Instead of plugging their SoundCloud, Twitter users are cashing in on their five minutes of fame by promoting a bedroom projector in the follow-up to their viral tweets. The marketing strategy, which promises users up to $50, has been pioneered by OceanGalaxyLight, a company selling night-sky projectors. But the images they use are not always their own, or even of their product, and experts doubt just how effective the technique really is.
There’s nothing new about a bit of promotion under a viral tweet. When Twitter introduced threading in 2017, viral tweeters began sharing their SoundClouds, Instagrams and PayPals under their tweets. Thus, the ubiquitous “wow this blew up! While you’re here…” was born. Around six months ago, one company began exploiting this prime advertising real estate. OceanGalaxyLight started reaching out to users who’d gone viral and asking them to post an ad for their projector, in exchange for quick cash. The projector shines a galactic scene onto bedroom ceilings and is sold at $49.99.Take a look under any viral tweet and there’s a good chance you’ll see them there. When Twitter user McTapia’s tweet about coronavirus cases at the University of Alabama started going viral, a promo account for OceanGalaxyLight got in touch via DM. “Hi! Could we payfor [sic] a promotiion [sic] under your tweet?” the message read. “At first glance, they were pretty sketchy. The account only had 233 followers,” McTapia told Motherboard via Twitter DM. The promo account asked for his CashApp account and—before even having the chance to discuss rates or get his agreement—it had sent over $20 and the text for the promoted tweet.
McTapia’s original viral tweet went on to get 11 million impressions and over 60,000 retweets. His follow-up tweet, promoting the OceanGalaxyLight projector, got 253,150 impressions. 1,391 of those users clicked the link to OceanGalaxyLights website.
“At the time they messaged, I had over 1 million engagements and only got $20. So I know in the marketing world they exploited the heck out of the tweet," he said. "Not that I care much, I got free money from tweeting. But in the future I might try to negotiate more." Some users were paid up to $50 for the shoutout, while others were paid as little as $15.Nik Speller, Strategy and Partnerships Director at the marketing company Influencer, said that a social media influencer can expect anything from 3 cents to 30 cents per impression for a sponsored post. That means, for the 250,000 impressions McTapia achieved, he might have been paid $7500.But Speller says it's not the best comparison. “Obviously, the tweet shown with the product is irrelevant to the viral tweet, so although it gets seen by a lot of people, it probably doesn’t deliver much," he said. “The key elements of any influencer campaign are relevancy, authenticity, and frequency. This approach fails on pretty much all three, so I doubt it returns much in terms of brand recall, product awareness, or sales."OceanGalaxyLight is one of a huge number of "starry night light projector" brands selling seemingly identical products. The websites are almost cookie-cutter copies of one another, and many even use the same images.Bry, another Twitter user who would only give his first name, purchased a projector from BlissLights and tweeted a picture in 2019. A year later, he came across his own photo being used to promote a different company’s product: OceanGalaxyLight. He’d never heard of the company, and he hadn’t bought a light from them.
And it wasn’t just OceanGalaxyLight—the image is now featured on more than 70 websites. It was being used to promote the LED Bluetooth Nebula Cloud Galaxy Projector 2.0 from TheLitLights, the Nebula GalacticGlo Projector, the Astro Projector from AstroXLit, the Projecteur-Galaxie from Funky Lampes and many others. When Bry tweeted that his photo was being used without permission, OceanGalaxyLight promised to “investigate” and remove the photo. At the time of writing, the picture is still featured on their website. Not only is it being used without attribution or permission, Bry told Motherboard, it isn’t even their product. OceanGalaxyLight did not respond to Motherboard's requests for comment.A nearly identical product is available for $15.99 on the Chinese online marketplace AliExpress. It has led some to accuse OceanGalaxyLight of dropshipping—the practice of shipping a cheap product directly from a manufacturer to the consumer at a huge mark-up. When confronted, the company denied it, according to a Twitter DM conversation shared with Motherboard. Whatever the case may be, Speller thinks it's unlikely OceanGalaxyLight's approach is making bank off its viral promotion endeavor. “Instead, the company are just kidding themselves into buying vanity metrics at a very low price."