On the Internet, everyone can hear you scream—including your boss. When 25-year-old Brian Maupin posted a goofy cartoon to YouTube (GOOG) about an interaction between an imbecilic, iPhone-lusting customer and a salesman at an imaginary "Phone Mart," he just wanted to make people laugh—and vent frustration from his job selling mobile gear at a Best Buy (BBY) in Independence, Mo.
The profanity-laced video (Google "HTC iPhone video") shows a customer repeatedly asking for the new iPhone 4. An exasperated sales clerk informs her that the device is sold out and lacks features of the HTC EVO 4G. ("The Internet speeds are around three times faster" on the EVO, the salesman explains. Her robotic reply: "I don't care." "It has an app that will build you an island, then it f——-g transforms into a jet and flies you there." "I don't care.") The video is "a comment on how blindly we follow brands," says Maupin.
Maupin posted the video on June 24. Like the iPhone itself, it was an immediate hit: As of July 6, it had well over 3.3 million views. A handful of those came from executives at Best Buy's corporate office in Richfield, Minn., who discovered that Maupin had also posted three other videos. One was a rebuttal to the original and featured an Apple (AAPL) Store employee mocking a customer with a broken EVO. Maupin says the other two were "in-jokes" that poked fun at Best Buy's sales policies.
On July 2, Best Buy told Maupin that the videos disparaged the company and some products it sells. They asked him to take down the videos; he removed the two that mentioned Best Buy, leaving up the EVO-vs.-iPhone parodies. Maupin was suspended, and a store manager told him he would probably lose his job.
Best Buy has since relented, saying in a statement that although it's "an important situation," Maupin was welcome to return to work. Maupin, however, may have other plans. There's been an outpouring of sympathy for the aspiring graphic artist; on Twitter, fans have offered to donate money to his fledgling production company, and one created a new account: @hirebrianmaupin. He also has some leads on freelance jobs. "I'm a believer in the 'everything happens for a reason' theory," he says. "Maybe this could be a sign that I need to move on and put my full focus on getting my foot in the door of what I'd really like to do."
The bottom line: Best Buy's negative reaction to a viral video created by an employee may help jump-start the cartoon maker's graphic arts career.