It is this strange dichotomy which makes online guerilla marketing such a delicate dance, and why people like Jack (who have become so adept at juggling the moral ambiguities of the job) consider themselves elite movers and shakers in the internet community and - oddly - morally superior to the rest of us.
"It's evil," Jack says. "I'm evil, and I will make you buy this commercial item or visit some site using any means necessary. That's my job, and I have to admit, I'm pretty damn good at it. I don't believe people are dumb while they are online, they just 'relax their minds.' They want to be dumbly entertained just like [when] watching TV. But I ... pity them, because they don't expect it and I blindside them. They don't know what they are getting themselves into by going online."
What they are "getting themselves into" is an advertising engine which is rapidly surpassing television in market share and effectiveness. Pundits, analysts and even some journalists have taken to calling it "Web 2.0," in an effort - one supposes - to comprehend this new, larger and more participatory iteration of the barely 30-year-old computer networking technology. The youth of today, however (that magic percentage of people falling into the 18 to 24 demographic), simply call it "the internet," and have been using it their entire lives.
To the millions of potential young consumers populating sites like Myspace, the internet is a communication tool, an information store, a recreational exercise, a friend, a confidant and a place to pick up chicks. It is, quite simply, the place where life unfolds, and it is through this medium that those who make their bread by convincing others to spend theirs are hoping to fill the rapidly growing advertising vacuum in the living rooms of America.
That's where Jack comes in. Disguising himself as just another consumer turning to the internet for entertainment, advice and counsel, he prowls community forums looking for an opportunity to share his "opinion" of his clients' products and services. But his task isn't easy. Part of the reason many consumers are turning away from television in the first place is the pervasiveness of advertising, and they will not hesitate to thwart the efforts of marketers in what they deem as "their space." For Jack, this is what makes his job both challenging and fun - avoiding detection becomes a game, and one that Jack is incredibly good at.
"I've never been caught," he says. "No accusations have been made to or about the companies I've worked for or any of the clients that I have done work for. Most of the time, I can [spot an OGM like me]. I say 'most of the time' because there are others out there that are as successful as I am, and I have not noticed them at all. But OGMing isn't some new-fangled complex idea; companies do it all the time. Often, the companies do not employ someone trained in online guerilla marketing - they grab one of the interns and tell them to do it. Or worse, the executives get the urge to try it. I have called out 15 different companies that have unsuccessfully tried to OGM their product because they were so obvious."
Jack then lists a number of companies whose OGMs he's "outed." They are mainly technology and entertainment companies; one of which is among the largest entertainment media conglomerates in the world. To that company, Jack offers this bit of advice: "Seriously, did you think posting your press release with the exact same wording across a dozen sites (saying 'what a new cool show! OMG!'), with different usernames, using the same IP that resolved back to your home office, wouldn't be noticed? I can't even think of how to [do] worse.