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Google in Sicko storm

'Advertising is democracy'

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"Fire the publicist. Go off message. Let all your employees blab and blog!" fantasised the writer Clive Thompson in a recent Wired magazine cover story.

"The name of this new game is RADICAL TRANSPARENCY, and it's sweeping boardrooms across the nation," burbled the mag.

But the perils of allowing employees to "blab and blog!" were splendidly illustrated over the weekend by Google.

"Does negative press make you Sicko?" asked Google health account planner Lauren Turner. She was referring to the new documentary by left wing demagogue Michael Moore about the US health provision.

Turner used the corporate blog to condemn his use of "isolated and emotional stories of the system at its worst". Why couldn't the media concentrate on the positive aspects of the system such as 44m uninsured Americans er, "the industry's numerous prescription programs, charity services, and philanthropy efforts."

This segues neatly into a plug for Google's core business, as she goes on to explain:

Many of our clients face these issues; companies come to us hoping we can help them better manage their reputations through "Get the Facts" or issue management campaigns. Your brand or corporate site may already have these informational assets, but can users easily find them?

We can place text ads, video ads, and rich media ads in paid search results or in relevant websites within our ever-expanding content network. Whatever the problem, Google can act as a platform for educating the public and promoting your message. We help you connect your company's assets while helping users find the information they seek.

Wired's "radical transparency" - keep blabbing

Not surprisingly, Google's intervention on behalf of the healthcare giants caused an uproar.

"Google might want to consider changing their motto to 'We pander to anyone that can pay'", wrote one Slashdot poster.

Yesterday, Turner followed up with an explanation, but seemed to ignore the unwritten rule of old-school PR disaster management: When you're in a hole, stop blabbing.

Her opinion of Mr Moore's jolly unfair movie was entirely personal, she said, and Google "probably" doesn't have a position.

But nevertheless: "Advertising is a very democratic and effective way to participate in a public dialogue," she urged.

Now advertising may be many things - but "democratic" isn't a word that readily comes to mind.

This piece of "radical transparency" has served two purposes, neither of which particularly helps Google. Firstly, it reminds everyone that Google is an advertising company. It is, but it goes to extraordinary lengths to persuade us it isn't. Secondly, it again shows a rather weird relationship with "democracy" (you'll recall how it marketed its PageRank™ as harnessing the "uniquely democratic nature of the web" - too bad if you're not on it).

Only among the simple minded, or truly brainwashed, can Google's highest-bidder-wins advertising auction be uttered in the same breath as one person, one vote democracy.

Perhaps it's time to re-hire that publicist. ®

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