We belong to Second Wind, a network for small agencies. It's a terrific resource for people like us.
One of the features they have is forums where you can post appeals for help or insight or just about anything. People ask if anybody knows where to get plastic job jackets, a good retail copywriter in Cleveland or what to do about spec creative in an RFP. Like that. It's all over the place and, like I said, a great resource.
But last week, someone put up a post, and the response from members -- and even the Second Wind staff -- surprised the hell out of me. The question was from someone who was using their client's competitor's name as Google search words. Not in the ad copy or web site anywhere. Just in the search terms. The competitors sent a cease and desist. "We believe they are just blowing smoke", the post said, "Are we right?"
Here's what shocked me. All of the replies were pretty much centered around whether or not the competitor could stop them -- not whether or not using the competition's name as a search term was ethical in the first place.
So I wrote a comment and allowed as how I didn't know whether or not the cease and desist would hold up or not, but that I thought the practice of using the competitor's name was pretty sleazy. Why, I asked, did they feel the need to trick people into coming across their client when they were searching for a competitor? I suggested they ought to be ashamed of themselves.
His reply was that he was never ashamed of putting his client's name in front of the public. "Isn't that the goal of advertising?" he said. He and another commenter both said they considered it giving the consumer a choice. A chance to "comparison shop".
What a bunch of crap.
I think this kind of trickery is pretty much the same as that practiced by those sleazoids who send you letters that are supposed to look like some kind of official government letter. If I had a client that had so little to offer that we had to resort to the Internet's version of bait-and-switch, I'd resign. And if I couldn't think of any better way to promote my client they should fire me.
(Full-disclosure: This exact thing is happening to a major client of a friend of mine. So I've seen this from the other side.)
I think it's two kinds of sad commentary on our business that a) this sort of trickery is practiced in the name of "advertising" and b) so many posters on Second Wind bought into it as an acceptable way of doing business.
Postscript: The next day somebody hijacked the comments on this blog and put up an ad for some sort of scam. Coincidence? I don't know. I have had this blog set up so that, unlike some blogs, I don't have to approve a comment before it goes up. I want the open exchange. But maybe that's a mistake.