The MegaStunt.

If you’ve ever considered spending large amounts of money on a PR stunt but aren’t sure what sort of results it will yield – read on.

While in Auckland over Christmas, I watched the Kim Dotcom saga unfold with friends and family sharing first-hand opinions. Mostly a dry joke and nod to its sheer ridiculousness.

Dotcom, founder of now defunct Megaupload, is under investigation by the FBI for Internet piracy of seismic proportions. Despite a previous dossier of international Internet crimes committed from Hong Kong to Germany, Dotcom has managed to establish a home in New Zealand and launch his new controversial file sharing platform, Mega.

Dotcom, in one word, is a maverick. Someone who bends the rules (or breaks them entirely) in order to achieve his goals. His surname is a red flag having been legally changed to celebrate his success with Megaupload. The onslaught of publicity stunts has been both shocking, entertaining, a bit weird – and crude.

File-sharing has always been fertile ground for the digital Robin Hoods and Dotcom is tapping into an anti-establishment undercurrent. It’s designed to win reputation rather than earn it, hide from a criminal record and of course, drive membership for Mega.

Mavericks are not always bad. In fact, Kiwis love mavericks. It takes a madness to make progress sometimes. Willing to stick out, stand up or risk looking losing face to champion a new idea. This is part of the Kiwi mentality.

So, enter Dotcom and the launch of Mega which featured a fake FBI raid and female dancers in military uniform. Sticking it to the man? Tempting fate?

His tactics began long before these circus shows. Gaining permanent residency in 2010, Dotcom had made $50,000 donations each to the Auckland’s Mayor, John Banks, Christchurch’s earthquake recovery fund and an injured rugby player. Further assessment of Dotcom’s tactics reveals he:

  • Donated money to fund an awesome fireworks display in Auckland Harbour on new year’s eve in 2010
  • Released a song titled Amnesia, to embarrass the Mayor of Auckland who “forgot” he and Dotcom were acquaintances.
  • Staged NZ’s own Willy Wonka which involved handing out free ice cream with a handful of golden tickets among them, permitting access to his mansion for a grand tour (creepy?)
  • Largely funding the development of a new cable network so that has enough bandwidth to work at its full potential and is promising free broadband.

At 6ft 7 and weighting 130kg this man is a monstrosity of both physical and sociological proportions. Is he harmful to New Zealand society with his lack of business ethics or consideration for the law? Or is he simply a competitive and savvy businessman capable of outsmarting his competitors (and accusers)?

Ostensibly, half of New Zealand’s public support Kim Dotcom. Keep in mind that in terms of New Zealand’s small population that is likely to be less than 1 million people (excusing babies, children and people who simply aren’t interested). However, many seem to consider him some kind of Santa-Clausesque-Rockstar following the launch of Mega in Auckland. Of his accusations of piracy, he said:

“It’s a little bit like a nightmare. Unexpected. Horrifying for my family, for my wife – who’s pregnant with twins, has nightmares and is feeling miserable.” when speaking with NZ TV journalist, John Campbell.

Unexpected!? Interesting turn of phrase for a fugitive. The real nightmare, is that the New Zealand public had a more favourable view of Dotcom than its own Mayor of Auckland, John Banks, according to a news poll conducted in October 2012. Dotcom’s own goodwill campaign is possibly the most profile-raising exercise ever seen in New Zealand’s recent history.

This is not a sustainable, long term engagement strategy. Dotcom’s business model is not sustainable. Eventually, after breaking more laws, in more countries, the law will pounce and the public will bore of his gimmicky antics. But, for now, it appears media spend translates to popularity.

Dotcom is layering icing on a mud pie. Half the New Zealand population aren’t dining; to those Kiwis eating it up, prepare for disillusionment.

image credit: II the stranger I