Web makers fight political freebie ads

Marketplace Staff Mar 4, 2010
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Web makers fight political freebie ads

Marketplace Staff Mar 4, 2010
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Steve Chiotakis: Well Facebook is still a private company, but with 400 million users and a value of more than $11 billion, political lobbyists are keen on its worth as well. As Brett Neely reports, all sorts of political tactics are creeping into the social media sensation.


Brett Neely: Dan Porter runs OMG Pop, a game provider on social networks like Facebook. The games are free, but players can pay companies like his real money for virtual currency to reach the next level. A few months ago, Porter was looking online for ads that could link to his games. That’s when he came across a deal offering Facebook users free virtual currency if they wrote a letter to Congress.

Dan Porter: And that was saying wow, all I needed to do to get my currency in the game was to send an e-mail to my congressman or my senator telling them that I wanted to get “health insurance” quote unquote right.

Porter saw the sponsor was The Get Health Reform Right Coalition, which is backed by Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers. The online news site, Talking Points Memo, reported the coalition hired a D.C. company called 720 Strategies for a letter-writing campaign. In a statement, the coalition said the ads were unauthorized and their advertisers don’t offer anything of value in exchange for letters.

The president of 720 Strategies is Pam Fielding. She says her company never pays for letters.

Pam Fielding: There’s nothing more important in the work we do than ensuring that a message sent to a lawmaker is viewed for what it is, and that is a genuine message of concern from a real constituent in a real district.

But Talking Points Memo says 720 Strategies subcontracted ads for the letter-writing campaign to an online marketer. That firm, Webclients Affiliate Network, didn’t return calls.

Game company owner Dan Porter says he often sees these kinds of subcontractors promote ad campaigns by offering consumers freebies to maximize clicks.

Porter: Actually kind of almost like the financial system, you know how you take this mortgage and it’s chopped up so many times and it ends up so far down the line that some investment guy in Austria doesn’t understand that he’s actually holding South Florida mortgages. It’s a little bit the same thing.

With midterm elections coming, don’t be surprised if you see more offers like this on sites like Facebook.

In Washington, I’m Brett Neely for Marketplace.

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