11 Ways to Rig American Idol with (mostly) Online Media

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Last night I watched the finale of American Idol and witnessed popularity triumph over talent for the second straight year.  The winner, Lee Dewyze, actually sang off key when singing the line “what would you do if I sang out of tune?” — and that wasn’t the only time his voice was pitchy. The blogosphere seems to agree that the bohemian runner-up, Crystal Bowersox, was the more talented singer. Yet the more mainstream Dewyze, who looks like “The Guy Next Door,” won the competition.

So it occurred to me, to prevent this kind of travesty from happening again, what you could do to rig – or at least heavily influence – the voting results to make sure the most talented candidate won the competition.  Here are some initial thoughts; I’d love to hear yours. It gets more nefarious as you read down the list.

Ms. Bowersox was the Runner-Up. But what if....

  1. In the months leading up the final,  begin courting and growing the core fan base of your candidate:  self-declared fans on Facebook and MySpace.
  2. Create and nurture relationships with “Super Fans” of your preferred finalist on these social networks. These people are online influencers and opinion-shapers. Teen marketing agencies use this tactic and have pre-existing panels of trend-makers; you just need to find out which ones like your Idol. Set them up with a performance-based incentive plan so they are motivated to sway others to back your candidate.
  3. Start an “unofficial” fan site and build it up with content and community about your Idol. Make it look grassroots. Seed discussions in the fan groups and incorporate some content from site, with links.
  4. Use your inner circle to find out which record labels are courting (and may have already signed) your preferred finalist. Then seek the covert support of their marketing departments and agencies to use all available resources — behind the scenes of course — to back your marketing efforts.
  5. Hire a social media marketing agency to talk up your candidate and build online community.  One like Blue State Digital, the firm that handled President Obama’s online campaign (and played a key role in getting him elected).  Challenge the agency with growing the core fan base organically through all channels.
  6. Organize in-person Meetups in the weeks leading up to the final to rally the troops. Do this nationally, now that Meetup.com now has a Meet Everywhere feature.
  7. Create rich media online ads that don’t look like ads and embed existing conversation threads from social networks in the ads.
  8. Target these ads to teens and other demographic groups likely to vote using behavioral targeting. Geographically target the cities and state of your preferred finalist, e.g. Crystal Bowersox is from Ohio.  Consider using geo-targeted mobile ads in the Pandora music service since it now has that capability (and has 45 million registered users).  Music + local + mobile = good targeting to reach potential Idol voters.  Send those who click on the ads to pages in the site that continue the discussion. Capture email addresses.
  9. Use cookie-based re-marketing to continually reach out to qualified people who have visited the fan site.  This will encourage people to visit the fan site repeatedly.
  10. Wage a massive “get out the vote campaign” in the days leading up to the final performance and target your fan base. Use all available media with a consistent theme. Position your candidate as the underdog; America loves the underdog. Make sure to include viral hooks in this marketing, so people can remind their friends to vote.
  11. Now for the nasty part. The night of the voting, launch a major automated texting and phone call program (also known as “Robo-Calls”) to vote for your candidate — via computer generated communications. It’s not much different than the teens who text their Idol vote in 20 times and get their friends to do the same.

What else could be done to rig the outcome?

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