The Harry Situation Gets Hairy
On Shake Well Before Use, Social Media Insights Consultant Ariel Waldman has written a detailed analysis and review of a campaign hair care company Garnier has launched which involves blog briber PayPerPost (now hiding behind the walls of social media company IZEA) and what is purported to be a new TV show called The Harry Situation. On the show's website, clips highlight the sexual innuendo and double entendre-laden theme of the show. It also covers what's being sold as dispute between the show's creators and Garnier who pulled their sponsorship because of the show's racy content.
Of course, the controversy isn't real. Either is the show. It's all part of an elaborate ad campaign complete with what appear to be paid blog posts and a YouTube video featuring Garnier SVP of Sales Steve Lutz who explains why the company pulled their sponsorship.
Regarding the notion of paid blog posts, in answer to our queries, three of the bloggers involved said they did get their information through the PayPerPost service. However, PayPerPost CEO Ted Murphy denies this and could find no indication in their database that PayPerPost was in anyway involved with this promotional campaign.
Kirt Gunn, the company that created The Harry Situation site and videos had no knowledge of any possible PayPerPost involvement until we brought it to their attention. Company Founder Kirt Gunn worked with us over the past few day to research the oddity of this situation and found there were other bloggers involved but those bloggers denied working through PayPerPost on this.
After numerous phone calls and conversations, it's clear to us The Kirt Gunn company, Garnier and its agency, Razorfish had no knowledge of and did not involve themselves with any PayPerPost-style promotion. In fact, Garnier has told us they will fire any partner company that may have involved itself with this campaign.
However, Kirt Gunn tells us, "One Media partner - a UK based 18-24 yr old male content site - did offer blog outreach as a part of their services. They sent the equivalent of what they are calling 'a syndicated blog release' to 50,000 blogs. That release read similarly, or in some instances identically, to the text on the blogs in question. They claim that they did not pay any blogs to pick up the release."
While we have no solid proof actual money changed hands between PayPerPost and the several bloggers who wrote about The Harry Situation and whom Ariel points to in her article, paying people without proper disclosure to write what is assumed to be uninfluenced editorial is just wrong. It's as simple as that. Yes, PayPerPost does now ask bloggers in their program to place a disclosure graphic somewhere on their blog but many do not specifically state which post are organic and which are influenced by PayPerPost.
Last month, Google dropped a bomb on PayPerPost by reducing the PageRank of PayPerPost bloggers to zero, effectively eliminating them from Google search results. Without surprise, PayPerPost bloggers are freaking out over this.
Morals aside, the clips of The Harry Situation are kind of funny if you're into the obviously forced sexual innuendo thing. But, as we've said before, what PayPerPost is doing is wrong. It's just wrong. It's an indefensible business model that prays on innocent people trying to make a few bucks from their blog. It harms a segment of the online world which has already had enough to contend with from those who still insist it's some form of bastardized journalism.
This campaign was likely intended to be fun and over the top enough to be clearly interpreted as an ad campaign and not the real thing. We have no problem with the content of this campaign but we do think some of the tactics used to promoted it ("check this out" emails sent under the guise of uninfluenced innocence, faux blogs, paid blog posts and site headers which read "The true story of the rise and fall of the show you'll never see" that are clearly not true and contain no clear explanation of who is behind the site) step over the line.
Of course, none of this is new. Old school forums and other early online communities have been infiltrated by marketers for years and not much was ever said about it. Self publishing platforms like blogging and the growth of social networks have changed that and made the "outing" of these campaigns more intense and prevalent.
To be clear, we're not against marketers who create interesting teaser type campaigns. Even unbranded ones as long as they reveal themselves within a short period of time. It's been done for years offline. We are, however, against companies that pray on the innocent minds of those who do not clearly understand the separation between commerce and uninfluenced editorial (yea, yea, yea...all editorial is influence in some what but you know what we mean) and who will jump at the chance to make money simply by writing something on their blog.