'Free Hugs' Guy Got Screwed Over by the Guy Who Made His Viral VideoS

Six years after a viral video depicted his quest to offer "Free Hugs" to all of Sydney, "Juan Mann" (pronounced "one man") says he hasn't seen a dime of his campaign's ad and t-shirt sales. Business Insider reports.

On June 30, 2004, a man by the pseudonym of "Juan Mann" (pronounced, "one man") started offering free hugs to strangers on the streets of Sydney, Australia.

Six years later, he's a bona fide viral sensation on the web, but he's not much richer thanks to his Internet fame.

"My life had fallen apart and had nothing left to lose," Mann told us in an email. "I'd spent months living alone in a remote part of Australia, avoiding human contact where possible."

Mann's life fell apart after his parents divorced and his fiancee broke off their engagement. He was studying anthropology and communcations in London at the time. He moved back to his native Australia for a change of scenery.

After living in Australia for a few months, a friend tracked him down and dragged him to a party so he could "reconnect with society again." At the party, a complete stranger walked up to Mann and hugged him, and for that brief moment, Juan Mann didn't feel down about himself. After the short embrace, he realized then that a simple hug could do the trick to making other people feel better.

After the party, Juan Mann set out to a busy street in Sydney and held up a large poster board sign that read FREE HUGS. "The idea of standing in a busy city street holding up a sign offering to be friendly to a stranger scared me," Mann told us. "I thought that if I could offer Free Hugs, then I could do anything."

Months later, Juan Mann was still giving out hugs when he met Shimon Moore, who also held a sign in his hands—a shoe sale sign. The two sign-holders talked about Free Hugs.

The next week, Moore ditched his sign for a video camera, tagging along with Mann to film his embraces with strangers. Mann and Moore became close friends, even becoming housemates.

Mann's life was going well hanging out with Moore, and giving out hugs, but the good times didn't last. He stopped offering free hugs, because he had, "to spend more time caring for my blind grandfather while my grandmother lay dying in hospital," Mann told us. He was also apart from his new friend. Moore had left Australia, moving to Los Angeles to pursue a music career.

On the day of his grandmother's funeral, Mann returned home and found a DVD in the mailbox, with "This is who you are," written on it. Shimon Moore had edited all the footage he took of the Free Hugs Campaign into a music video featuring a song by his band, Sick Puppies. One week later, Moore uploaded the video onto YouTube and the world watched happy embraces amongst strangers on the streets of Sydney.

The video became a viral hit. David Burch of web video measurement service TubeMogul tells us there are 1,279 "Free Hugs" response videos to the original "Free Hugs Campaign," with over 38 million views. Meanwhile, Mann and Moore's original video has been viewed over 61 million times.

Despite "Free Hugs" videos racking up almost 100 million views, Juan Mann has struggled to make money from the video and campaign.

"When [Moore] posted the YouTube video, his manager had me sign a contract employing that same manager as mine," Mann said. "I complied, believing that Shimon, as my friend, would make certain that we were both amply compensated for the video and the Free Hugs merchandise the band sells."

That didn't happen. Juan Mann feels he was screwed over by his former housemate. He revealed to us that all the earnings from the ads placed on the video, t-shirt sales, and other "Free Hugs" merchandise go straight to the band and their management.

"Needless to say, we aren't friends anymore," Mann admitted. "They are firmly of the belief that all Free Hugs related earnings are theirs. I haven't seen a dollar from the band nor the manager." The band's management and publicity teams have not replied to our emails.

For Mann, not all is lost. As a professional speaker, he charges around $3,500 AUD ($3,158 USD) per speaking engagement, and he has a book out titled The Illustrated Guide To Free Hugs available for purchase OR free download.


'Free Hugs' Guy Got Screwed Over by the Guy Who Made His Viral VideoRepublished with permission from BusinessInsider.com. Authored by William Wei. Image via Juan Mann.