Digital Astroturf strikes again: Google’s enemies play at activism

 Great stuff for minigolf

On the tube for the past couple of weeks I have seen these faux revolutionary posters with the usual conspiratorial images (puppets on a string, etc) stating that one company ‘controls’ information on the web or something (ie Google).  It invites punters to visit this site, which tries rather too hard to look like some kind of activism thing and asks if you know or care that ‘75% of people in the UK access information through one source’.  In my case ‘yes’ and ‘not really’.  Comment is invited, but so far only four people have done (early days, but that hardly suggests a groundswell).  Join the revolution, etc.  Yawn.

I wondered what brand was behind it, then noticed that the searchbox offering choice seems to default to Ask.  Hmmm.  A quick whois on the URL reveals it is owned by Profero, Ask’s quite good digital agency (and Yahoo! Search Marketing’s as well, but thats B2B).  So its just hammy digital astroturf for an also-ran search engine trying to portray Google as Big Brother.  Thing is, Google doesn’t ‘control’ information – it just searches through it.  People use it because it is ‘good enough’ for most things and is easy to use.  It is so dominant that there is room for a backlash, but if it comes it will be from businesses tired of click fraud and real consumers who want something better (or just something else).  Not survivors from the AltaVista era who choose to compete through cack-handed ‘revolutionary’ counter-propaganda instead of real innovation.

Web astroturfing of this kind just does not work in the UK.  There is loads of room for brands to sponsor genuine blogs and social media communities concerned with a real issue or two that relates to their market.  But pretending to lead some kind of web revolt against your competitor (without revealing your presence) is as crap as it is ineffective.  Anybody remember memory card maker SanDisk’s sad attempt to make it seem that getting a no-name MP3 player was some kind of rebellious act against the ‘iSheep’? Neither does the market.

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