Viral

The Bizarre Story Of How One Man’s Pasta Pass Kindness Turned Into A Scorching Internet Controversy

It has become nearly impossible to believe the random claims of any person with access to social media or a blog site these days, what with Jimmy Kimmel mastering pranks against our gullibility and half of Facebook thinking the National Review is a real news site. Today’s story that has the Internet’s Underoos crammed up its collective cynical crack involves the Olive Garden Pasta Pass, a glorious $100 gift card that supplied approximately 1,000 people nationwide (and especially one North Carolina man) with all the breadsticks and faux-talian food they could handle during the chain restaurant’s annual Endless Pasta promotion. The cause for this ridiculous outrage? Matt Tribe, a random guy who supposedly just wanted to do something nice for people.

According to Tribe, who hails from Ogden, Utah, he read about the Pasta Pass on USA Today and decided to buy one, but like me and a million other people, he initially ran into a website that wouldn’t load and experienced the realization that it wasn’t going to happen. But with a little persistence, he somehow managed to purchase one and – bing, bang, boom – a UPS envelope showed up at his door and he had the green light to shove a billion carbs into his breadstick hole. Except, he said, he realized there was no way he could eat all that pasta, so he had a better idea – give the food to people who would appreciate it. This included friends, family and even homeless people.

In addition to the above video, Tribe created a website called Random Acts of Pasta, and he provided a very detailed record of how he used the Pasta Pass and the first names of the people he provided with free fettuccine alfredo. He even included funny little stories about some of his encounters, including that time he stopped at every Olive Garden he could find to get pasta for a birthday party…

I went to a gal’s birthday party down in Salt Lake and stopped at every single Olive Garden along the way. I was delayed at two of the locations and therefore, I was running pretty late. I received several text messages from some of the party goers asking if I was even coming. I lied and told them I got off work late or there was a bunch of traffic or some other stupid excuse and continued to hit up the OG’s. When I finally arrived, I walked in and said “Hey, I got you some pasta for your birthday. I didn’t know what you liked so I got you all of them.”

… or the time that he skipped out on work for a bit to finally find a homeless person he could feed:

I had wanted to take pasta to homeless people since the beginning, however, I rarely had time during the day because of work and at night I would sometimes drive around for hours looking for them, but I could never find any– they disappear at night. My boss happened to be out of the office on this particular day and so I decided to take a long lunch and cruise around until I found someone that could use a warm meal. After a brief search, I found one of the nicest dudes I had ever met. I asked him if he was hungry and then I returned to the car and came back with Olive Garden. The dude was incredibly grateful and offered to share the meal with me.

What’s important to note is that Tribe’s gimmick wasn’t just about feeding the homeless. It was more that he wanted to feed all sorts of random people while the Pasta Pass was good, but he also wanted to help people in need because he seems like a genuinely nice guy. However, headlines are a lot sexier when you make it seem like he was Gandhi with a garbage bag filled with antipasto, so Tribe’s story quickly became one of a hero with a heart of dough. Naturally, that raised plenty of eyebrows and made people wonder through their keyboards: “So this is an Olive Garden marketing stunt, right?”

For example, a redditor named “AnimalCrust” wrote that he works in the advertising world and he can smell “painfully obvious viral marketing” a mile away. He says that it all begins with Tribe’s YouTube account, which had no uploaded videos until this professional-looking debut effort showed up five days ago and made Tribe a viral star.

Look at the YouTube account. Besides sparse comments and random likes over the course of 3 years, its his first upload ever, and the guy has some very decent video skills. He’s mic’d up when he’s far away and approaching the homeless people, they paid for a generic/cheerful stock piano track, and every shot is perfectly framed to showcase the bag with the logo on it. This is exactly what you would get if you told a professional video team to make a home-made looking video. It’s especially obvious when they over compensate by filming everything at a 45 degree angle for no apparent reason.

My favorite part is when he holds the bags towards the homeless guy, then turns them directly to face the cameraman…

The video also links to a privately registered one page website, which looks just shitty enough to pass as an unprofessional website, but isn’t quite there. In the code you’ll find a very specific javascript tracking tool from a company called QuantCast, along with Google Analytics tracking. I’m not sure why a random guy that just wants to give homeless people pasta would go through great lengths to set up and design a website to document his kind gestures. From a marketing standpoint, the purpose of the site is to get more accurate information on visitors than what YouTube can provide. It’s designed to look like a boring dead end because they don’t care how long you spend on the page, as long as you visit it.

Its cool that Olive Garden helped out a few homeless people, but just realize that you’re being pandered to hard.

