A post-mortem of the Yacht sex tape. What they did right, what they did wrong, and what marketers should learn

I promise, I’m not the type that downloads leaked sex tapes.

To date I’ve still never seen Kim K’s infamous Ray J video that sky rocketed her to infamy, nor was I temped by the The Fappening that caught everyone from Jennifer Lawrence to Kate Upton. I don’t want to be part of victimizing those whose photos are stolen, nor do I care to feed the hype of those who fake a leak for the publicity.

On Monday evening, however, I found myself with credit card in hand agonizing over whether I should download the leaked tape of one of my favorite bands. It helps with temptation that Kim K and JLaw are such tremendous public figures they scarcely seem real, but the band Yacht feel like old friends. From LA to Austin, I’ve seen the Portland duo more than almost any other band. Only one night before I found myself hemming and hawing over the download, I had actually been corresponding with them on Instagram.

In a nutshell, the band had announced on its Facebook page that a private sex tape had been leaked by a third party and they were asking fans to respect their privacy and avoid downloading it. Media from Pitchfork to Gawker quickly picked up the story, and fans filled the comments with messages of sympathy and support. Flames were fanned even further when a few hours later the band announced that they were taking ownership and control of the leak by publishing the video for themselves for a $5 fee. They still didn’t want you to watch it, the video contained things that some people might find shocking, but if you must, they requested you download it from them.

So there I sat fighting an internal battle between my feminist sense of justice and my curiosity over a tantalizing video of one of the cutest couples in indie rock. Luckily, before I had to compromise any morals news started trickling in that anyone purchasing was being redirected to a 404 page and wasn’t being charged. That’s when it started to come into focus that we were all the butt of, at best, a very bad joke, and, at worst, a totally tasteless PR stunt.

YACHT Tomboys.0.0

There are a few things out there that you still can’t joke about and sexual assault is one of those. Revenge porn is a horrific problem that can drive victims to suicide, and that US states are finally starting to take action on. Having to recently watch  sports reporter Erin Andrews in her fight against secretly filmed nude videos was agonizing. In the back of the mind of any person who has ever take a nude pic, is the fear that someone will use it as a weapon against them, and tons of people have experienced this very situation.

I can imagine the horror spreading across the couple’s faces as responses trickled in. On Tuesday, a day I’m sure Yacht had anticipated dropping a new music video, raking in press, and having pundits marvel at their wit, they instead released an apology. Unfortunately it wasn’t much of one.

The coals on all of this are still pretty hot, but we’re going to sift through the ashes and look at what the media-savvy Yacht did right, and where they went horribly horribly wrong. Let’s start with the positive.

They got their friends to play along
Yacht are no slouch when it comes to PR and hacking the news cycle. They had a song that streamed only during Uber surging periods, and their whole shtick frames the band as a cult-like organization. Enlisting famous friends like Miranda July in the stunt gave credence to the theory that the video may be legit.

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They made a really quality video and used native channels
I’m not going to ruin the surprise but the video is actually pretty great. It’s very on brand for the band, well done, and low budget. They also loaded it on Pornhub and PirateBay rather than Youtube or Vimeo. Without giving too much away, it would probably pass the censors for those sites, but instead they went for a more native content location on the hubs for web smut.

Somewhere in this terrible stunt really was a good idea
As I sat there with that credit card in hand, I really did have to reflect on the fact that I hadn’t laid down cash for Yacht’s latest album but I’d been quick to shell out to see their dirty laundry. A sex tape has been a PR strategy for everyone from Kim Kardashian to Farrah Abrams, and they do it because it works. It’s actually fairly clever to hack the press for your band, while at the same time making a statement about media, privacy, and supporting musicians.

Unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way. Here’s where Yacht messed up.

They played victim
If Yacht had seeded the video to the press, to their friends, on to these porn sites, and with fan influencers and then just shut up, I think they would have gotten what they wanted. The video is actually quality enough that I think people would be willing to play along to see the “blue waffles” style shock on others’ faces. However, Yacht made multiple statements about how they were victimized and how the video was stolen and an invasion of their privacy. Even a short statement of “We understand a private video of us has started circulating. We’re still trying to make sense of the situation now that our unconventional sex life is public. We’ll be issuing a response soon.” They pulled at our heart strings and turned themselves into the new balloon boy.

They didn’t check their tech
The strategy Yacht took was bad, but their tech execution was arguably worse. You see, they didn’t code that site to throw up a 404 when people purchased the video, it was actually an error and they likely missed out on collecting thousands of dollars. The developer, Daniel Bogan, included his Twitter handle at the footer of the site, and Tuesday morning announced he clearly had not carefully read the terms of service for the Stripe payment service. Stripe doesn’t allow adult content. A few hours later he would make his account private. This was an amateur hour. They took went to all the effort to strategize this, film a video, reach out to friends, but didn’t close the loop by QAing their tech.

They didn’t genuinely apologize
When you screw up, you need to own up. By far the biggest sin of all was responding with a half assed apology that pointed the finger at the media for its “irresponsible leap from ‘celebrity sex tape’…to ‘revenge porn.’” But that was exactly the situation Yacht implied with its statements. Yacht hijacked the tendency of the media to post about leaked sex tapes then blamed them for calling the tape leaked.

If this scandal was your first introduction to Yacht, let me apologize on their behalf and assure you this lapse is unlike them. Try to quell your anger while you listen to Shangri LA or Psychic City.

And if perchance this post should make its way to Jona and Claire themselves…

As a digital marketer myself I see the value of playing with emerging trends and technology and taking big swings to break through all the noise. But when we take big swings, we sometimes have big misses and this was one. You have always said that Yacht is a holy trinity: The Business, The Band, and the Belief System, and I’ve admired your frankness that working in the music industry is as much about business as it is beats. The Band is still good, but you need to take a moment to think about the Business and the Belief System.