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BuzzFeed’s Favorite Marketing ‘Bot’ Account Is a Weird Product Launch Stunt

In case you spend even more time trolling blogs and Twitter feeds than we do, you’ve probably heard of horse_ebooks. Here are prime examples of the feed at work, posted over the past week:

You get the idea. It appeared to be the perfect encapsulation of all the things we love/hate about Twitter and social in general: unintentionally hilarious snippets of automated spam copy promoting random self-published ebooks and posted without so much as a thought toward order or logic.

Many wondered over time how such a beautiful thing came to be. But, as revealed this morning in The New Yorker (of all places) by acclaimed novelist Susan Orlean (of all people), horse_ebooks is no bot—it’s BuzzFeed creative director Jacob Bakkila and partner Thomas Bender, who worked there “until about a year ago.”

The two somehow acquired the feed from the real-life spammer who created it, and they’ve been working on this bizarre art project for two years. (They apparently had no problem pitching it for what looks to be an upcoming profile.)

There’s also an associated YouTube page called “Pronunciation Book” which is pretty much just that:

The reason they pitched their reveal became clear this morning as Gawker covered the “product launch” event, appropriately scheduled right in the middle of advertising week. It seemed like a launch party for some sort of James Franco-style virtual reality game called Bear Stearns Bravo, and it proved to be even more pretentiously self-aware than we’d dreamed.

The most interesting thing about his big stunt reveal to us is that BuzzFeed used the very same fake feed as a source for stories many times over the past two years. Apparently the work was so good that multiple writers remained convinced that it was a real spam bot.

Bakkila told Orleans: “No one wants to work on a painting forever. When it’s done, it’s done. We’re ready for the experience of whatever this next piece is.”

The point here: true, well-played stunts are difficult to execute and nearly impossible to do well, because in almost every case of fake viral marketing the hand behind the curtain becomes too obvious over time. Also: there is a true art to being funny on Twitter and we don’t come anywhere close.

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