Social media faux pas or social media smart — you decide

There's the brewing of a lively discussion going on at one of the other blogs I write for, IowaBiz.  It's a situation worthy of your thoughts so I thought I would bring the conversation over here.

Here are the facts:

Hubbell Realty is a very established and respected builder/developer in Iowa.  They have just opened a new condo complex in one of the more affluent suburbs.  The condo's design, size and amenities make it a perfect fit for young professionals.

And so a perfect fit for social media.

Hubbell's advertising agency has invented what they are calling a spokesperson.  (She is actually one of the agency's ad reps who lives in Philadelphia).  This spokesperson has a Facebook account (she went to school at Depaw University, spends time at Johnny's Hall of Fame (a local hang out), celebrated her birthday in November and loves watching The Office.)  She has a blog (so far, she only writes about how much she loves her new home) and she's done some videos.  (Feed readers and e-mail subscribers, click on the post's headline to view.)

Here's the question: 

As you see on the video, no one is told that Hailey is a fictitious character, played by a woman in Philly.  On her Facebook page, there is a note that says "Hailey Brownstone is part of a Hubbell Homes promotional campaign."  But other than that notation — I can't find any disclaimer or explanation that tells us that Hailey isn't real.

She's received date requests and has 130 Facebook friends. 

The company and some of the supporters of the campaign at IowaBiz argue that since her name is Hailey Brownstone we should all get the joke.  The place is called GreenWay Crossing.  And they have brownstones and villas.

I did a search and there are plenty of Brownstones out there.  I'm thinking most of them are real people. 

So what do you think?  Smart social media campaign?  Social media faux pas?

UPDATE:  The comments are so plentiful — we had to go to two pages.  After Cat's comment…click on the NEXT to keep reading!

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47 comments on “Social media faux pas or social media smart — you decide

  1. Brad Shorr says:

    Strikes me as strange more than anything. “Brownstone” is a bit subtle for business humor, I think, but there’s really nothing funny in the video – nothing to tip off the audience this is not a real person. I’d be more comfortable if they would disclose. I like to know whether I’m interacting with a real person or a spokesperson.

  2. Drew,
    I have seen this video and topic pop up today several places. I realize that they (Hubbell) have found an amusing way to garner attention. However, is it misleading? We think so…

    We have had a conversation here at eSolutions about our new website (launching Jan 09). Should we post staff pics and bios? We think that transparency and ‘humanization’ will sway the consumer whether to do business with us or not.

    Perhaps Hubbell should reevaluate this mantra.

  3. LizaK says:

    Hmmm.. they seem to be stuck somewhere in the middle. Either pretend that it’s real and get big buzz, LonelyGirl15 style, or be up front and cheeky and over the top about it being fake.

    This seems pretty watered down, with a real lack of narrative. It’s about exactly what I would expect from a large corporation hiring a social media consultant states away.

    Nest time, Hubbell, save yourself some money and dig into your ranks – find an intern who has 1,000 Facebook friends and let them have at it. It’d be way more genuine, and clearly more engaging.

  4. Matt Dickman says:

    Great post Drew and thank for calling this out. I think there is a fine line that this is crossing within this space, and I’m sure other people may have conflicting opinions. Here is mine.

    She is not a real person, but a person posing as someone they’re not. WalMart was dinged for this exact thing, so it seems pretty clear. Misrepresenting yourself in these networks is not only misleading, but violates the terms of service of many sites. For example, here are two points in Facebook’s TOS on what you CANNOT do:

    1. register for more than one User account, register for a User account on behalf of an individual other than yourself, or register for a User account on behalf of any group or entity;

    2 impersonate any person or entity, or falsely state or otherwise misrepresent yourself, your age or your affiliation with any person or entity;

    That’s pretty cut and dry. Unlike MySpace where you could put up fake pages and brand pages, Facebook is very clear and people need to wake up to this.

    The video is completely inauthentic, it’s not her house, she can’t believe that she lives there because she does not. I think this is a misguided attempt by an agency that CLEARLY does not understand this space and does not grasp the real power.

    If they were intersted in doing something authentic, why not interview real residents? Have this person interview them, take photos, shoot video, etc. Show what it’s really like right from the customers. Create a social network for the community to engage on issues and social needs.

    I think there is a lot to learn here and I am curious what others have to say.

  5. SkyDaddy says:

    Social media FAIL.

  6. I came to this link via twitter, where I recently engaged in a conversation with a friend around your blog post. I’ll reiterate here what I said to him:

    A number of years ago, there was a girl who began posting videos on a youtube account, garnering a huge following. It was later revealed that she was actually an actress, and her video was part of a series called lonelygirl15. I believe this was claimed as the first online “tv” show.

