2012 – The Year Online Marketing Goes on the Defensive

We online marketers were a small, dedicated group of people that took to the internet to promote brands and companies. It was a kinder, gentler time. But we all knew what was next. What always happens next. Our small community of honest branders and online marketing founders got bulldozed with large corporations, shady practices, and scheming “online experts” who took over and left companies all over the Nation confused, disorientated, and a little less confident in the online marketing process. It was almost as if we found ourselves in the Land of the Lorax where our Truffala trees of good, honest online marketing tactics got taken out one by one. Now, it’s a branding and marketing nightmare out there.

The year of 2012 will be the year we really see new regulations, rules, and guidelines that may just stifle the entire online marketing practice. We must separate the good from the bad in terms of online marketing practices before it’s too late. Or have we already reached that point? Here are some things to look out for in 2012 and how they will affect your business.

U.S. Judge Approves Facebook Lawsuit against Ads

Facebook can now be sued by online users that claim showing advertisements that their friends “like” violates a California law regarding commercial endorsements. According to BusinessWeek, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, San Jose, California, rejected the company’s bid to dismiss the lawsuit on December 16th that ruled the plaintiffs may pursue claims that the company’s sponsored ads violate state law and are deemed fraudulent.

The lawsuit focused primarily on “sponsored stories.” A sponsored story is a paid advertisement of another friend’s name, profile picture, and fan status of that advertiser. The plaintiffs deemed this action as an unauthorized use of their names and likeness and that they deserve compensation.

How will this affect you online? Consumers are growing smarter. This type of ad campaign was brilliant because it allowed your fans to advertise to non-fans thus taking all of the work out of the advertiser’s hands and placing it where the potential consumer considers a reliable source.

The plaintiffs, in their statement of claim, cited Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg saying that “nothing influences people more than a recommendation of a friend” and a “trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising.”

Facebook’s legal team is continuing to fight to overrule this decision but it is not looking good. Consumers are not stupid. Thanks to the “Get Famous Fast” mentality that social media has brought to the table, it is now understood how important (or valuable) your face really is.

.XXX Registration is Nightmare for Businesses and Consumers Alike

Even just the idea of a www.youURLhere.xxx is a deterrent to most consumers. Your email has probably already exploded with the registar details as you sit there and ponder what the adult film industry has to do with your company. Unfortunately, it does have a lot to do with your brand. Businesses and consumers alike are making the right decision to register their personal and business names under .xxx to avoid adult industries from getting a hold of their likeness. Once they acquire your name or your company’s name in a .xxx, then the legal battle gets both controversial and stressful. In fact, Brigham Young University has already purchased several .xxx names to protect their school’s reputation. The Brigham is not the only one. The AP reports that 80,000 XXX domains have already pre-sold to companies like Pepsi and Nike. The University of Kansas has reportedly paid $3,000 for a variety of XXX URLs that could be attributed to the school.

McDonalds vs. Burger King Ad Shines Light on Online Marketing and Branding

Earlier this month, a McDonald’s advertisement went viral. The basis of the ad was called “degrading” to the Burger King brand. But the damage had already been done as we all know, once an ad goes viral, it can’t be retracted. The advertisement featured a little boy who continues to get his McDonald’s lunch stolen by bullies until he disguises it in a much-less-appealing Burger King bag. The ad racked in more than 400,000 Vimeo views but Burger King did not find the ad so amusing.

According to SocialTimes.com, Burger King issued a scathing statement saying, “McDonald’s has broken the rules of comparative advertising by degrading the Burger King brand in the TV commercial.”

Here is where it gets interesting. McDonald’s never approved the ad. The ad was developed by Tribal DBB and Heye & Partners who presented it to McDonald’s where it was never approved. Although McDonald’s never gave it the official go-ahead, it still made its way into the internet but McDonald’s is dealing with the fall out, not the ad agency.

My prediction for 2012 is that the question this situation raises will be a prominent focus to online marketers. Should a brand be responsible for its name and image on the web even when it is not authorized?

This question raises an even bigger one: will 2012 be the year of the defensive? Will companies spend less time growing their brands and their images in a positive way but rather expel on their energy protecting it? Between .xxx domains and potential lawsuits with every click on the mouse, online marketers watch the fun and creativity being sucked out of the industry and start focusing on legal jargon and protective measures. I hope I’m wrong and we find a way to work around new law suits, legal measures and the consumer focus to be paid like any other celebrity. God speed marketers and I’ll see you on the other side.

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