What We Can Learn From Gawker Spinning Apple’s Tablet.

Sometimes it’s important to remember it’s not just brands which can leverage the online world to execute a tour de force.

For the last 6 to 9 months, rumours of the impending Apple’s tablet have been circulating all over the internet, particularly on technology blogs like Engadget, Gizmodo, Mashable and Ars Technica. Scooping exclusive news, photos or reporting accurate rumors is where these sites make their money, and ever since Apple announce d the January 27th special announcement at Moscone Center in San Francisco new about this particular gadget exclusive news is the most coveted prize of all.

A week ago, Gawker offered a prize of $100,000 to anyone who could give the site access to an actual Apple tablet for one hour, with smaller amounts for pictures ($10,000), video ($20,000) and a bonus fee if the source could get Steve Jobs in the shot ($50,000). This isn’t exactly chump change but is nothing in comparison to the traffic, and surge in ad spending that would have resulted if Gawker had actually produced a story.

However, this was never the real intention of the post. Instead, Nick Denton and his team were trying to stir up trouble with Apple’s lawyers. If the tablet does exist, the legal team behind one of the most notoriously secretive brands in the world would have served papers under the guise of commercial confidence. If not, there’d be no need to react.

As it turns out, according to a post on Gawker, the company responded just as expected. The letter from law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe contained this line: “Apple has maintained the types of information and things you are soliciting…in strict confidence.” And that’s as close as you could possibly get to a confirmation from Apple that the tablet is actually being developed, and will be presented at the special event on JAnuary 27th.

This is undoubtedly a smart move from Gawker, but did Apple’s team know exactly what they were doing as well? You bet they did. They must have known that the blog would post the details of the discussions with Apple’s lawyers, just like they have done in the past with other brand giants. I can’t believe Apple was totally in the dark on this, and since a heavily followed blog was involved, Apple’s communications team would have been consulted before calling the lawyers to ask for a cease and desist letter.

This is a win-win situation for both parties involved: Gawker gets to break the news (the veiled confirmation) and Apple increases viral media buzz in its new product before launch. However, brand managers take heed: unless you’re the size of Apple, and have a reputation for extreme secrecy, denying something is only of benefit for so long. Apple is hardly begrudging the extra publicity but, for most brands, a lack of transparency just irritates and excludes people instead of encouraging them. This plays well for Gawker because like TMZ, they use sensationalism to promote their brand and sell ad space. This plays well for Apple because it pours more fuel on the hype machine fire Apple thrives on before a product launch. This doesn’t mean that other brands can’t take advantage of similar tactics.

Think about the hype build up that Apple has built around this product, and how they have done it. Over the last 9 months they have slowly allowed rumor and speculation to build, based I’m sure on strategically released leaks to tech blogs, and other news media. As the frenzy builds, they use challenges like the one from Gawker to enhance the already fever pitch excitement. I can think of any number of companies that could benefit from this kind of marketing strategy to help invigorate and grow their stagnant brand identities.

Now I know what I’ll be watching on January 27th. Every Live Blog of Apple’s event at Moscone.