Against the call for regulation on bloggers and dark viral campaigns

I spent the last two days at ad:tech Sydney and have come back highly inspired. There are a few blog posts in the pipeline - here is the first. :)

On Tuesday I attended a panel on " Effects Of Transparency: Cash For Comment And The Dark Marketing Debate " by David Lee and Julian Cole. They presented a comprehensive list of dark marketing campaigns, some of which were successful and others backfired. The take-away message was that it is in general a bad idea to keep the consumer in the dark and that transparency needs to become a requirement for marketing campaigns.

It was proposed that the best way to achieve transparency is through the development of a regulation for online marketing campaigns within one of Australia's leading digital industry bodies AIMIA, AFA, or mfa.

I'd like to respectfully disagree. I don't think we need a police force for online marketing. The Web is quite a self-regulating environment and all the poorly executed campaigns learnt very quickly that the truth comes out no matter if they want to. Do we really need a law to forbid us to leave the house without a coat in winter, because we could catch a cold?

Who are we trying to protect? Every poorly executed dark campaign has backfired either on the brand or the agency. Has it really had such a negative effect on society that we need to bring out legislation?

Even a call for an "industry code of practice" is too much IMHO. Do we even know what we are asking for and what we are restricting? Let's not restrict our creativity before we have even explored the new medium and its possibilities in full.

Instead, what we need is education. Education on what works and what doesn't. After all, the medium is still new and we are all still trying it out. We will get burnt for a bit before we understand the rules under which it works.

For example, there are some very good dark viral video campaigns that are very successful and have not created any negative reactions - not from consumers, not from the mainstream press, not from politics or society. Just check out the first and second example on my blog on " dark viral videos and witchery ".

What we need are "best practices" - examples and case studies of successful campaigns that people can replicate. This will not restrict creativity, but will give those that are uncertain about how to make best use of a new medium the tools to execute successfully. It does not restrict those that are more creative and open to experiments to find out how to make the most of the new medium.

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