Ethics, Marketing, etc. in the Internet Age!
The incredible rise in the presence of social media and the digital world has definitely affected the magical fraternity in a number of ways. Not the least of these changes is in the advertising of new magical items. The rules have changed and left everyone somewhat unsure on where they stand when buying a new effect.
With my writing for Magic New Zealand, Vanish Magazine and my blog I get a largish amount of communication on this topic. This morning I received an impassioned email from a friend (and client) who had bought a new trick based on an advert on the Internet. The effect involves a cell phone camera that takes place in the spectator’s hands, you merely gaze at the camera and it takes a photograph.
The video selling the effect is very highly edited and emits certain details from it’s content—such as the fact you need to handle the spectator’s camera in advance, and open their settings and make changes to their phone settings. Not exactly an easy thing to do unnoticed, and in my personal opinion not something that a magician should ever do. None of this is reflected in the video. The video looks great and you see an apparent miracle but it just doesn’t reflect what will actually happen during performance.
If you buy this effect you are really not getting what is represented by the flashy and highly edited video advert. In fact if you search YouTube for an extra minute or two you can find a video that details how to do the same effect after a visit to the Dollar Store. Are either of these video pieces fair game or are both of them just part of the Brave New World of Internet video?
In the old days (pre World Wide Web) magicians relied on either seeing a live demonstration in the magic shop, watching the effect performed by another magician, or reading a description in a magic catalogue. Obviously watching an effect live was the better method to choose your next purchase. A contemporary sales video would appear to be a useful extension of this method, but not if the effect is edited and camera work used to mislead the purchaser. This is even less honest than some of the dodges contained in magic catalogues that used the printed word to paint half an image.
Nowadays anyone with an iPhone is walking around with a mini-TV studio in his inside pocket. If you add some selective live footage, suitably edited, then you have a very confusing piece of sales propaganda that can make a magician part company with his money when he never would have after a live demonstration. There is now an entire breed of “YouTube Magicians” whose entire plan is to perpetrate the exact same thing on a video posted under their own name. They may have no problem with that particular sales tool, if true live performance isn’t their goal.
As an owner of a “boutique” Internet magic line that deals primarily in polished and fully developed routines, that have taken years to polish— I face a slightly different problem. A great many buyers expect to see full performance clips of items that you are selling. While in theory this is a nice idea, I have very mixed emotions about whether you need to fully expose the nature and handling of every item you market.
I have had performers openly tell me that they just took the jokes, plots and lines from my routines and didn’t buy the routine. I don’t think this is fair either to me as a dealer or to the performers who actually buy the routine. I feel it is quite justifiable to make an edited video version of the routine—not to conceal the weaknesses but to preserve a little mystique about the actual routine. Probably something of a combination is in order and it is necessary to come up with a new approach to what is fair to the creator, marketer and purchaser. We are entering new territory here and the double-edged sword that is video marketing needs to be very carefully controlled by the person who ultimately posts the video. The buck stops there.
Where does using tricks and trickery to sell tricks cross an acceptable line? Now that brick and mortar magic stores are disappearing faster than white rhinos is it fair to expect the creator of specific magical intellectual property to give everything away for free on a video? It is a tricky and thorny problem that is made all the more difficult by having no authorized authority to give balanced input when needed.
Of course there are certain online forums where anonymous writers can weigh in in topics that they know nothing about— with all the authority of an actual expert. I recently read a run down about the weaknesses in a highly specialized effect I market (after spending 35 years perfecting) ending with suggestion that it was not worth the purchase price. It was quite convincing reading other than the fact that the poster had NO idea how the effect was accomplished, how it differed from previous methods, and what actually happens in the routine. This didn’t stop him airing his ignorance!
Irritating—of course it is! It was also extremely uninformative and bad advice to any person reading it who thought they was getting measured or informed knowledge. The inexperienced/uninformed magician on the Internet is given equal access to dispensing advice as an actual expert. The Internet has become a powerful form of digital steroid to the self-important idiot!
To sum it up, the Internet is still the Wild West. Digital advertising whether by video or word of mouth is capable of being much more useful AND misleading than your old Tannen’s catalogue. Shop with care…