Today, Adweek told us, “The True Story of a Bogus Blog.” While the overarching theme in this article addresses the “fuzzy world of online ethics,” there are many other ethical issues that creep up in this article. For now, I’ll stick to the main point (read the entire article, though–it’s crazy).
In the ongoing moral battle in the virtual world of advertising, public relations and marketing, a class at New York’s Hunter college decided to step into the ring when they created a campaign (as part of a college outreach program by the International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition), based on a fake student named Heidi Cee. They gave her a phone number, a Myspace page, a Facebook page and even wrote a blog for her. The elaborate campaign explains that Cee recently lost her Coach purse (oh yeah – Coach funded this college outreach program), and finds out that when her bag is returned, it’s a fake and she had been scammed for the reward.
Some of the most pointed criticism has come from PR professionals, who say the Hunter campaign runs afoul of basic PR tenets such as truthfulness and transparency. And as advertisers clamor for viral marketing approaches, the Hunter fracas serves as the latest illustration of how a buzz-seeking stunt may backfire.
At the end of the semester the class issued a press release revealing Cee was fake, and linked to it on the social networking sites. Does this make it right? Absolutely not.
It seems to me that with all the “professionals” involved in this program, someone along the way would have questioned the deception to the consumer. I think Sheldon Rampton at the Center for Media & Democracy, sums it up best by saying, “the delicious irony of a campaign against counterfeiting…creating a counterfeit student.”