In Internet parlance, it’s known as the Barbara Streisand Effect: when you push for a desired effect via publicity and the attention gives you the opposite effect. For Streisand, it happened when she decided to go nuclear on some paparazzi who were publishing images of her lavish California home. Because she is so famous when she started demanding privacy regarding the location and layout of her home, soon the whole Internet knew where her property was located, what it looked like, and when her most recent rhinoplasty took place.
By the way, Wikipedia got the definition of the Streisand Effect wrong, fyi. It’s about a misdirect that fails due to the magnetism of fame. Anyway, that’s not why we’re here.
When Marketing Stunts Get Hooked on Meth and Set Their Hair on Fire
Just three years later, in 2006, the CEO of the identity theft protection company LifeLock, Tod Davis, decided to pull a stunt designed to exhibit confidence in his service. He published his social security number on the sides of cargo trucks in New York City and on his website. His claim, “LifeLock makes your personal information useless to a criminal.”
Well, there were precisely 13 criminals who thought otherwise. That’s right, Davis had his identity stolen 13 times. Speaking of Internet lingo, this is what we in the business refer to as an epic fail. On the website, he posted his gringing mug, his SSN in bold print, and the following message, “I’m Todd Davis of LifeLock. Yes, that is really my social security number. No, I’m not crazy…”
Needless to say, the company hit a rough patch. Not only was their CEO’s identity stolen more than a dozen times, but LifeLock received a great wet slap from the Federal Trade Commission and was fined for false advertising. Queue the “wa wa wa waaa trumpet.”
In 2007, Davis’ identity was used to obtain a $500 loan. Four months later, his SSN was used to start an AT&T cellular wireless account in Albany Georgia which racked up more than $2000 in charges. In 2017, his SSN was used an additional 7 times. Davis discovered these attacks when we went to check his credit report. Another five attacks became apparent shortly after that.
The unintended consequences of Davis’ ballsy publicity stunt wrecked his reputation and cost the company a gazillion monetary units. But he wasn’t the only victim of his brass attitude. There was no arrest made in the case of the fraudulent cellular account, which means the company was not compensated. And you can bet that most of the other victims never recovered their full damages.
A spokesperson for the Albany police said, “It’s unfortunate he chose to conduct business in that way. It’s not fair to the victims because they’re losing a pretty substantial amount of money.”
When the Spoof Comes Down
After that debacle, LifeLock’s stock value went sploosh. Investors ran away screaming and clients quietly moved on in droves, surreptitiously tucking their SSNs into their vest pockets. LifeLock became the butt of brutal jokes, and the ensuing investigation revealed that the actual service LifeLock provided was unbelievably faulty.
The FTC Chairman, Jon Leibowitz said about the company’s service, “In truth, the protection they provided left such a large hole … that you could drive that truck through it.”
After all the details of the incident came out a series of high profile articles were written with titles like;
“LifeLock Dinged $12 Million for Deceptive Business Practices”
“Police Say LifeLock Coerced Unusable Confession from Identity Theft Suspect”
“LifeLock Founder Resigns Amid Controversy”
“Lifelock Sued for Corporate Identity Theft”
Yeah, so that hurts.
It’s ALIVE! Barely
It might surprise you to know that LifeLock is not dead. They still exist. They still serve customers. And they still lock lives. Okay, that doesn’t sound so great, but you get it. But how is this possible? All you have to do is recall what we learned about the Streisand Effect.
Well, ole Babs’ namesake principle doesn’t just go in one direction. Sometimes it works like a memetics-driven rubber band and it bounces back. Today, when the average person thinks of an identity theft protection service, who do you think comes to mind? LifeLock, baby.
Now, let’s not get too excited. They aren’t opening wallets like Microsoft and Apple. But they are doing business. In fact, last October, the popular finance advice website Nerdwallet, wrote an article entitled, “LifeLock Review 2018: Is It Worth the Cost?” Yes, there’s a corpulent dose of skepticism about the company embedded in that title. But here’s what matters: they are alive in 2019.
The LifeLock services Nerdwallet reviews most highly are its automated credit monitoring and identity theft resolution. So it would seem that the company came through the curtain-fire set by Davis with some valuable life lessons. The company enables people to perform simple functions like credit checks and credit protection without having to resort to freezing their credit scores.
What’s more, the company is charging more for its monthly service ($30 a month in 2018 compared to $10 in 2005). Sure, inflation explains part of that. But the surprising fact is that LifeLock is still breathing–and the reason for that is they are still benefiting from that 12-year-old barn fire of a publicity stunt.
The lesson here is, if you evoke the power of the Streisand Effect, the resulting publicity could enable you to survive the fallout of a nuclear holocaust. This does not mean we recommend publishing your Social Security Number. The idea here is that taking risks for more publicity is a good idea–even when it’s a really, really bad idea.
DL M has 21 years of professional writing for print and online media and has 10+ years experience as a freelance fiction editor. He’s a content creator for major corporations covering all topics for a wide range of industries, specializing in white papers, research, news content. His specialty subjects include: current events, marketing, analytics, personal development, leveraging social media, SEO, business development, cloud computing, language, and politics.