during the Middle Ages (or the excesses of some of its followers today).
As to the political effects there is already broad coverage of the story in the media, some rather mild reactions from the Muslim world so far and lively debate in Holland and elsewhere. Without excluding the possibility of some dangerous side-effects most observers agree that the buzz about the film is disproportional, a conclusion that I certainly share.
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