    I bring this up because it seems like this is what the advertising agency is going for. Truly, the series was marketing genius, as it created a huge buzz and still has an enormous following from loyal fans. Still, though, there were articles about fans feeling betrayed.

    I heard about the series after it had been outted, but it seemed like a brilliant marketing move and certainly set the trend.

    I think, as with everything, it depends on the person. It seems that if they use this correctly, it could be a success, but should be cautioned to tread carefully in their intentions.

    An interesting concept and parallel. Thanks.

  7. Maria says:

    Social media faux pas.

    If you’re going to be a business in social media, be upfront about who you are, have a real person behind it, and be interesting.

    For example: is a guy named Brad who is tweeting about Starbucks, having real converstions with real people, and getting paid to do so. He has over 20,000 followers and no one is being duped. He says some interesting things, pays attention when someone mentions his brand, has contests occationally, fills us in on special deals, and answers questions.

    Social media gives your brand an opportunity to have genuine interactions with real people. I say don’t screw it up by being fake.

  8. Ed Brenegar says:

    Bad idea. They are playing the edges to closely. It would work better to be open about who she is and the create a serial comedy blog about life in the development. The best aspects of the development could show through, etc.

  9. Connie Reece says:

    FAUX PAS, definitely. Besides the fact that the video is not the least bit compelling, the whole issue of creating personas is problematic. I firmly believe there needs to be disclosure if a company decides to use one.

    They would have been much better served by an employee who fits the young professional profile, or by an actual homeowner doing a testimonial.

  10. Jessica Carter says:

    I think it was a great idea, but. And I think they didn’t let themselves get to the “but.” On the surface it’s brilliant. As I read your post, Drew, I thought, “Good for them!” But as I explored the pieces of the campagin, my “good for them” turned to “oh no, that’s not pretty.” The video alone is like nails on a chalkboard – “I can’t believe I used to rent.”

    It looks like they essentially took a new idea but kept the old strategy of one-way communication. What makes it even more unfortunate is that they’re doing it in a medium where not only is two-way communication possible, it’s expected. I think they simply didn’t let themselves think it through.

    I agree that a network of real residents would be more compelling. I agree that it’s a bit shady to not disclose she’s a character, especially considering Facebook’s rules. However, I don’t know that I would go so far as to say it’s a social media faux pas. It’s just poor execution.

    Or is it? I now know who Hubbell Realty is and what the inside of one of their condos looks like. So do 130 Facebook friends.

  11. John Pemble says:

    Hailey Brownstone… the name said acts of fiction appear in this video and I have no problem with that. When I saw that video there was an invite to attend a house party / holiday party or what not at that place. It was on the same night of a #dmtweetup so I told them / her / whoever that I would love to swing by their thing but I had another thing going on and that they should swing on over. With social media if you have the perception that you are dealing with a person but it turns out you are not, there can be a perception problem and the likelihood of future interaction reduces. We are using Twitter for a lot of reasons but when it gets regional like things and people in your city we are trying to make personal relationships that MAY develop to professional ones. From a marketing point of view Hubbell missed the point and while they got a good rise of attention by using an attractive actor and what not the long term relationship is going nowhere at present. They need more interaction and to keep it as real as possible if they want Des Moines folks to move in. You don’t always have to use attractive people to drive business, try it with people that have a decent message for a year and see what happens.

  12. Justin Brady says:

    I watched the clip without reading the blog, and while I was watching it, I kept saying, “Man, this girl seems as though she is giving me some cheesy sales pitch” After reading the blog I then became instantly ticked, and I felt lied too.

    I like the idea, but if they want this to be effective I feel they should be more obvious that she is indeed fictional. Maybe make her sales pitch more over-the-top, or link to her “home page” that CLEARLY states her fictional status.

    Dangerous water ahead…

  13. Justin Brady says:

    In addition, she says this about renting: “Can you believe I used to rent? How stupid is that!” So does this mean renters are stupid?

    Dangerous Water ahead…

  14. Steve O says:

    Hi Drew, as usual, you laid the groundwork for a very intriguing situation.

    Here are my thoughts and as Drew can attest to, I AM from Philly so right off I take umbrage to someone from Philly pretending to be something they’re not. Job or no job. If you’re from Philly, you are who you say are each day, every day. You’re either real or you’re not from Philly. No gray area.

    Now, having said that…

    While I do not condone the act of “bum-steering” the general public to move or sell product/merchandise, I cannot help think that this unnamed Ad Agency and the client themselves, got exactly what they wanted: exposure. What’s the line about no press is bad press or no PR is bad PR, whatever, you get my point.

