Confused? You’re not alone. Depending on what you’ve read since Tuesday night, the bands were either planning to tour together, release albums on the same day or perhaps even open a joint checking account. And it’s all thanks to a pair of viral marketing campaigns that somehow merged into one, befuddling not only legions of both bands’ fans, but the bands themselves.
The story is ongoing — as all things “viral” must certainly be — and there are plenty of twists and turns yet to be revealed, but for sanity’s sake, here’s our attempt to clear up a little of the confusion. As far as we know, these are the facts:
On Monday, the Web site of FOB bassist Pete Wentz’s label, Decaydance Records was hacked by a group calling themselves “Citizens for Our Betterment.” That was met with a decidedly “eh” reaction from fans on message boards — until the following morning, when paparazzi photos of Wentz’s wife, Ashlee Simpson, began to make the rounds, showing her clearly (almost too clearly) holding a pamphlet for the same group.
Almost instantly, the boards began to buzz. Was this all some sort of incredibly bizarre way of beginning promotion on FOB’s new album , which Wentz had told MTV News would be out later this year? A look at this mysterious group’s Web Site, coupled with a few bizarre blog posts from Wentz himself and the fact that members of the Decaydance act the Cab had suddenly taken to performing with “Citizens for Our Betterment” scrawled on their guitars, only seemed to confirm this suspicion (not to mention the organization’s initials are CFOB). The site repeatedly pointed to a date — November 4, 2008 (which is also Election Day) — adding to the speculation that the new FOB album would hit stores in early November.
And everything began to hum along … until things got weird(er).
On Tuesday night, fans began to notice that the Citizens site now linked to another page, RunRightBacktotheStart.com, which eventually took you further into the rabbit hole to a simpler site, YouAreMySunshineAlbum.com, featuring a photograph of some trees with “October 14, 2008″ scribbled beneath it. Perhaps that’s the date the first single from the album would drop?
Now it seemed like fans had the release date and title of the new Fall Out album, plus the date they could expect to hear the debut single, and there was much “OMG-ing.” Only that rejoicing was shortsighted, because this is where Copeland got involved.
See, what those fans didn’t know was that the Citizens site from which they had begun their link-fueled voyage wasn’t Fall Out Boy’s, it was CitizensFourOurBetterment.com (“four” as opposed to “for”), a mirror site Copeland launched to hijack a little buzz and promote an album of their own. Just how they managed to trick fans into heading to their site and not FOB’s is still unclear (though it probably has something to do with an unintentional — or not — typo on a Fall Out Boy Livejournal fan site, but the fact remains that suddenly, two viral campaigns had merged into one, and no one seemed to be aware of it.
And as a direct effect of that crossover, all the subtle tricks Copeland had created to promote their album — a sticky web that included not only the RunRightBacktotheStart.com and YouAreMySunshineAlbum.com sites, but also a phony professor named Peter A. Steepale (whose name, when unscrambled, spells out the title of Copeland’s 2006 album, Eat, Sleep, Repeat), his equally phony nonprofit organization and a YouTube page featuring a mysterious clip of a song being sung backwards — had now suddenly infiltrated FOB’s viral world. It was no longer clear whether anyone involved had any control over the carefully plotted campaigns they had designed. The viral, it would seem, had really gone viral.
It would also seem that Copeland had some serious explaining to do. After all, they had stolen all of Fall Out Boy’s thunder. And when MTV News reached out to frontman Aaron Marsh for comment on the entire situation, he did explain. Sort of.
“We had been discussing a viral campaign for three or four months now, placing some stuff on the Net, so some of this was just wacky timing,” Marsh said. “The whole concept behind our campaign was that we wanted people to be looking at our Web site while they were thinking they were looking at someone else’s. So we were poking around, and then FOB started their site, so we decided to use theirs. There was nothing malicious about it; we just saw an opportunity to reel in way more people.
“And when I think about how it might affect Fall Out Boy, all I can say is that Pete’s a clever bloke, and he probably would’ve done the same thing had he thought of it,” he continued. “I mean, think about it: The two campaigns are very similar — theirs is supposed to look like an ominous organization that’s mucking around. The way [the two campaigns] crossed didn’t hurt anyone.”
Marsh said neither he nor his bandmates had heard anything from Fall Out Boy or their management, and he added that the FOB site wasn’t the only one to receive the Copeland treatment. They had also launched a mirror of popular scene site AbsolutePunk.net — theirs used the URL Abso1utePunk.net (the number 1 instead of an “L”) — which also linked to their various viral sites.
And to clear everything up even further, he confirmed that, yes, You Are My Sunshine is the name of the upcoming Copeland album, coming out October 14 on Tooth & Nail Records. And no, Fall Out Boy has nothing to do with any of that.
“The whole idea was mocking other sites, and if life went according to plan, you would’ve seen that continue, instead it got ripped to shreds overnight,” Marsh said. “But, like I said, this wasn’t done maliciously. And everything I’ve heard about Pete is that he’s a marketing kind of guy; he’s the king of making people talk and ruffling feathers, so he would’ve done the same thing if he could have. So if Fall Out Boy fans are mad about this whole thing, well, all I can say is that Pete would’ve done the same thing.”
MTV News contacted Wentz for comment on the entire situation, and while he didn’t seem upset at Marsh or anyone in Copeland, he did admit to being pretty amazed by how far out of control the entire thing had gotten. And he added that there were still many twists to come — in fact, FOB’s Citizens site may have nothing to do with an album at all.
“To me, this is not a marketing campaign. It is a way to cause excitement about your art and have people earn it and understand it. The campaign we began is not ultimately a record release or an announcement of a tour,” he wrote in an e-mail. ” ’60—’ [the name he’s given the endeavor] has always been a project of a different nature. I don’t believe the full campaign has begun, and I also believe people are taking over the ship in a truly viral way. It doesn’t hurt anyone, and hopefully it tells the story of the project better and makes it more appreciated.”