2 March 2010
ChatRoulette has seen its first branded involvement in the form of French Connection, the British-based fashion retailer.
It had to happen. ChatRoulette, internet phenom of the moment, has seen its first branded involvement in the form of French Connection, the British-based fashion retailer with stores worldwide.
ChatRoulette, in case you've managed to miss it, is an interface designed by a 17-year-old Russian (no word of a lie - click here for the New York Times piece) which throws random strangers into webcam chats together, or a text-only chat if you prefer. As with all new web platforms, it lasted about five minutes before it was co-opted for sexual purposes. The last user numbers suggest that men outnumber women on the site 10-1, and that a large percentage of the chats end with an unflinching view of the male genitalia. In this wonderful video, ChatRoulette user Casey Neistat breaks down his own experience of the site, documented the users throughout a period of the working days as '71% male, 15% female, 14% pervert'. http://vimeo.com/9669721French Connection is known mostly for mid-range womenswear, yet has been attempting to push its menswear range with the launch of an enigmatic position based around the notion of 'The Man, The Woman'. 'This is the woman,' proclaim the ads, in language less FCUK and more BFG. 'She is knowing we are watching'. In order to create a little buzz around this campaign, on March 1st, the chain announced the launch of a competition asking men to use the service in order to set up an actual, real life date with an actual, real life girl. The first to do so, and prove it, will receive a £250 French Connection voucher. All they need do is post the results of their conversation on the French Connection blog, get it past the fact-checkers, and the voucher is theirs. According to French Connection's head of ecommerce and direct marketing Jennifer Roebuck, 'The whole point of the men's blog is to have content on the topic of manly things while merging in topics that are current, which this fits perfectly,' she said. In this instance it was the perfect challenge asking men if they're manly and bold enough to do it. We're known for being provocative, our heritage comes from this and we're not afraid to engage with new things.' There's a lot to be said for the PR value inherent in being the first brand on board a new platform, particularly one as novel and divisive as ChatRoulette. French Connection has also kick-started the competition and justified participants' time by providing some kind of tangible reward in the form of vouchers.
However, to our minds, this cynical play for column inches seems off-brand, at a time when French Connection appeared to be taking a somewhat classier direction than the weak FCUK puns that dominated the late 90s. Still, it's a tough time for the retail sector. With several high street brands struggling, anything that encourages footfall should probably be classed as a good thing. What do you think?