Chatroulette – a step too far?

As we all know, for some time now, media-savvy companies have been taking full advantage of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, for a combination of brand-building, direct sales, customer service and PR. This has left us all wondering what will be the next big ‘thing’.

Could it be the controversial Chatroulette? For those of you that have had your head in the sand for the past few months, this is a video dating/exhibitionism site, started at the end of last year, which randomly connects users from around the world, enabling them to communicate using webcam, text and images. On closer inspection, users share webcam footage with each other and much of it is of a rather dubious nature – and that’s putting it mildly!

Despite what its critics say, the site is growing massively by the day and according to comScore, Chatroulette drew 960,000 U.S. visitors in February, up from 109,000 in January.

So, how can brands benefit from such a strange, sometimes obscene, phenomenon?

With the general user-base being made up of people who want to expose themselves, people looking for nudity, and curious/new users, there aren’t a lot of brands that would knowingly market themselves to digital exhibitionists, but its growing attention does present an opportunity for brands. In light of this, surely brands should ask themselves a question before trying out any new medium — especially one with a shady reputation. What do they hope to get out of it?

One brand has bitten the marketing bullet and dipped its toes in the murky waters of Chatroulette. French Connection is currently using the site to run a competition where men are being asked to set up a real date with a girl on the site. The bloke not only gets a date but also £250 worth of French Connection vouchers. The competition is part of French Connection’s The Man, The Woman campaign launched in February, which aims to draw more attention to its men’s range of clothing.

Personally, I’m not entirely convinced. Is this merely a case of social media bandwagon hopping? Brands who want to be perceived as edgy simply jumping on to the hot new thing in social media? And do we really want to see the naked truth?

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