Blowing Their (Hub)spot

June 2, 2010

I intended on continuing with the 8th course of Hubspot’s Inbound Marketing University today, but that came to a halt. While perusing through my Twitter feed I came across this:

I thought WOW, that’s kind of crazy. What happened?? Upon clicking the link you are brought to this page featuring a video from Rebecca Corliss that explains the cease and desist order that Hubspot received today. View the cease and desist order here.

I was one of the first to comment on the page because I wanted to know what was going on and how I could help. Then I noticed something fishy.

  • Emma Lewis, the Attorney who sent the letter, has a laughable website.
  • Kronus Media basically does not exist via Google.
  • Their website,, is a joke.

Hubspot’s Founder even tweeted:

At this point there were many tweets flying around as the news was spreading and concern was rising.

Anyways, I signed up to “SAVE IMU” and received a strange e-mail. It was from Captain Inbound, here’s an excerpt:

Who am I?
I’m the last person at HubSpot that hasn’t been silenced with a non-disclosure agreement. They don’t know who I am, and I’d like to keep it that way, so I’m using Captain Inbound as my alias.

Something very strange is going on, and you’re in the unique position to be able to help solve this mystery.
I can’t do it alone.”

You are then encouraged to join the Captain Inbound Agency, a new Ning community. Considering Hubspot had “just received” this letter, how would they have gotten all of this thought up and set up so fast?

That’s when I was fully convinced, I know it took me a while, that it was all a ploy in order to promote their new community. I’d like to note that the community potential is high and it can become a great engaging experience for Hubspot fans. I mean, who doesn’t like to get secret clues and try to crack codes.

Check out the Whois for and – both websites created in April of 2010.

Upon signing up for the CIA, you can provide your cell phone number to receive clues via text, you can even provide your mailing address to receive packages of clues. Within the community there is an on-line chat for members to interact with each other and Captain Inbound himself. This is where I went as far as I could with “cracking the case”.

Under the video posted by Rebecca, here, there is quite an obvious code: 978-0-470-49931-3pg16wd5let1pg34wd13let3pg43wd35let4pg59wd8let4pg60wd1let4pg66wd28let2pg88wd8let7pg100wd24let2pg119wd4let 4pg132wd4let9

978-0-470-49931-3 is the ISBN for The Inbound Marketing book. Then you can see that the rest of the code is designed to send investigators to specific letters of specific words on certain pages. I don’t own the book, so I’m already out of the running. I looked the book up on Google, but it only previews a limited number of pages.

Final thoughts:

Good job Hubspot. You had me convinced for a little while, and I’m pretty sure others are still upset and confused. While I was in the chat, I couldn’t bear to yell out “It’s staged!” to the others who were trying to figure out what’s going on, that’d be like telling a 5 year old there is no Santa. I did, however, post my opinions/discovery on Twitter.

The Kronus Media website was genius as it is the perfect traditional, outbound marketing competitor. I thought that was a nice way to promote inbound marketing. In the end, Hubspot will have received a lot of attention (website traffic, bloggers blogging, tweets, etc…) and also members to their new community. There is no telling how long this act will continue; how many clues do they have lined up and how long do they want this to last? But when it’s over I’m sure Hubspot will share their results with us, at least I hope they do.

12:45pm Update: Code has been cracked thanks to Matt Shaw

If you go through the book you get mygirlgrey. Next clue is then: @mygirlgrey – She’s an intern at the now famous Kronus Media. This will probably be my last update on the matter because I have to work. 🙂

1:15pm Update: Hubspot comes clean and announces their new Alternate Reality Game (ARG)


9 Responses to “Blowing Their (Hub)spot”

  1. Nice detective work! I’ll have to sign up. Ha!

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by CJ Bowker, Mary Beth Hamilton. Mary Beth Hamilton said: Not sure how I feel about HubSpot's hoax to promote its Ning community & ARG. Creative but feels dirty. #IMU […]

  3. Look, I don’t care for what your game is. I’ve invested my time, energy and money into promoting the free classes on my site to many people who have also benefited HubSpot by going to their site as a result.

    HubSpot needs to review it’s professional ethics and perhaps even their legal standing if they are using these unsavory tactics to manufacture interest.

    This is not a good thing they’ve done. It’s eroded their credibility and trust with many of us who thought we had a partnership that was worth something.

    • Bryan Ricard said


      You bring up a fantastic point.

      Hubspot has a lot of partners for their Inbound Marketing University and I obviously don’t know the extent to which any of those relationships run, but were they made aware of this stunt ahead of time? If not, what consequences will they suffer, if any?

      I’ve also seen quite a few people say that they have employees within their company take the IMU courses. Can these people complain? No, it’s free, and it’s Hubspot’s, they can do whatever they want with it.

      Zorka on the other hand, appears to have a partnership with Hubspot. I read your comment on Hubspot’s site as well (, and judging by everything you’ve said it seems that there was some type of deal or promise that the classes would always be available to you. In such case, shouldn’t Hubspot have provided her another means of access to the courses?

      Either way, many IMU students and graduates have the courses readily available on their websites. If you need to access them, here’s one site:

  4. Well my concern is not about the value in a marketing experiment or a game. I think games are an incredibly important part of future developments in marketing.

    However, the concern is within the principles behind which this game was played out. The issue is that the players did not volunteer to play. The only people that played the game were those deceived by the ringleader.

    This experiment seems like a direct breach of trust and contrary to the principles of building community and inbound marketing.

    We are starting a discussion on twitter here:

    • Bryan Ricard said

      “The issue is that the players did not volunteer to play”

      How many of the players are marketers simply making use of a great free resource? The only ones with a right to be upset are those who rely on IMU, for whatever reason, and were promised in some way that the courses would be available to them 24/7. And how many of those people exist?

      As far as those who had plans on using the IMU courses today for professional reasons, maybe to use in a speech or to have employees learn something, it may have been a setback and causes problems but that’s what you get for relying on a free resource.

      I think the question is now – do the benefits of this ploy outweigh the risks and harm? That may be tough to answer if the risks include the breaking of trust, because we all know how important that is.

      • Well I did not mention the concerns about not having constant access to the site’s materials because to me, that is not the issue. Someone’s “right” to access free materials is not really important.

        The problem is that people were tricked, using false pretenses, into believing their help was needed.

        People proceeded to spend their time and efforts to “help” Hubspot, based on deception. To me, this is a breach of trust.

        The community I am trying to start up (more over the weekend) is about trust marketing. It is about discussing and practicing how to develop trust-based relationships through marketing/communications/branding.

        I hope you’ll join the community as it develops. There is a conversation already starting on twitter, but much more is coming.

  5. Talmadge said

    Yeah, first thing I did was check Who Is, too. Whole thing smelled fishy. But kudos to them for sure.

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