The Happy Birthday Colin trend has hit a new low, in my opinion. Just as I thought it would. Days before his actual birthday, ABC hopped on board and took the chance to come up with the publicity stunt of a lifetime. The idea was that Colin would see the Facebook page on his birthday (which is March 9th). Instead, he found out about the whole thing at Good Morning America.
And I for one, find the whole idea disgusting. Not even a shred of what was supposed to be transmitted through this was preserved. Everything became nothing more than a cheap, way overrated hype. Watch the video below and share your opinion in the comment section.
And this is how you cheat over two million people into caring.
I’ve already discussed how Facebook isn’t really the greatest resource you would want to rely on when it comes to social media marketing. But there are some things it’s great at, like promoting events, artists, noteworthy people and, ultimately, life stories. And the Happy Birthday Colin page falls inside the last category, clearly showing how a simple idea can create a huge, complex hype. However, concerning this particular scenario – at what cost?
Colin’s Story Gone Viral, In a Nutshell
Colin, a 10-year-old from Richland, MI will turn 11 on March 9th (2014). His mom asked him whether he’d like a birthday party. He apparently said there was no point to it, given that he’s got no friends at school and so, nobody would come. On the Facebook page, his mom tells us that due to some disabilities, he’s acting out in school and other kids don’t take kindly to his behavior. In response, his mom decided to create the Happy Birthday Colin Facebook page where people could express their support for the little guy. Then, on his birthday, she will show him the page and hopes that Colin will be glad so many people from across the world took interest in his condition and predicament.
As I’m writing this, the page has over 2 million ‘Likes’. I would not be surprised if it hit 3 million by March 9th. At first, local news outlets picked up the story, but now, you can even read about it on Huff Post, The International Business Times and even Daily Mail Online.
How Does the Happy Birthday Colin Page Fit into the Marketing Niche?
It’s simple. Nobody can say that hearing of this story won’t get us a bit mushy inside. We’re humans, we empathize – it’s what we do. Of course we’re driven by our melting hearts to ‘Like’, ‘Share’ and promote this sort of stuff. But in this particular case, I was a bit skeptic from the start. I mean, the boy looks normal to me. His condition has not been made public and I won’t go so far as to say that he may just be a little smarter than his schoolmates. This would totally fit the bill and would explain why other kids won’t hang around Colin.
For the sake of argument, let’s suppose that his condition is real and is the source of his predicament – having no friends. Whatever the case, it’s hard to deny the impact the page made on the web. And that’s plain old marketing as far as I’m concerned. Just look at the posts – many ‘thank you’ posts, acknowledgements towards someone making a video, creating a picture or even writing a post about it. People love to know there’s a chance their voices might be heard and could make a difference. And in this case, they do. So messages are flooding in and posts are liked and shared constantly. But to what end?
Everybody Seems to be Missing the Point
First of all, I got pretty excited at first, thinking “Well, this is definitely new and interesting”. But then I saw pictures of Colin’s parents getting home with a van full of toys, games and postcards from around the world. That’s when I suddenly became slightly bothered by the whole thing. I can understand a Facebook like and a nice ‘Happy Birthday Colin’-type message posted on the page. That was the idea the mom had at first, wasn’t it? To get people’s support, not gladly receive a bunch of gifts for Colin. But they did (receive lots of presents) and had no problem with it which, in my book, turns the whole thing around and makes it something that it was not supposed to be – begging for attention. Or, at least, I hope it wasn’t about getting attention.
I won’t go over how there are starving kids all around the world, or that some communities of our fellow human beings lack drinking water. And I won’t point at people sending loads of gifts to a kid living comfortable with his family in the US. To each his own – everybody’s free to do as they will with their hard-earned cash. But I will ask this – how do presents, postcards and ‘likes’ on Facebook constitute a remedy for Colin’s problem (which we are led to believe is the lack of friends)? He’ll still be alone on his birthday (if what his mother posted on Facebook is true), having only his family around. Like he does now. Nothing will change. And kids can (and will) be mean, so I won’t be surprised if this whole attention trend directed towards Colin will only cause more spite and jealousy in his peers, further diminishing his odds at getting accepted into any conceivable social group at school.
Even so, I do wish the kid a sincere ‘Happy Birthday, Colin!’ And I do hope that all goes well for him. However, I can’t help but be reluctant in believing that after the 9th of March, it would all have been for nothing. Even worse, that it could actually do more harm than good.