Astroturf Marketing Newcastle

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Ad Mag
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Astroturfing

What is Astroturfing?

Astroturfing a subset of public relations, where companies create the impression of a spontaneous movement of people towards the support of a certain cause, when in fact it is being coordinated by one company.

Astroturfing campaigns are usually organised by companies to persuade prominent figures, often politicians, that there is strong support behind their cause.

Arranging staged protests, sending mail from what appears to be many different people, and creating fake online communities are three methods used to carry out an astroturfing campaign. Effective results can be achieved by just having a few people posing as a large group of activists.

Why use Astroturfing?

Astroturfing can be used to influence the government into passing certain legislation, to provide the initial push to drum up public support, or as part of a more traditional public relations strategy.

Astroturfing has been used frequently by businesses to pay people to express favourable comments about them online, and it’s also beginning to be used by those in political circles.

As Tom Rosenstiel, the director of Project for Excellence in Journalism, notes - the growing influence of political blogs and the anonymous nature of posting comments makes them "irresistible for dirty tricks and attack politics."

Similarly, in the business world astroturfing is often seen as a viable marketing tactic:

  • In the past Microsoft has been accused of astroturfing through sending hundreds of similar letters to various newspapers stating their disagreement with the antitrust suit being made against them. Many letters were found to have come from nonexistent addresses or people who were no longer alive.

  • In 2006 a website called iDont.com was launched by a company called SanDisk. The website posed as being a grassroots campaign set up by various individuals who were opposed to Apple’s domination of the MP3 market. In the end it was exposed as being an advertisement for one of their own devices - the Sansa e200.

  • Videos on YouTube from a so-called 16 year old girl under the name lonelygirl15 created huge popularity with millions of online users. This huge popularity meant that it wasn’t long before the woman in the videos was exposed as being Jessica Rose, a 20 year old actress. The videos were designed to be early versions for what would eventually become a movie.

What are the Risks?

Whilst astroturfing can be very effective, particularly in this age of the internet, companies risk alienating people if they are exposed as being behind the campaign. In this way astroturfing is similar to stealth marketing.

The problem is that astroturfing brings up ethical issues regarding whether companies should be misleading the general public.

To illustrate the ill-feeling against this form of marketing an Anti-Astroturfing campaign has even been set up, stating:

"We oppose the practice of astrotu...

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