Whatever happened to the ‘man in the box’

Last year was an amazing year for social media. We were starting to see maturity in the way brands were engaging consumers and keeping the dialogue alive. There was a lot of experimentation and risk-taking and some of it paid off in a big way. This post is not about one of them.

I believe it is always great to seek out inspiration and look at the better ways of doing things but at the same time it is wise to look at failure and seek lesson from it. I think the word failure is probably too strong a word for the ‘man in the box’ I think the right word is strange. Go ahead and ‘Google’ it. You won’t find much (all you would get is ‘Man in the Box’ a song by Alice in Chains). It is one of those social media ideas that is lost in obscurity.

What is the idea? Man in the Box was basically Tim Shaw from BBC locked in a box (more like a container) for 30 days in a location that had some relevance to his life. He was to be delivered food twice a day from an opening in the ‘box’ and his only interaction to the outside world was through a one-way live webcam for 12 hours a day. That’s 360 hours of non-stop entertainment! And in case you missed the live transmission you didn’t get a nice 15 minute edit of the fun parts! No way. What you get is a repeat telecast of the entire 12 hours during the other half the day. Is this breathtaking TV or what!

And if the fast-paced drama was not enough, you get to win a big fat reward for your labor. What would that be? Find Tim, free him from his misery and win £30,000. Not bad for playing detective on Google Maps. Really! Well how? You got one clue a day about his location and you are to use those clues to piece together his exact location! Sounds like fun? Perhaps.

Why were they doing all this? This was an attempt to generate money for ‘Help for Heroes’, a charity for wounded UK soldiers. How much money did they generate? No idea! But I can tell you this – Tim Shaw was not found after 30 days. He had to bear the misery of his own confinement with no result! One good thing came out of it though. They were £30,000 richer at the end of the campaign. Money that could be used for the charity itself.

So what can we learn from it? I believe this idea missed a number of crucial essentials which make for a great social media campaign.

  • No entertainment value – I think in a world where ‘content is king’ play value is a starting point not the end. There was simply no entertainment value. I can’t imagine spending 12 hours watching the “Man in the Box”. It sounds awfully boring. You want to get a taste of just how boring, try to watch this 10 minute clip (at the end of the post) and see if you can watch it through!
  • No immediate reward – Why should I care? £30,000 is a significant amount but the effort is too much. It’s not like buying a lotto ticket or filling a coupon for a lucky draw. This is 30 days of hard work both for poor Tim and for the viewer. Besides we live in an era of instant gratification. Social media demands that we offer some kind of short-term reward if nothing else. Even if I chose to participate for the social goodness I need to see the consequence of my action in some meaningful way. The act of kindness was too far and disconnected from the idea to influence my behavior. This campaign offered me nothing, both personally or socially.
  • No engagement – Come on, who does a social media campaign and makes it a monologue. Not that it would have helped much in this case but at least the viewers could have had the opportunity to talk 1-on-1 to Tim for some parts of the day. It could have been a Chatroulette with Tim, only this time he could have been the constant and could choose to block out anyone if they got offensive while others would listen if not participate. Anything, something. A two-way conversation would have been like a lifeline.

Now for for the most dreadful 10-minutes of TV viewing…if you really must!

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