Holy Crap!

by admin on July 13, 2007

in Marketing

I’ve been waiting ages to find a suitable blog post for which that headline works and this is it.

I often get asked about the risks of blogging and it’s always useful to have a clutch of case studies to hand. If you want an object lesson in how NOT to use a blog as a way of promoting a product or service then the Alliconnect site is it. The short cut version goes like this:

  • GlaxoSmithKline is marketing a 50% strength version of a patent medicine. In it’s OTC form, it is designed for weight loss and bears the cool name of ‘alli.’ Problem is that the product has some unwanted ‘treatment effects.‘ I could go further but instead, I’ll point you to an excellent video from Angry 365 Days A Year which explains all.
  • As part of the campaign, GSK hired Debbie Weil to mentor GSK blog writers and throw in the odd piece to the Alliconnect site. Ms. Weil has written a book The Corporate Blogging Book: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know to Get It Right. Heck she must know what she’s talking about then. Apparently not.
  • It would seem the blog wasn’t doing too well and Ms Weil solicited some help from the blog community. Heck, she says it was her idea.

At this point it’s worth saying that it’s common practice among US PRs to pimp their clients through email etc. Indeed it appears to be accepted practice. I’ve invited comment through email from time to time but on issues I felt were important. This is an entirely different thing to pimping a service because I’m talking issues not products or services.

Ms Weil made a number of mistakes:

  • This is a product whose ‘treatment effects’ are downright nasty. Did she not check the incidence of problem? Did she not realise that taking a medicine that’s likely to give you a bad dose of diahorrea might lead to some blow back (sic) on a blog?
  • She publicly solicited comments, freely showing her affiliation to the company and the alli campaign. No problem so far. But, she then went and emailed a bunch of her mates saying:

“If you’re inspired or provoked, leave a comment on any entry. No need to say that you know me, of course.”

  • That’s pimping and then trying to disguise it.
  • On her own blog Ms Weil writes off her faux pas as an ‘offhand remark.’ No – it’s pimping. Not content with that, Ms. Weil attempts to justify her faux pas on her blog but also says:

“What I really want to do today is crawl under a rock and pretend I’ve never heard of blogging.”

  • Sorry ma’am – you wrote the book. There’s an old saying: When you’re standing in a bucket of crap, it’s not a good idea to jump up and down in it. Which is exactly what Ms. Weil has done.

Since the blogosophere is polluted with more PR shills crowded with flacks, there is plenty of comment floating around. An interesting place to start is here at Grokdotcom. The links are instructive. I’ve left comments on Grokdotcom to this piece of apologia. And at Ms. Weil’s site. Of course none of this seems to be deterring the American public from scooping up alli as Wired reports. Or maybe that’s what GSK want us to believe? If not then why is Ms Weil pimping alliconnect?

Note to Steve Clayton – care to reconsider your endorsement of Ms Weil’s ‘bible?’

PS – I couldn’t care less what PR does. In fact I assiduously try and ignore what PR does most of the time. But I do object to pimping because it makes all of us look like whores.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

susan scrupski July 13, 2007 at 11:25 pm

Can you hear me LMAO from across the Atlantic as I read this from my mobile on the beach? You have trumped Luis in a NY minute for hero of the day! Mad props.

Dennis Howlett July 13, 2007 at 11:37 pm

LMAO? ummm…not familiar with that one.

Nathan Gilliatt July 13, 2007 at 11:47 pm

Usually a suffix to ROTF: ROTFLMAO

Jon Collins July 13, 2007 at 11:48 pm

Think you'll find its "Laughing My A** Off" :)

Jerry Bowles July 13, 2007 at 11:51 pm

I believe that would be "Laughed my ass off," Dennis, which is not at all inappropriate in context. My take on l'affaire Weil is a little more thin and sardonic.

Dennis Howlett July 13, 2007 at 11:57 pm

I imagine Ms. Weil must be reaching for her own brand of brown trousers right about now. If so, I'd recommend she also secures a set of bicycle clips. Keeps everything in the right place.

Better still go get a gig at Huggies.

Robert Gorell July 15, 2007 at 4:01 am


I think you misunderstood the intent of Jeff's post, but it's understandable. Like you said of him and Debbie, I can't expect you to take my word for it just because I know him ;) Still, an "apologia" for my post it was not.

Jeff and I are known to disagree for sport, but not here. Beyond sympathizing with Debbie for making a decision she obviously regrets by taking on a client I know (without question) we'd have passed-up, he was simply asking "who makes the rules?" He also wanted to poke fun at the "hall monitors" — in other words, not me for calling out alli, but the people calling out Debbie by name.

So, do you feel he was apologizing for Debbie or for my post? It would help if you'd clarify, because I think the way he chose to link to my post was confusing.

Regardless, I don't know Debbie personally, but we all knew when I first blogged it that she was retained by GSK. (We're not much for political correctness, though, so nobody minded my blogging it.) My post wasn't meant as a personal attack on Debbie, but at the company itself for bringing such a product to market in the first place. It was a dumb move, in my opinion, taking on the client. I think I've been clear about that by default. But somebody had to get that check; it just happened to be Debbie. (Ochman's blog makes that point better than I did.)

As it turns out, a good friend of mine worked on the campaign at some point (no relation to Debbie's work). I found out about it when her husband, who I'm also friends with, called me, pretending to be angry about my post. I began to apologize to him before checking myself, making it clear I wasn't sorry, and asking if his wife was upset with me — all before he let me know that neither he nor his wife cared; they just wanted to grab a drink after work. Cracked me up…

Anyway, I stand by what I wrote about alli. It's a gross product, and something I'd never put my name behind (to say the least). Debbie may feel the same right now. What remains more difficult for me to reconcile, though — beyond people getting paid to market it — is that people would consider crapping their pants a fair trade for weight-loss. Pretty sad…

Your blog's hilarious, by the way. I subscribed.

steve clayton July 15, 2007 at 9:16 am

watching with interest – I rekon everyone is allowed on FU in the blogosphere. I'd like to think I would be :)

Dennis Howlett July 15, 2007 at 7:33 pm

@Robert: thanks for the additional explanation. I too stand by what I've written on the basis I am making a general point about blog risk, illustrated by what I see although I concede that knowledge is always imperfect.

@Steve: sure – agreed. I'd not like to count the number of times I've exercised poor judgment in many areas of my life. To me however, this is way beyond poor judgment. It's an object lesson in two things: hypocrisy and stupidity. To me, that combination creates a bit of a trust issue which I find difficult to reconcile with Ms Weil's 'status.'

I think it was Shel Holtz who said something like: If it doesn't pass the taste test don't go there. That's a good bit of PR advice IMO.

Dimitar Vesselinov July 16, 2007 at 1:38 am

Dennis, I believe you are too harsh on Debbie. We are human beings, we make mistakes. Yes, the blogging revolution eats its own children.

Dennis Howlett July 16, 2007 at 4:57 am

@Dimitar: where do we draw the line?

One of the things I write about a lot is ethics. There's a reason. I see too many incidents of questionable ethical behavior written off in an 'oh well' kind of fashion.

In this case, Ms. Weil is held up by some as a person of 'guru' status. If that's the case then you are held to a higher standard than others.

So while I agree absolutely it is human to err (heck I do it all the time,) it is at best a tad foolish to repeat the behaviour.

The least she could have done was take a reality check and rather than dig her heels in was to have acknowledged there have been genuine concerns. But no – she insists she was right. Guaranteed to get people going IMO.

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