    But for the most part, I agree with what Christian Connett and others stated in so much as, use real people. Lord knows there’s enough of them out there. Real Facebookers, Real Twitterers, and so on that actually live, breathe, play, change their underwear right in the same neighborhoods, counties, areas (whatever!) that you’re trying to sell to in the first place!

    In times like these, it’s always best to listen to the masters, the great ones and so Hubbell and their agency would have been wise to consult the one and only Marvin Gaye who put it so eloquently put it: “Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby”

  15. Beth Harte says:

    Hi Drew, thanks for bringing the notion of fake personas into the spotlight. This deserves a lot of discussion.

    I blogged about this after hearing someone at Social Media Camp NYC talk about how they created ‘personas’ as a business. Their personas ranged from a 40-yr old corporate mom to a 30-something gay man in the fashion industry in Miami. She was a 26-yr old.

    Social media FAIL. We talk about transparency and being trusted. I can’t believe their agency, who no doubt positioned themselves as social media “experts,” would even suggest this. Did they not read about Walmart/Edelman?

    You have unearthed a lot, what happens when they continue to move forward with this campaign and get deeper and deeper into deception? It could potentially ruin their credibility. As well, what happens when “Hailey Brownstone” no longer works for the agency? Who then becomes the spokesperson?

    As well, you can tell it’s a model home. And it’s as fake as the blog.

  16. Vigoriously misleading. When you watch the videos you can see right through the ruse.

    Embarrassing. After watching these videos, this is my perception of the Hubbell brand…”we will attempt to trick you into buying our stuff.” This is what you pay an ad agency for?

    Hubbell should stop, drop and roll before any more ill-will is created. This just goes to show, you don’t have to be tricky, just be authentic.

    Show me a rep who takes me through a tour of the house…show me the building of the structure…show me what materials and techniques are used to create these “high-Quality” homes.

    As we used to say at Disney…”Bad show.”

  17. Oh dear.

    If you’re going to do a fake personality, you need to be blatant about it. Over the top. Make it a character, not some fluffed up but veiled idea of a “real person”.

    And if they couldn’t find a real person that was willing to do what the fake spokesperson did, what does that tell you about the claims they’re making about their brand?


  18. Drew,

    I forget which car company last year did a promo with a college student (Toyota?)…whereby the kid was given a new car in exchange for LIVING in the car for one month (rules applied), vcasting and blogging the experience…also involved some campus events & hubaloo. This didn’t bother me because it was a transparent enough deal. Was it promotional… yeah. Did the kid complain about a few things – yes I think he did. BUT… it was an open kimono thing.

    This case study you’ve highlighted doesn’t seem NEARLY transparent enough…and my feeling is that it could be MORE successful if it was more upfront. I’m still not clear whether or not she is a REAL PERSON or if she’s an actress (BOOOOOO! If so!). If she is real, what are her deal terms? Did she volunteer? Was she recruited? Did she win a contest? Etc. What are HER “rules”? Is she scripted?

    I think an idea LIKE THIS actually has potential, especially targeted to new, young home owners… but not without the transparency and openness social media demand.

    Thanks for kicking this out there!

  19. Wow, this is so fake I can’t believe anyone can trust in it.
    The name itself sounds fake to me, not english mother tongue.
    It’s a faux pas.

  20. Hmmm HubbellRealty is now following me on Twitter… Anyone else experience this?

  21. Kamy says:

    I would have to agree with Matt & Maria. Facebook & other similar sites are for connecting & getting to know real people. So, were they totally wrong in their efforts? NO, but they went about it all wrong. Interview real residence, ask them to participate, photos, videos testimonies, blogging whatever.

    I would say make it more obvious she wasn’t real & create a fun, funny persona. However, that is not the purpose of facebook so they would have need to use a different medium.

    They did create a buzz, but not all publicity is good. I think they really missed the boat on this one. too bad.

  22. I wouldn’t mind that the woman is fake if they had done it in a fun, over-the-top, or obvious way. (After all, I loved the “I Want Sandy” characterization.)

    They could use it to tell people about features of their development (e.g. snow removal), and give them tips to personalize/improve their homes (e.g. wall stencils)

    But this feels deceiving, because I was not really able to find any acknowledgment that it is fake.

    Very disappointing, and I doubt it will be successful for them.

  23. Joe says:

    Dear Bloggers,

    The video you are all commenting on was only posted on youtube and haileys facebook page. The only way that people got to the facebook page or knew to look her up on youtube was by seeing the print ads and the tv commercials which left no doubt that this person was fictitious.

