Jumio and the “Anti-Cash League”: Adventures in Viral Video

3/18/11Follow @wroush

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an outdated way to pay for things. We believe the future of money is purely digital and that, like many other mediums—eight-track tapes, CDs, books, et cetera—cash is kind of a dying form.”

Winters says that Jumio was joking—mostly—about the health and sanitary dangers of paper cash. “We’re serious that cash is an old medium and that it does present problems, the extreme being sanitary issues,” she says. “But we were intentionally extreme/tongue in cheek on the point to boost virality and interest.”

But was the Sebastian Cole video too effective? Among the nearly 80 people who commented on the Huffington Post story on the Saverin investment, only a handful seemed to recognize that the video was tongue-in-cheek. In fact, one commenter accused Jumio of using scare tactics. “Eduardo Saverin & company get a Grade D- on believability and an A+ on using fear tactics to line their pockets,” this commenter said.

But Jumio and its PR team aren’t worried about a serious backlash from the video—in part, they say, because it doesn’t stretch the facts very far. “Cash is dirty, it is inconvenient, it is all the things we said,” says Markham. “It’s just that we dialed up the drama.”

Jesse Odell, co-founder and managing partner at LaunchSquad, says the firm thinks of semi-fictional or mockumentary videos like the Jumio production as part of “a new way of thinking about what PR is.” But he says the approach wouldn’t be appropriate for all of the firm’s clients. “It’s definitely something we think about and get involved with for the right clients. But it has to be the right story and the right use of it, otherwise it falls flat.”

So, why did Jumio and LaunchSquad make Sebastian Cole a Brit? “We wanted someone who sounded very educated, but who would also be believably fussy and picky about all the dirt phobias,” Markham says. Adding a British accent, he says, made the persona “a little less irritating…we felt it was more natural for that type of character.”

Winters says, by the way, that the name Sebastian Cole is not a veiled reference to the 1998 film The Adventures of Sebastian Cole, about a New York teenager whose father undergoes a sex change operation. “Pure coincidence,” she says. “The team just thought it sounded like a great, credible, British-sounding name.”

Wade Roush is Chief Correspondent and Editor At Large at Xconomy. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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