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Stephen Logan

Super Savvy Me: When is Online Advertising Not Advertising?

5th Jul 2011 News, Industry News, SEO 5 minutes to read

Theoretically, Super Savvy Me is a fantastic site for consumers to rate a wide range of products and enjoy decent discounts. However, you don’t need to scratch too far beneath the surface to expose the potentially misleading nature of the site.

I have to admit, I had never heard of it before a recent national radio advertising campaign. There again, I’m not exactly in their target market. Super Savvy Me is predominantly aimed at female Internet users. Offering, in their own (Meta) words, ‘Ideas, inspiration & wisdom to help you make the most out of life.’

You see, on first glance, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about the site. It does exactly what it says on the tin. Product placement might be a potential criticism, but essentially you can ‘rate, debate and decide what’s great.’ The issue though is WHAT exactly you can rate, debate and make a judgement on its greatness.

At no point in the Meta or the homepage, above the footer, is it mentioned that the site is owned by Procter & Gamble. In fact the only mention is a tiny link at the bottom of the page in amongst the navigational links. Suddenly, everything clicks into place. That’s why Fairy and Max Factor are mentioned alongside each other and in such high quantity. The same is true of Pantene, Flash, Bold, Lenor, Head & Shoulders, Oral-B and IAMS. Guess what links these varied brands?

For me, there’s no issue with the site itself. As already established, it’s not exactly to my taste, but it essentially fulfils its objectives. However, the lack of any clear affiliation with Proctor & Gamble could easily lead to confusion – certainly on first glance. Unless I read every word on the page, I might never know.

Therefore, rather than being an ‘impartial’ forum for consumers, it is in fact a series of rather unsubtle adverts for one company’s back catalogue. Whilst negative reviews are certainly in evidence, it’s the lack of rival products that undermines any claims of impartiality.

The Advertising Standards Agency has being firing warning shots across the bows of all online marketers and Internet-based businesses since expanding its jurisdiction; therefore I wonder why a site that, according to its radio commercial, has almost a million users has slipped through. I wouldn’t go as far as to suggest that Super Savvy Me is wholly unethical, but it does pose more questions than it does provide answers.

Are all the superbrands now able to endlessly plug products in the guise of impartiality? Should Kraft create a chocolate comparison site dedicated to Cadburys products? Should Johnson & Johnson do the same for hair growth treatments? Just how visible does bias need to be?

Transparency is essential for advertisers online and off. Lots of companies often try to find subtle workarounds, but by and large they’re overlooked by legislators and industry rulings. The ban on product placement in programmes was recently lifted in the UK, although only with the provision that viewers are clearly notified before, during and after the programme. Even a blogger or Twitter user can’t mention a product that they have been paid to promote without clearly identifying the link.

Therefore, I wonder why websites would be any different. Okay, so Super Savvy Me does have Proctor & Gamble within the footer and links to the main company’s Terms & Conditions as well as the Privacy Policy – but how many people genuinely make that connection? Maybe it doesn’t matter, after all there are plenty of products to discuss and users can enjoy decent discounts on most.

My cynicism though suggests that this might be a dangerous precedent to start setting. Most people are intelligent enough to spot the connection and can therefore make up their own mind; ironically though it might be those who are actually less savvy who don’t realise that it is an advertising platform. After all, this isn’t just a pokey little Top 10 style site where the top slots are always pre-determined by the amount somebody pays or their connection to the site’s creator.

I have no doubt that Super Savvy Me meets all legislation and rules governing deception, but that is cause for concern in itself. If it was simply titled, Super Savvy Me – a Proctor & Gamble company and referenced as such throughout, there would be no issue. Everybody would be made aware of the connection instantly. But the subtlety employed makes it incredibly difficult to spot.

I am all for an open Internet, but there have to be some rules – particularly where advertising and the true function of a site are involved. This site is one of many that could easily be described as being a grey area. After all, who is it actually harming and which law is it breaking? There are no lies per se, just a very clear bias running throughout for Proctor & Gamble products.

Their Facebook profile, which has attracted 78,000 ‘Likes’, helps to continue the conversations from the site and develop the Super Savvy Me brand. It also continues the promotion of associated products, with the profile regularly referring to ‘friends’ like Fairy and Daz. But is there any mention of Procter & Gamble? Don’t be silly.

For me it is advertising within advertising without ever being an obvious advertisement. It may not be the first time this technique has been used, it might not even be the last, but it is certainly one of the clearest instances. The clarity, or lack thereof, of any affiliation can easily be construed as misleading. However, maybe it’s more of a content farm than it is an advertisement, perhaps a little of both. In terms of legality, well, I couldn’t accurately comment.

This isn’t a scoop and it’s certainly not an outing, the information is out there for everybody to see. However, it does pose quite serious questions about what exactly is allowed online and how much attribution is required. It may even suggest that changes are needed to help ensure that we all don’t become victims of subliminal advertising on the Internet.

So what are your thoughts on Super Savvy Me? Is it part of a new generation of cleverly disguised advertising platforms and do consumers need clearer guidance? Should the affiliation be clearer or would that be wholly unnecessary? Do you know of other examples and should this kind of faux-social platform be banned?

Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with Proctor & Gamble or any competitors; this just got my goat, particularly due to the regular interruptions on the radio.

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