    Hailey is a face and personality to represent a product. She represent the age, personality, and lifestyle of the current owners in this community and also the prospective owners.

    While the suggestions to use a real homeowner seem to make sense, the fact is it is not safe to put someones face, name and address on tv and the web.

    On another note… Hailey BROWNSTONE wants to show you her new BROWNSTONE. Is that really not clear to people? Thats like saying Wendy from Wnedy’s is a misleading brand image.

    Also, please keep in mind with your comments who the target demographic is in this campaign.

    Are you the target demographic here? Cause I am… and I love it!

  24. Cat says:

    It’s not a faux pas, it’s just, honestly, a stupid campaign. Even if it’s obvious that it’s fake, it’s a poor idea.

  25. Pat Burk says:

    Definite Faux Paux. Subjecting Twitter to this kind of misleading advertising will only spell its doom It works because it is trusted. You are getting to know real people in the community to interact. It can be both personal and business networking or simply communicating with existing friends, but it needs to be real. The false interaction on Twitter makes it even worse. Should it be obvious? Maybe – but I agree that it was not made obvious enough. I personally think Twitter should go the route of Facebook and make sure this kind of thing does not happen to preserve its integrity and chance for longevity.

  26. Drew: You know I’m not one for BS and when “Joe” (The Plumber???)signs in with just “Joe” you’ve got to wonder who he is “shilling” for. Here’s my take. Cute? Sure. Stupid? Very. But…when you consider the demographic this is attempting to reach…it is perfect. This demo doesn’t know or want to know the truth…besides, hormones man…NOTHING takes the place of raging hormones. Two thumbs up for being right on for the demo. Me…heck no. But I ain’t 25. Michael Libbie (Joe…see, it’s like that, use your REAL name.)

  27. 'CK' says:

    I certainly prefer authenticity and transparency in blogging. And I like creativity in marketing campaigns. For instance, I like when characters of a TV show run their own blogs “in character” (granted these are written by the show’s writers, as are the character’s lines).

    But, I guess I need to ask since you just had me go and watch sales pitch videos (darn you, Drew! ;-), isn’t it super obvious that these are sales pitches and that Hailey ‘Brownstone’ is a paid spokesperson? The WalMart example raised above is a really good example, because that one wasn’t super obvious that they were on the payroll (though I did have my suspicions as I wondered who would spend all that time going to WalMarts all over the nation).

    Please watch this:

    It’s all about her car garage (the others are all about her home). There’s not a single video–of all her videos–that’s not a blatant sales pitch. And her blog is all about her home (and her car garage). I mean, I guess, someone could take the time to build their blog for hours and hours about their home and do videos about their car garage–but it just seems unlikely. I would question the woman’s sanity in giving out her address so blatantly, too. Yeah, for me it was super obvious along with her last name of ‘Brownstone’.

    **All that said, because obvious is subjective and the authenticity of blogs should be honored, indeed it’s a good practice for somewhere (and somewhere easy to find) on her site for it to note a disclaimer so that no one felt deceived.

  28. Justin Brady says:

    I also am now being followed by Hubbell Realty on twitter. They sent me a letter asking why I did not like their marketing efforts. At least they are listening…

  29. Rob Jensen says:

    I’m glad you pointed this out. I have seen a few tweets about it and glanced at the blog. I should really be blaming myself because I never really looked into and just I assumed it was a real person.

    Truth is I saw the person first and not the product. And with social media I assume I am making a connection with a person. And that person I let down my guard just a little bit more and trust for honest feedback.

    When things like this happen that level of trust with all social media begins to fade.

    I really don’t need brands coming at me as a fake person first and that is exactly what this campaign is doing.

  30. Zaira Rahamn says:

    Well I didn’t find it that real anyway…it certainly did look like promotion but of course in a different way.

    But interesting stuff you’ve put here. Do check out my blog too…though it’s basically dark and twisty but would love to have serious bloggers around 🙂

    You can join the network or see the blog link directly below:


  31. wow!

    Thanks for the post Drew!

    This is an interesting one.

    I think it’s the picture of someone not only misunderstanding social media… but also someone not understanding this younger generation!

    Because the very people they are trying to reach with a campaign like this… have the most sensitive “authenticity meter” in history!

    Yup. The very people they are trying to connect with feel like they have been duped by the generations before them anyway… so if they sense inauthenticity, they tend to run in the opposite direction faster than you can say “punked.”

    So, to have an organization intentionally set up a campaign that is set up to look authentic but is, in fact, a cardboard cut out… is a risky move that I wouldn’t be willing to take.

    It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

    Drew… thanks, as always, for the head’s up and the conversation!

