Inbound Marketing Case Study – How a Fake Restaurant Found its Way to the Top

Many of you would have heard of the urban legend – which is not a legend by the way – of the man paid by restaurant owners to write fake reviews on TripAdvisor. Well, in 2017 an English journalist for Vice Magazine named Oobah Butler, following on from his experience with fictitious commentaries, decided to take it further and prove the enormity and the absurdity of the online reviewing system. So, he began to advertise online, his own garden shed as if it was a Londonian, fancy, secret restaurant. A restaurant that has never existed, of course.
But does it really matter what is real when you’re online?
Butler made it perfect: he asked tons of friends to post authentic reviews on TripAdvisor, he created a stunning website with an intriguing menu (“instead of meals, our menu is comprised of moods. You choose which fits your day, and our Chef interprets that,” it says) and the restaurant was listed as “by-appointment-only”, therefore no need for an address. Everything was a mock, of course. But the online community took it pretty seriously. The photos were showing picturesque, delicious meals that were actually made of industrial colorants, motor oil, plastic, glue and shaving foam. But they looked great.
Needless to say, in a brief time, his imaginary restaurant jumped to the top of TripAdvisor rankings, and next, the phone was on fire. He would receive calls like “I’ve heard so much about your restaurant… I know it’s a long shot, as you get booked up so quickly, but I don’t suppose you have a table tonight?”. Funnily enough, he would have to say the restaurant (the shed in his garden) was fully booked for the night. Consequently, people would start to book months ahead. Predictably, things became more intense: companies would start to send him free samples, people their resumes and even the local Council proposed a new location for his exclusive restaurant into their newly developed site – every restaurateur’s dream indeed.
However, due to the extreme success of “The Shed at Dulwich”, Butler felt obliged to actually open the doors to customers, at least for one night. With the help of some friends, he managed to serve a few people (asked to put on blindfolds to go through the house into the backyard) with $1.00 ready meals, even receiving good feedback. He didn’t charge any guests with the excuse of “documenting the night for a TV show”, but still Butler made his point: if he could turn his shed into the best restaurant in London, with online advertising, anything is possible.
If there is anything we can notice from this farce, it is that nowadays people really trust what they read online; that a powerful tool such as an online reviewing system can be easily manipulated; and that advertising can be deceiving.
None of this is news to us though.
Advertising is a marketing practice as ancient as trading. Indeed, advertere in Latin means “to turn towards” and early models of “ads” (intended as promotional messages) go back to the old Egyptians time, as well as the Roman Empire. Advertising evolved into more sophisticated ways in the last two centuries and we all know there is much science and crowd psychology behind it.
Word of mouth has always been the best form of advertising. Customers trust other customers more than sellers, for obvious reasons. Thanks to the internet and social media today is possible to make their voices heard on an infinitely larger scale. Online advertising is still, more than ever, counting on that voice. You may say: “but if the story of the guy who made his shed the top-rated restaurant in London online is true, that means the system is just a sham, right?.”
There are certainly some dishonest things happening out there: businesses are able to buy likes as well as good reviews – it is not a secret. The more you are willing to pay, the more exposure you will receive online. Nevertheless, you do not have to (and should not) “cheat” to become established or well-known. You do not have to “cheat” to have customer knocking on your door. In fact, “cheating” can hurt your credibility and image.
But let us not focus on the negatives of the story, what we can learn from Butler story is, that a well-branded online business can grow curiosity and increase demand in an infinitely larger scale. In order to achieve the concrete, measurable results you are looking for, you need to be noticed by those who are interested in your services. Engaging and capturing your audience online simply requires a good strategy, and the right means to communicate your product. Perhaps you would like to have an expert to help you build your own business strategy.
It is very important to understand the means that we have in our hands to reach out. In my article ‘5 Reasons Why Advertising Through Video is Effective (And How McLuhan Was Pretty Much Right)’, I explain in more detail why the medium just as important as the content itself. In times where families were gathering in a living room to watch TV after dinner, there was a different mindset compared to instantaneous accessibility that we are granted by smartphones today.
About the author:
Sofia began writing as a food and wine journalist for UK magazine, DanteMag, and has provided copyright for artists and businesses throughout Italy. Sofia is the Creative Director of AdCraft Studio and oversees her client’s creative content and copy-writing needs for successful campaigns.
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