December 21, 2010

Exploitation 2.0: How to Tap the American Dream for Fun and Profit

by Freddy J. Nager, Founder of Atomic Tango LLC

work

Catch of the day...

A dark corporate conference room. A loud THUD breaks the silence and a man yells out…

BENZ: OUCH! Dammit! Who put that there?… Hey, why is it dark in here? Suzie! Suzie, where are you? Why are the lights not on? SUZIE!

The lights flip on, revealing BENZ and BEEMER, two young guys in matching dotcom suits (suit jackets, untucked buttondown shirts, jeans). Beemer is at the light switch.

BEEMER: Suzie’s not here.

BENZ: Dude, it’s already 10 am. She shoulda been here three hours ago! Her ass is so fired.

BEEMER: We can’t fire her.

BENZ: Why not? She’s an intern, not a union member.

BEEMER: Suzie quit.

BENZ: Quit?! Why? When?

BEEMER: She tweeted her resignation this morning. She found out that unpaid internships are illegal, so she quit.

BENZ: She quit via Twitter? How unprofessional is that?

BEEMER: Kinda trendy, actually.

BENZ: Wait, when’s it illegal to not pay interns? Everyone does that.

BEEMER: Apparently, federal law states that anyone who does work for you must get paid at least minimum wage, even if you call them an intern.

BENZ: She got course credit!

BEEMER: Doesn’t matter.

BENZ: Well that sucks. Who’s gonna make coffee around here now?

BEEMER: We’ll have to make it ourselves.

BENZ: Dude, I went to business school. I don’t know how to make coffee.

BEEMER: We’ll just go to Star-B’s like everyone else.

BENZ: For $3 a cup? That’s a ripoff!

BEEMER: But I always see you hanging out there.

BENZ: For the wifi, dude. I don’t actually buy anything. C’mon, what do you take me for?

BEEMER: Then we’ll hit Trader Joe’s for the free coffee samples.

BENZ: Now you’re talking sense! But if Suzie’s gone, who’s gonna do our writing? And billing? And the social media and the research and the freakin’ programming for the freakin’ site that’s the center of our entire freakin’ business?

BEEMER: Well, we’ll just have to roll up our sleeves and –

BENZ: No way, man. I didn’t run up six figures in student loans to do any freakin’ work.

BEEMER: Then we’ll run some help wanted ads.

BENZ: Hire someone? Are you crazy? That’s so pre-Bush!

BEEMER: I didn’t say hire. We’ll just interview them.

BENZ: You lost me.

BEEMER: Look, what does America have an infinite supply of right now?

BENZ: Um, unsecured debt?

BEEMER: Close. Unemployed people. We run an ad, we’ll get 700 applicants easy. Even janitor ads in Ohio get that many applicants. So we run a few Craigslist ads and invite anyone who responds to a couple of interviews. After getting called in for the second time, they’ll start smelling paydirt. And that’s when we ask them to prove themselves.

BENZ: I get it: to demonstrate their ability, they have to write something for us. Or come up with a sample plan. Or create a PowerPoint presentation that solves one of our problems. What’s the term for that?

BEEMER: “Spec work,” as in speculative.

BENZ: No. No, I was thinking something like… “suckerage.”

BEEMER: Same difference. What matters is that they’ll be desperate and hopeful at the same time.

BENZ: Ripe for the plucking!

BEEMER: After they show us their work, we’ll send them an email the next day telling them they’re brilliant but “not the right fit” for our company.

BENZ: Dude, I’m in love with your brain!

BEEMER: Wait, after I tell you this next bit, you’ll want to marry it…

BENZ: I’m sizing up rings already.

BEEMER: So now we take the spec work on a massive scale…

BENZ: I don’t know – that sounds like a lot of interviews.

BEEMER: Not even. We’re going to let the magic of Web 2.0 do the work for us.

BENZ: How so?

BEEMER: Contests. Hardcore social media users love contests, since they’re either unemployed or bored at work. You know those Doritos Super Bowl ads?

BENZ: Where all those Spielberg wannabes create free commercials for a giant corporation?

BEEMER: You got it.

BENZ: So whatever we want – a logo, a slogan, a T-shirt design – we just hold a contest for it!

crowdsourcing

Money for nothing and your ideas for free...

BEEMER: That’s right. We’ll get hundreds, maybe even thousands of entries, many from out-of-work professionals and art school students. The social media users will do all the filtering and voting for us. There’s even a term for it: “crowdsourcing.

BENZ: Nice! It sounds perf – Wait. Wait: huge problem here, dude. A contest has to have a prize.

BEEMER: True.

BENZ: But giving away money – that’s so not right.

BEEMER: Got that one figured out: we’ll charge entry fees.

BENZ: Like an amusement park?

BEEMER: Kinda. We’ll call them “processing fees” to make them sound more legit. We’ll charge anyone who wants to enter our contest a processing fee and –

BENZ: What kind of space cadet pays to enter a talent contest?

BEEMER: Happens in the advertising industry every year.

BENZ: God I love the irony: advertising people getting suckered in.

BEEMER: Then we use some of those fees to pay for the prize.

BENZ: Dude, you’re still giving away money! I want a divorce now.

BEEMER: Easy there. We’re talking creative professionals and wannabes here. They need money, but if they’re young or desperate enough, they’ll do spec work just for recognition.

BENZ: Like a trophy?

BEEMER: Or a cheap plaque.

BENZ: And their name published on our website!

BEEMER: No website – free Facebook page.

BENZ: Right! And we get the plaques donated in exchange for hype to all those advertising people!

BEEMER: And it doesn’t stop there. We’ll then sell tickets to the award show.

BENZ: And ads in the award show program.

BEEMER: And collectible books –

BENZ: – and DVD’s –

BEEMER: – of all the award winners.

BENZ: I’m so excited I’m about to pee myself.

BEEMER: Speaking of which, I gotta take a leak.

BENZ: Too much coffee at Trader Joe’s?

BEEMER: Four cups.

BENZ: Four? Dude, your bladder’s gonna go full Hindenburg!

BEEMER: Now that you mention it… Hey, you don’t happen to have the restroom key, do you?

BENZ: No, I thought you did.

BEEMER: I did, but I gave it to –

They both share a look of horror.

BENZ & BEEMER: SUZIE!!!

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Freddy is the Founder & Creative Strategist of Atomic Tango. He also teaches at the University of Southern California (go Trojans!), shoots pool somewhat adequately, and herds cats. Freddy received his BA from Harvard and his MBA from USC.

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