Friday, September 30, 2005

Fuckwit marketers at it again

by Suw on September 30, 2005

Every now and again I come across a piece of marketing which is just so clueless as to be astonishing. Usually it involves blogs and some idiot at an agency somewhere thinking that they can 'leverage' the 'power' of blogs to 'virally market' their wares and 'increase brand awareness'.
Usually, I just take the piss.
This time round, though, the marketers have reached a new and despicable low.
One of my very good friends is the blogger Tom Coates. His is one of a now very small number of blogs that I read religiously every day, not just because he has a fascinating insight into stuff I'm interested in, but also because he's a friend and I want to know what's happening with him.
Over the last few months, Tom has been grappling with the task of finding his father, whom he hasn't spoken to since he was five years old. His story has been touching, and I marvel sometimes at the strength he shows in sharing his search with his readers.
A couple of weeks ago, Tom got a letter from his father. His first contact with his dad for 28 years. It's taken him two weeks to find the words to talk about this on his blog – it was a hard post for him to write, but because other people who were dealing with the same issue of finding lost parents have been so supportive of Tom, he felt he wanted to find a way to talk about what's happened.
Many of the comments on the post are very supportive, but one stands out. Not because it's not supportive, but because it was written by a fictional character used by an advertising agency to promote Cillit Bang, a cleaning product.
I cannot for the life of me fathom why an advertising agency would do this – it's wrong on so many levels. If they were hoping for Googlejuice, then they're unlikely to get any because of the way that blog tech works these days. But surely someone wouldn't be this insensitive as to pimp their product on a such a personal post? Would they?
Tom didn't think it sounded feasible either, so he investigated. Sadly, it turns out that, after quite a bit of phoning and checking and ferreting out facts, this is actually exactly what it appears to be – marketers writing fake comments from a fictional character purporting to be supportive of someone going through a real, emotionally stressful time.
There are words for this, as Tom points out (emphasis Tom's):

Now clearly, it was pretty difficult to believe that even a marketing / advertising organisation would be comfortable with trying to promote their product on a weblog where someone was discussing their first contact with their father for 28 years. I mean, sure there's some limited mileage to be gained in a link from a number of weblogs, although with all the anti-spam tech in place now they can't possibly have been hoping for Googlejuice. But still, surely thinking about how to exploit that kind of post would be beyond the pale. I mean, surely that would be revolting, corrupt, cynical, disgusting, revolting, sick and dishonourable. It would be – frankly – one of the most offhandedly unpleasant things I've ever come up against. And a trick! An attempt by these people to exploit a community and individual's good faith to sell a few bottles of highly corrosive cleaning fluid. And remember, this wasn't an automated message operating indiscriminately, this was a hand-written note posted by an individual human being.

I admire Tom for giving these people the benefit of the doubt to start with, and actually phoning round to find out whether or not an ad agency truly was behind this comment. Now that we know they are, it's time to make it very, very clear that this sort of behaviour simply will not be tolerated. (Emphasis Tom's in quote below.)

One way or another – whether these specific people are directly responsible for spamming our conversations with their marketing – this whole enterprise stinks to high heaven. The fake weblogs that pretend to be real are almost bad enough – it's an attempt to muddy the reality of a community with the fantasy world that they need to flog cleaning products and make it seem glamourous or exciting. But someone out there – associated with one marketing group or another – is also keen to directly stick their dirty little hands in the cookie jars of well-meaning, honourable people, quite happy to pollute or destroy the value of the enterprise for everyone else if they can derive even the tiniest return from it.
I'm going to give them the benfit of the doubt and say that this whole enterprise is based on clumsiness and stupidity rather than evil, but we have to make a stand and make it clear to these people that if you live by the sword you die by the sword. It's not good enough for just these marketing people to realise that they've screwed up and damaged the brands they were associated with, we have to keep making examples of them to stop other clumsy organisations viewing our self-created territories as nothing more than sales opportunities. Do not lie to us because we will expose you. Be honourable, or we will erase you. And all anyone will see when they search on Google for your products is that there is no depth to which you will not stoop to get another few bottles into someone's shopping basket.

The blogosphere is pretty good at self-regulating. When its body is invaded by a splinter, it will expel it. There can be simply no justification for the cynical manipulation of blog comments like this. There can be no leeway given to advertising agencies – in this case Reckitt Benckiser – who screw up like this. New to blogging? Well, use a bit of common sense before you post because if you fuck up this badly in public, you can expect to get yourself ripped a new one.
In fact, here, let me do that now. Reckitt Benckiser have behaved in a disgraceful, despicable, dishonourable, selfish, cold-hearted, insensitive, cynical, vile manner. They should be ashamed of themselves. I expect nothing less than a full and public apology from both Reckit Benckiser and their employee who so callously tried to gain benefit from someone else's heartfelt honesty. And if they had any honour at all, they would remove the Cillit Bang blog and stop polluting people's comments with their marketing bullshit.

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