There was allegedly a mystery shampoo.

It was blaring on television.

It was on ‘supposed’ freebie-test centers in leading malls in Indian metros.

And it was also allegedly on social networking sites, if you take Times of India’s word for it. Times of India’s city supplement says,

“They (actresses, Katrina Kaif, Neha Dhupia and Shilpa Shetty) have been raving about the results on leading social networking websites. Not just these actresses, who are the beauty productâ??s brand ambassadors, but even women from Mumbai and Delhi, who tried the shampoo, posted pictures of their hair transformation online for everyone to see”

Err, do they mean, on Facebook?

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Ok, I’ve gone beyond ridiculing numbers and they are indeed fickle and can be ‘bought’ by advertising spend online – but 751 members being fed unidimensional brand plugs is not a social media campaign – it is a mass media, television style discourse, merely using a social media tool.

If they are referring to Neha Dhupia and Shilpa Shetty’s twitter updates – to a combined follower count of 200,000+ people – think about it! How different is it from shooting an ad with these actresses and playing it on television?

In other words, Neha Dhupia and Shilpa Shetty’s personal media outlets (on Twitter) were included in the media buying activity – as blunt as that.

And what do they post? This,

Oh btw,using this new shampoo (@mystery_shampoo)totally works for me.Recently signed up to endorse it, glad I did!Ull c the ad soon;) (Shilpa Shetty)

Morning all u lovely women out there… re u trying the mystery_shampoo ! I hope it works wonders on ur hair, jus the way it did for me! (Neha Dhupia)

Yeah right – very convincing!

And, if I was allowed a minor quibble – @mystery_shampoo does not seem to exist, even as it is prominently displayed in the official website’s Indian version.

So, has it really come to that now? In the name of ‘social media campaign’, social media (sic) is being used as just one of the media buying options where brands can ‘buy’ their way through people’s attention? Well, let’s see how it works for a low-involvement, low-engagement product like shampoo that people do not think twice before shifting to another brand.

Where is the use of participation from people? If you refer to the Facebook photos of aam-junta posing with their freshly-washed hair…well, if you’re strolling in a mall and a ‘brand’ calls you to test something free and explains that you may be on their Facebook page…what are the chances that at least 10% of the jobless, bored or amused crowd says yes? Well, of course, they will! Is that social media engagement just because their photos are up on Facebook now?

Incidentally, the brand that has gained the most out of all this – by Pantene – is Dove! Their ambush marketing attempt at derailing the ‘mystery’ built by Pantene is absolutely brilliant on-the-foot thinking, with super timing!

So, while the official announcement of Pantene’s big-reveal was slated to be on August 1 (as per the website) – it has been forcefully revealed on July 31st, thanks to Dove!

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The nuanced effort of Dove even extends to the way they have taken this war on print – Times of India’s city supplement has the big reveal today, while Dove steals the show with a half-faux cover in the same publication…in turn, making Pantene’s reveal…secondary!

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I don’t need to say anything about Dove’s more abrasive attempts at hijacking the Pantene campaign – like, on billboards! See this, for instance!

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Billboard twitpic by tobyfoy.

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