Last year, just before the new iPhone was launched, an Apple engineer carelessly left the new prototype in a bar. It was picked up by Gizmodo, one of the premier technology blogs and splashed as a scoop. Whether the act of leaving the prototype was intentional or not, it created a buzz that a normal campaign could not have whipped up. The rumour mills churned with the possibilities, Tech writers went to absurd lengths to dissect the propriety or otherwise of breaking the story. Apple formally asked for the phone to be returned. It added to the considerable collection of iPhone jokes and talk show hosts featured it as a hot story. Rumours, like gossip, spread faster than avian flu. But was it smart marketing masquerading as rumour mongering?
The first rule about rumour marketing is that your product or service must be worth spreading rumours about. Instead of merely anticipating your product, prospects must salivate about getting their hands on it. Windows has tried it a few times, especially by ‘leaking’ stories on the Windows 7 mobile phone OS launch, but nobody is interested. They remain in blogs and planted press releases. It’s the secret no one wants to spread or discuss. The private life of Page 3 wannabes. They strut their stuff but who’s looking?
The other way to get a rumour to work is to do something unique in a ‘hot’ area – location based, for example. UseHipster, got 10,000 sign ups in less than 2 days after launch. The site has still not started delivering, but since the only requirement is an email address, people are intrigued. Then, every few months, there is the rumour that a new search engine to beat Google has arrived. Followed by reports of its demise. Reports (rumours) about the open source initiative that was meant to take away the traffic from Facebook because of the privacy concerns were greatly exaggerated. David Goliath stories are prime territory for rumours – but the fact is, Davids in real life are hard to find.