Posted by Daily Quail
September 14th, 2009
Last month, the Mail created a minor stir in the media industry by announcing that it would soon be introducing unmoderated comments under articles published on MailOnline. Most newspaper websites employ comment moderation in some form or another, checking comments before or after publication to weed out defamatory or libellous scribblings from armchair sages to protect both their own and their advertisers’ brand identities. Discriminatory, offensive, and inaccurate comments reflect badly on the content provider, regardless of whether or not the provider actually wrote them themself.
The announcement caused a bit of a fuss. Mark Trustum, director of e-commerce for Specsavers which advertises on MailOnline, said the firm would not continue to pay for advertising next to unmoderated, contraversial or offensive comments:
Unmoderated user content falls into this category and is a grey area for advertisers. It’s vitally important for us to protect our brand reputation and, therefore, as soon as we were made aware of any such content being present alongside our advertising we would immediately ask for our ad to be withdrawn.
Ben Wood, Managing Director of digital planning and buying agency (the guys who actually spend the money and buy advertising space for companies) Diffiniti agreed, saying he wouldn’t buy space for clients alongisde unmoderated comments. He explained succinctly:
Advertisers need to be sure they’re in a suitable environment.
A chorus of other media and advertising types (the people the Mail really cares about) echoed this sentiment; ad placement is a major issue in protecting brand identity. In May, Tesco and Vodafone pulled advertising from Facebook after ads were served on Holocaust denial and BNP group pages. More recently, advertisers deserted Glenn Beck’s rabid paranoid Fox News screamshow after he claimed Obama was ‘racist’. Why would any brand pay to associate itself with racism, xenophobia, and intolerance?
Why would, say, Marks & Spencer wish to advertise its Autograph Cotton Blend Trench Coat on a page that contains comments like ‘The islamic colonization of our country shows no sign of slowing down, infact [sic] it’s gathering pace as the tipping point approaches‘? Would uSwitch or Cotton Traders be happy to promote their services alongside bigoted rants such as this:
So, no patriotism allowed, no free-speech allowed, don’t mention the BNP, don’t complain about green-belt building to accommodate the influx, don’t dare say you’re a Christian, don’t complain that your local church is now a mosque, don’t be alarmed if your local town now looks like Islamabad. For Gawd’s sake, is there no end to the destruction of Englishness? When I shop in an English shop, I want to see English things ?
Unless their target market consists solely of angry xenopbobic white people, I doubt they’d be too pleased to see their brand on the same page as such bizarre outpourings of racially motivated bile.
Aside from advertising, another distinct part of the marketing mix is public relations. PR companies often send press releases to newspapers and magazines announcing new products or services in the hope of some free publicity. For example, Asda have just launched a new Asian inspired clothes range in selected stores, and you can see the resulting PR trail here. It’s not a hugely interesting story, so most newspapers have limited their articles to a few lines, rewritten from the original press release. Here’s the Guardian’s piece and here is the BBC’s version. You can tell when an article is based on a press release because all of the quotes are the same, from the same people, and it mentions specific products like the ’sequinned embellished Salwaar Kameez (or traditional suit) along with pricing. Press releases are what’s known in industry circles as dull.
Things are a little different when it comes to the Mail, however. The article itself is nearly identical to all of the others, but the major difference is found in the comments. While most other versions of this press release found on other news sites either haven’t received any user comments or don’t even have a comment section available (because it’s a boring press release, what’s to say?), the Mail has notched up 120 comments at the time of writing – two of which I’ve already mentioned above.
120 comments on an article about some new trousers and a couple of dresses.
Now, bearing in mind that Asda’s own PR company have issued this press release to newspapers to generate a bit of interest and publicity around their new clothing range, and also remembering that comments on this particular article’s are premoderated, do you think Asda would be happy to promote their brand alongside comments such as:
Roll up roll up. !! Get your Prayer mats and korans here. Britainistan 2009.
why? there are enough asian clothes shops in the asian no go ghettos
Would a supermarket chain in Pakistan start stocking levi’s and wonderbras if it was the other way around? I wonder whether in a few years’ time we’ll be seeing people putting burkas in their shopping trolleys?
Why? When our local Asda often cannot supply organic milk and free-range chicken for their regular customers!
Notice especially ‘Britainistan’, apparently a witty reinterpretation of Mail columnist Melanie Phillips’ own creation ‘Londonistan’, the association of ‘asians’ and ‘ghettos’, that symbol of tyrannical Islamic oppression the burkha, and the lament for ‘regular customers’, which presumably excludes anyone from Asia and the Indian sub-continent. More, you say? Ok:
I have no objection to ethnic fashion, except on those streets of some of our major cities that have gone completely to the other extreme, stocking little with any appeal to the indigenous population. Wiltshire Resident [another, pro-Asda commenter]should try Bradford if she loves Asian Fashion. She may even feel completely at home there, apart from the fact that large parts look and feel like a foreign country.
Excellent use of the ‘If you love it so much, why don’t you go live there’ argument, alongside a swipe at multiculturalism, and (bingo!) inclusion of BNP buzzword ‘indigenous’. Ok, ok, one more:
Sorry, but isn’t ASDA aware of the existing social problem of Asians failing to integrate ? I believe that this is an ill conceived idea, as our Asian residents should be adopting western clothing as the norm whilst living in the UK.
Ah, the imaginary bugbear of any self-respecting racist, social integration. Because Asians are clearly a problem group when it comes to integrating into British culture as, say, Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara), Konnie Huq, Dev Patel, Amir Khan, Melanie Sykes, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Meera Syal, Hardeep Singh Kohli, Cliff Richard (really!), James Caan (previously Khan), Sanjeev Bhaskar, Monty Panesar, Parminder Nagra, Nasser Hussein, Shobna Gulati, and several million more could testify (apologies to those I may have missed). Bonus points given for calling for ultra authoritarian legislation on foreign residents’ clothing – Asian residents should be forced to wear ‘Western clothing’, whatever that might be precisely. Jeans, probably. Very British.
To their (perhaps dubious) credit, the Mail did simply rehash Asda’s press release just like all the other newspapers, without adding any of their own editorial bias. But to vet, approve and publish comments such as the above is irresponsible at best, and must surely worry companies such as Asda, M&S, and uSwitch, whose brands appear next to poorly informed readers’ bile. Asda, especially, must be worried that a perfectly innocuous press release could be so utterly twisted by commenters, not only to be used as an excuse to express vile, reactionary comments about indigenous this and integration that, but also a reason for a number of commenters to announce an immediate boycott of the store altogether.
Bloggers are all too aware of the onorous responsibility they bear not just for their own posts, but for the comments that appear beneath them. Anyone who writes on the web must accept that, thanks to British libel laws, what’s written by others but hosted by you is your responsibility. If some anonymous commenter libels somebody else, and the target is of a litigious nature, they won’t go after the commenter, they’ll probably sue you.
Most newspapers are aware of this too, and take care to add clauses such as ‘The views expressed in the contents above are those of our users and do not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline.‘ The Mail also have two whole pages of House Rules and Terms & Conditions, forbidding ‘defamatory, malicious, threatening, false, misleading, offensive, abusive, discriminatory, harassing, blasphemous or racist‘ comments. Presumably, then, the comments quoted previously are none of the above, and are perfectly acceptable. But, while they may not necessarily reflect the views of MailOnline, I can’t help but wonder whether or not advertisers feel that they create a ’suitable environment’ for brand building.