The compulsion to confess

by Rob Horning

4 August 2006

 

What do Secret deodorant, Greased Lightning household cleaner, and Game Show Network have in common? All three are eager to sponsor your private and personal secrets online on their websites. BusinessWeek has an item (behind a subscription wall) about this strange trend whereby brands hope to bolster their online communities by inviting people to use their sites as a place to both confess secrets and play voyeur. This nicely collapses the “publicity is personality” movement of MySpace with advertisers growing need to induce audiences into doing measurable activities online in order to get paid. Apparently people are actually doing this—4,500 people at Secret’s site, 10,000 at Greased Lightning. How desperate are these people for attention, even of the anonymous and personally embarrassing variety? Seems this is further proof that people are coming to the conclusion that the only valid form of social recognition available is in tha spotlight of some pseudo-mass-media spectacle—even if your online confession might be seen by no one, the fact that it might be seen by everyone makes it more valid than whispering it to your friend. Elizabeth Woyte, who write the item for BusinessWeek, wonders whether the sponsored confession phenomenon has something to do with the study that revealed that more Americans now report having no close friends. Perhaps it is because of the changing nature of friendship.

Ad-audience measurement is becoming more stringent at precisely the same time that friendship is becoming more open to measurement itself. Coincidence? My thesis is that ad ratings measure influence, and friendship for some has become largely a matter of measuring one’s own impact on others. The two concepts are converging. Friendship is nothing more than a medium for word-of-mouth advertising.

 

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