Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: Jeeves Must Be Spinning in His Grave

Magazine article Marketing

Andrew Walmsley on Digital: Jeeves Must Be Spinning in His Grave

Article excerpt

When Carling Black Label brought a case for trademark infringement against a group that had parodied the brand in South Africa, it was said in court that 'Black Label has the luxury of having the most money, and therefore the most speech'. The court saw the company as having a greater voice, and sought to protect the freedom of expression of the consumer.

But as we have seen in recent years, the balance of power has been swinging away from companies as the internet allows the individual to get even. Untrammelled by any regulatory requirements of taste, decency, accuracy or balance, consumers can say pretty much what they like - so when they're also right, it can mean pretty fierce language and tactics which companies are rightly circumspect about confronting.

Last October, I wrote about the opprobrium Wal-Mart had attracted by using 'flogs' - sales promotions posing as blogs - to promote itself, and the PR storm Krypton-ite suffered at the hands of bloggers when its bicycle locks turned out to be openable with the barrel of a Bic ballpoint pen.

Now it's the turn of a UK company to get burned, and there are useful lessons to be drawn for all of us.

You might have seen TV ads and Tube cards in recent weeks for a group fighting the 'information revolution monopoly'. Ask, the search engine formerly known as Ask Jeeves, is trying to persuade consumers that there should be freedom of choice in where they get their information from, and is directing consumers to a site it has set up at

The TV ads run without a soundtrack, and are intended to look like they have been shot on a webcam. Activists hold up messages on cards, suggesting people visit Once there, a link takes you to the Information Revolution microsite, where visitors are presented with a manifesto and message boards where debate is encouraged.

This is where it all starts to peel apart. From reasoned criticism ('I use Google because most likely I get the result I want without in most cases having a huge large-type sponsored ad links like ASK and MSN do') to fry-eyed ('Way to go, Jeeves, now you're not only incompetent and stupid, you're evil as well'), hundreds of posts have lambasted the ads.

While the campaign is tongue in cheek, this makes no impact on the forums, where people tend to have a very literal interpretation of advertising. What comes through are three basic complaints: first, people are being driven to a site under false pretences; second, they are being patronised by a fake 'revolution' line that belies the selling message; and third, the product is no good. …

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