Gini Dietrich

Netflix Screws Up In Canada

By: Gini Dietrich | September 29, 2010 | 

On today’s InsidePR, Martin Waxman, Joe Thornley, and I discuss how Netflix screwed up in Canada. There were a few American news items about it, but I didn’t realize the severity of the issue until they had me read some Canadian stories about it.

The gist of it is that Netflix hired PR and marketing firms to help them launch in Canada. Reasonable, right? But one of the firms (and we’re hearing that it was not the PR firm) hired actors to pretend they were Netflix customers. These “customers” roamed the streets and did interviews with media, as if they were truly excited about the brand’s availability in the country. Of course, the media discovered these people were actors and Netflix had to do damage control, as well as issue this apology. Not fun when you’re launching a new service and you end up in crisis mode.

I think Netflix handled the apology well by coming clean: “We blew it.” But it blows my mind that, in today’s day and age when all we do is talk about transparency, that this could even happen. I don’t care if the firm is marketing, advertising, PR, or direct, all of us should know this is a HUGE no-no. If anything, take lesson from Edelman when they hired a blogger to trek the country visiting Wal-Mart stores, as if he were a customer. The fact that you’re not a PR professional is not an excuse. Don’t hire actors and pretend they are customers. Ever. This issue is at least four years old. Don’t do it. You will be found out, you will cause a client to have to do damage control, and you likely will lose that client. And for those of you who are clients? If your external resources are recommending a tactic like this, DO NOT APPROVE IT!

You can listen to us discuss this issue – with the Canadians being nice and defending our industry and me calling them out on it – on InsidePR today. The name of the game is transparency, transparency, transparency. Edelman knew better. Wal-Mart should have known better (and does now!). Now Netflix knows better.

What do you think?

Image courtesy of Fast Company

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About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • I apologize on behalf of all Canadians! I was absolutely shocked when I heard about this as well because isn’t the whole point of advertising via social media about being honest?

    Everyone was excited when Netflix came to Canada minus the actors. They didn’t need to hire anyone for a “launch”. I heard they hired all types of actors too; techies, teenagers, girls, etc. to appeal to all types…

    Local paper said they should have told the “actors” to stop talking to reporters about what they were paid to do.

    I subscribed to Netflix because of the free month and $7 per month fee afterwards, not because of the paid actors.

    Great post Gini!

  • As Samantha mentioned, what really shocked me is that Netflix is already a much-loved brand. Us Canadians (especially those of us who live online) have been watching enviously our US friends and their ability to stream TV and movies straight to their TV. So what kills me is why they’d even think they needed to hire actors to build excitement. Simply getting the word out probably would have done the trick!

    Lesson learned for them I suppose.

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  • The last time I checked the apology blog, there were almost 190 comments! The overall sense from consumers was “I don’t care…” just add this feature or that (service related more than anything). There were even compliments. If Netflix is smart (which I believe them to be – I’ve had their service since they started way back)they will read each and every one of these comments and productively use them to improve their business. That’s what a true customer-centric organization does. Time will tell…

  • If their own PR firm felt the need to hire actors to endorse their product, is Netflix really that great? Where are the real testimonials? There must be thousands (if not, millions) of subscribers to their services. I agree with Kelly, they just needed to let the public know.

  • Another example that short-cuts and parsed truths do not qualify as working smarter.

  • What an unfortunate circumstance for a much anticipated launch. I wonder if Netflix will be using this firm again – the last thing we ever want to do is put our clients in a position to have to apologize for our actions.

    Good for Netflix to address and have a crisis management plan in place – too bad they had to use it. Cheers, Andy

  • Holy cow! I had no idea. I’ve always found Netflix’s service fast and their offerings and pricing excellent. When they have those pluses, why on Earth would they need to do something outlandish and obviously doomed to fail? Testing the “no such thing as bad publicity” thing, maybe? I guess “Netflix” and “launching in Canada” will be pounded into Canadians’ brains when they watch TV coverage of this campaign, but I can’t see any possible scenario in which that’s good for Netflix.

    I guess this is one time to use the old saying: “Never attribute to marketing what can be explained by stupidity.” (Okay, so that’s not exactly the saying.)

  • Katrina

    Even more stupid when I, as a highly satisfied Netflix customer, would gladly offer testimonial interviews etc. No need to hire actors…just ask your actual customers

  • Ah, the what were they thinking story. This ranks right up there with this Comedy Central bit. The UFCW pays temp workers minimum wage to protest Wal-Mart’s unfair labor practices. Airdate – 9/20/2010

  • Bill Smith

    I hope Netflix parted company with the agency in question.

  • Samantha: I accept your apology on behalf of all Americans. 🙂

    Kelly: A really good lesson for American companies going into Canada is that you’re typically envious and dying for something already here (BlackBerry store, Amazon, etc.) before they get there. Find influencers on the web and have them (YOU!) tell the story!

    Anna: I LOVE that you bring everything back to the customer experience. That brain works so well!!

    Christina: I don’t think it was the PR firm. From what I’m hearing, it sounds like it was the ad agency, who hired the actors for a corporate video and let them loose on the street.

    Barry: Sigh…yes!

    Andy: I really doubt they’ll use the firm again. I can’t imagine doing something that required our client to make an apology and created news that overshadowed the real news and not being fired over it.

    Jelena: It sounds like it wasn’t up to Netflix…that’s one of those not knowing the right questions to ask things, I think.

    Katrina: EXACTLY! Like I said to Kelly, find the high influencers and let you tell the story!

    Monica: Another great example of “what were they thinking.” I love The Daily Show.

    Bill: I hope so, too!

  • Michael Koehler

    Seriously?!?! In this day and age of rapid news and the ability to find out almost anything in a seconds notice, they tried to pull this off? Really? THAT blows my mind that Companies still try to get away with stuff like this.

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  • neon

    i think none of this really matters. who cares if people who were excited about netflix were really excited or actors. it is a meaningless opinion at best.

    netflix canada screwed up with selection, I canceled my account. which is really a shame. they got everything else right. they got it working on the consoles, and tv boxes. worked well even. did mass marketing. got everyone excited. offered a free month. then content fell short. i stuck it out for a couple months but ultimately there isnt nearly enough to watch, and almost nothing new..

  • ginidietrich

    @neon Great point about Netflix screwing up operations, which causes mass exodus of customers. Because my expertise is communication, that’s the lens I use when I blog. And, from that lens, it’s a HUGE no-no to hire actors to pretend like they’re customers and talk to reporters.

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