  32. David Reich says:

    I don’t like this at all. I don’t like being tricked into being pitched something — whether it’s a phony YouTube video or a piece of mail from a bank you deal with whose envelope says “important information about your account” only to find out they’re trying to sell you additional services or a new credit card.

    Sneaky advertising of any kind pisses me off and I then go out of my way to avoid buying from that company.

  33. Matt Dickman says:

    So does “Joe” work for the agency or the realty company?

  34. Maria says:


    No disrespect, if you love the campaign that’s great. But I am most definitely their target demographic (28, single, professional, looking to buy first home), and I was immediately turned off by it.

  35. Thank you for all of your comments on our Hailey Brownstone marketing campaign. Our full response can be see here:

  36. LizaK says:


    LOL @ “Dear Bloggers,”

    I’m not a blogger, honey, I’m a commenter. Is your last name, per chance, Brownstone? 😉

  37. mack collier says:

    “Dear Bloggers,

    The video you are all commenting on was only posted on youtube and haileys facebook page. The only way that people got to the facebook page or knew to look her up on youtube was by seeing the print ads and the tv commercials which left no doubt that this person was fictitious.”

    Wow wonder who ‘Joe’ works for?

  38. Dear Joe,

    Are you Hailey’s boyfriend? You sound just as fake. “I am the target demographic and I love it.” Oh, come on!

    Wish you’d come out of hiding an have a real and open discussion on this compelling topic. Then we could all learn something.

    Lisa Hoffmann
    Marketer, blogger and mom – really!

  39. Kellye Crane says:

    Dear Joe,
    The Wendy of Wendy’s is actually a real person (founder Dave Thomas’ daughter), so this particular analogy falls flat. Regardless, the fact “that this person was fictitious” is not acceptable in social media. Period.

  40. Dave Webb says:

    Anyone who says this is a good idea doesn’t know a thing about social media.

    First of all, to reiterate Matt Dickman:

    Facebook’s TOS on what you CANNOT do:

    1. register for more than one User account, register for a User account on behalf of an individual other than yourself, or register for a User account on behalf of any group or entity;

    2 impersonate any person or entity, or falsely state or otherwise misrepresent yourself, your age or your affiliation with any person or entity

    This totally invalidates their methodology on Facebook.

    Secondly, as Connie Reece, Beth Harte & Amber Naslund all said, full disclosure, transparency & the need to crystal clear that the “face” you’re putting on your business is not a real person is critical for longevity of a campaign and to undergird your credibility. Serious faux pas IMHBAO.

  41. Sherry Borzo says:

    The first thought that came to my mind is the movie Soylent Green. Nothing like being duped to consume something.

    I’d rather invest in real people being passionate about what they do and honoring me and my resources by representing themselves honestly.

    Points to Hubbell Realty for a clever marketing gimmick but who is eating it up?

  42. Pete Jones says:

    Look at all the discussion about the concept though, plus Hubbell has seen an increase in sales as a result of this media scheme. I agree with Justin Brady above, they need to watch what they have Ms. Brownstone say as her words are a representation of the company, not an individual stating their opinions since the character is not real.
    I worry that more of these schemes will overwhelm the mediums we all enjoy so much. But, it appears to have been a successful ploy and garnered a lot of attention for Hubbell. I would just like to have seen their disclaimer on this piece and I believe they owe it to us to place it on all material that carries Ms. Brownstone’s representation.

  43. Douglas Karr says:

    I’d love peace without war. I’d love to believe that all my tax money will be used efficiently. I’d love to believe that warm and fuzzy notions like transparency and engagement are what drive business profitability.

    But that’s not the case.

    Everyone here is questioning the tactic used, but no one is measuring success by how much business Hubbell is getting from the strategy. People are screaming deception, but Hubbell isn’t selling stories, it’s selling Brownstones.

    If Hubbell was deceiving people about the quality of its product or we hear that people were being sold something not advertised in the campaign, that’s wrong. But if Hubbell is selling more and living up to its quality, that’s success.

  44. I think this is a mistake as it stands, but has potential to be rescued. I think the usage model is right, but the person should be real.

    That’s a simplistic answer, but that’s the broad strokes of it.

  45. This has been a great discussion — thanks for participating in it. And for keeping it about the campaign and not letting it get personal.

    Thanks to Typepad’s untimely glitch…it seems as though we were dragged to a halt. But all 46+ comments are now posted (see the NEXT under Cat’s comment to continue).

    Hubbell Realty also posted a response to the conversation on their own website. ( )

    I’m curious as to what you think of the response and their print and radio spots (links within their response.)

    This is going to make a great case study for my social media presentation — thanks to all who added their thoughts.


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