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Deceptive Online Marketing and Ashlee Simpson

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Although I’ve intended to post hip hop related entries to Blogcritics, this week’s installment focuses on the growing practice of marketers trying to influence public opinion through the use of online “ambassadors” and street teams who interact and pretend to be everyday people while pushing a product. Apparently, this practice backfired in the case of Ashlee Simpson, who seems to have an incredible appetite for public humiliation.

Marketing Ambassadors Paid to Misrepresent

Recently I was checking out writing jobs at Craigslist and, while wandering through the site, found an ad from Guerilla PR with the heading “Chatter – Online Marketing Ambassador.” The ad said:

“We are looking to hire 30 Online Marketing Ambassadors to Chat and Write Message Board Messages.
Multiple Shifts available from 8am – 3am.
Talk about video games, movies, sports and much more.
We are also looking to hire 2 Online Marketing Managers.”

I briefly considered applying for the job as a form of research but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. However, I poked around the Guerilla PR website and, in addition to seeing the prominent names of many large corporations, found the bio for Paddy Taber, V.P. Online Marketing who “sets the tone for the viral campaigns that deliver individually tailored messages and dialogue to highly targeted segments.”

Paddy’s online biography goes on to explain that he,
“recruits, trains and certifies the online Marketing Associates with the Online Campaign Managers. Under his instruction and management, they learn how to use guerillaPR’s Proprietary Technology that allows them to be in 2 Chat Rooms and 10 Instant Messenger sessions at the same moment in time, while also learning the 7 techniques of human engagement to maximize communication impact and conversation effectiveness. When certified each Marketing Associate can seamlessly blend into an assigned target market to engage them in conversations that result in increased traffic, awareness and branding.”

I hope I don’t have to explain the implications of this information but I do want to say that I’m not picking on Guerilla PR because this kind of thing is much more commonplace than people realize. But it is the first time I’ve found a website by one of these companies that lays out so clearly the fact that people are getting paid to shill for corporations by going in and acting like everyday people.

I was thinking about doing a short piece on these guys when I ran into various references to such posts for Ashlee Simpson and traced them back to a mini-exposé on Metafilter. The post may seem confusing but when you take part of the quote from “mandyc19″:
“I just read about Ashlee in us weekly. Those guys at the football game were total jerks.”
And put it into Google, you’ll see that miss mandy was all over the place, as if she was paid to cut and paste the same phrase everywhere she could.

Now I’m not picking on Ashlee Simpson either, she has enough problems. Although I think she should take a break and start studying music more seriously and come back, not anytime soon, but when she’s ready to be something similar to a real musician.

Guerilla PR? I bet they would have done a much more sophisticated job with this campaign of lies and falsehoods.

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About Clyde Smith

  • Rain

    Wow…I had a feeling something like that was going on. Everytime something negative happens in Ashlee’s career, articles and posts miraculously pop up all over the place in defense of her.

  • Dawn

    Can this type of technology be used in the opposite – like say for example to post negative things about products, people, celebrities?

    Can you imagine if someone paid these people to write things like “Michael Jackson is boy-loving perv.” all over the internet?

    Oh wait, that’s actually true, but you get my drift. The implications are endless.

  • http://selfaudit.blogspot.com Aaman

    Like Google bombing

  • Eric Olsen

    super job Clyde on a vital subject that has the potential to undermine what we all do on the Internet, although most people seem to have a good nose for what is bogus and what is real. Thanks and welcome!

  • http://mike.shelikesit.net mrbenning

    Is it just me, or does stuff like this creep anyone else out. I’m not trying to be naive, but man, is there no limit to what marketers are allowed to do anymore?

  • http://themarketingbooth.blogspot.com Boothy

    This is becoming more common, and some companies are actively looking for bloggers who want to get paid to post about their product. http://www.marqui.com is one example, but they don’t use the same guerrila tactics, of trying to blend in and make it sound like you’re not affiliated with the company. They suggest that their bloggers openly let the public know that they are being paid, and are therefore biased.

    There’s a debate about this on: http://themarketingbooth.blogspot.com

    (it’s my blog) (and i’m totally biased :)

  • HW Saxton

    I just checked in at the Ashlee Simpson
    Recall Petition. It’s now up to 274,520
    signatures and still growing by leaps &
    bounds.

  • http://www.prohiphop.com Clyde Smith

    Thanks for the comments. I find this sort of thing creepy but fascinating and my assumption would be that it’s happening all over the place and not just for commercial purposes.

    The offline version has sometimes been referred to as “roach marketing”, where cool people hang out in prominent positions at clubs drinking a new drink and telling everybody how great it is. As with so many aspects of contemporary society, I first heard about it in a William Gibson novel, Pattern Recognition.

    I don’t think the majority of Internet users have any idea about how to distinguish such things, especially since they have difficulty distinguishing paid and unpaid search results:
    http://searchenginewatch.com/searchday/article.php/3462911

    But I imagine this is most effective when targeting teens using other teens or adults acting like teens, in which case it’s both about the teen market and about programming youth for adulthood.

    Thanks again,
    Clyde

  • http://mike.shelikesit.net mrbenning

    Check out the latest comment here:
    http://blogcritics.org/archives/2004/08/30/154214.php

    It’s happening on our own site.

  • http://jimiyu.fotki.com ji mi

    interesting.

    but figures. i just couldn’t get how some people, after all of the “mishaps,” still considered her a true musician. but your article explains it.

    danke schon.