Soon after, others joined AnimalCrust’s crusade, as one man said they should raise money to buy Pasta Passes for homeless people, which would be awesome if the promotion hadn’t ended weeks ago, and another said that it was planned (by Olive Garden, apparently) for the video to be uploaded after the promotion ended so that there would be no copycats. It’s the perfect crime, really. Except, as some other Redditors pointed out, that whole thing about QuantCast and Google Analytics has less to do with “documenting his kind gestures” and more to do with Weebly using those services on all blogs. But then, that’s obviously a debate to be had by people who think that tracking traffic is the surest sign of a marketing conspiracy.

AnimalCrust updated his original claim with a news report that seemed a little too convenient. There’s no way a local news crew could have put together this kind of report on Tribe in just two days unless Olive Garden and Darden were pulling the strings beyond some random dude, right?

Obviously, we could spend hours diving into one random Redditor’s claims, but that would be a huge waste of time when we could just go straight to the two accused sources on social media. People found Tribe – a random dude with 1,043 followers that probably mostly hopped on in the last few days – and asked him point blank if he was manipulating our love for kind acts for the sake of lining his pockets with Big Breadstick cash.

He was not only aware that people have been questioning his motives, but Tribe claimed that he is really hurt over all of it.

Finally, Olive Garden’s social media people stepped in to clarify this bizarre and somehow controversial ordeal…

… and that should be good enough, right? Hahahahahaha, no. Not even close. Meet DJ T-Spin, a guy who is probably available for all of your holiday parties, as well as any meetings you want to have about how Roswell is just a cover-up and Infowars was created to make conspiracy theorists look insane or stupid. He doesn’t buy Tribe’s “charitable act” and sees right through Olive Garden’s lies.

At the same time, Twitter user Nicolas Grégoire raised an actual good point about the quality of Tribe’s video. If he’s just some dude who wanted to do something nice for people, how’d he make that video look so professional? After all, it’s not like anyone who owns a computer has access to free video editing software that can make even the worst home videos look significantly better.

https://twitter.com/nicolasgregoire/status/538861713006022656

https://twitter.com/nicolasgregoire/status/538862407867985921

Again, the tracking is not a Matt Tribe issue as much as it’s a Weebly issue, but answer the question about the video, damn it.

Nicolas will not be had by your lies, Olive Garden! He and DJ T-Spin see right through your nonsense!

https://twitter.com/nicolasgregoire/status/538862861737799681

Meet Benjamin Taylor, also from Ogden, who stepped in to take credit for the video and offer some relief in both Tribe’s and Olive Garden’s mentions.

A quick scroll through Taylor’s Twitter feed reveals a man who is very pleased by the attention that Tribe’s story and video are receiving, especially since they Tweeted a selfie to Olive Garden after they’d been interviewed for the aforementioned local news report.

But that’s hardly the most damning evidence in the world. If I ended up the subject of a viral video because I tripped and fell at a sporting event and my face landed in Kate Upton’s cleavage, I’d love every second of the YouTube stardom. Taylor is a guy who made a video and seems proud of how effective it has been, racking up half a million hits in less than a week. However, I’m just one of the sheeple eating from the palm of corporate America’s dirty hand.

This entire exchange makes me head throb:

https://twitter.com/nicolasgregoire/status/538891711238635520

And so on and so forth.

So is this all a grand scheme by Olive Garden to drum up some local news stories or make handsome bloggers like myself write 2,000 words about it on a Tuesday morning? Again, we have every reason to question everything thanks to Internet prank artists and the dozens of fake news stories that trick us any given week. It’s not like Olive Garden isn’t hurting for business and positive press like this wouldn’t put a few extra kind hearts and empty heads in the seats of their many restaurants. It’s very easy to see some suits in a Darden office asking each other how they can spin a little more press out of Olive Garden’s most infuriating effort yet, but do we really give them that much credit?

Maybe Tribe and Taylor are two guys who were hired by a hip and energetic marketing firm that was in turn hired by Olive Garden to assemble and construct the greatest lie the Internet ever told this week. Maybe Tribe was tricked into this endeavor by Taylor, who works for such a company, and his kind acts were simply orchestrated manipulations. Does that change the fact that 125 homeless people allegedly received free meals? If Olive Garden really lied to people on Twitter and tugged our heart strings for the sake of selling a few more regular-priced meals, is there a point in freaking out and pretending like this is the new Benghazi? We already know that the chain has little left to lose.

It very well could be revealed in the next hour, day or week that this was a stunt with a loose end that unraveled gloriously on the Internet. But until that happens, maybe we can point our collective outrage at something a little more important. Olive Garden’s marketing is hardly the worst thing happening in our world at this point.

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