Monday, August 24

Hulking Astroturf: Reverb Communications

As if being called out on astroturf over gaming apps while the Federal Trade Commission is considering new rules to regulate reviews on the Internet isn't enough, Reverb Communications added fuel to its own bonfire by sending MobileCrunch what can only be called an incredulous email that defies imagination. The firm, which represents dozens of game publishers and developers, sent an admission of ignorance to writer Gagan Biyani.

A bizarre blend of admission and defiance.

Hi Gagan –

I’m sure you are speaking with one of our former employees that has been contacting media outlets about Reverb. I’m not sure what “unethical practices” you are referring to so it would be hard for me to comment, but I am hoping that you will do the proper research to ensure that the facts you are reporting are accurate and not written based on information provided by a disgruntled former employee who is violating his confidentiality agreement.

My office did mention that you had issues with our staff and interns writing reviews for some of our clients' games, I’m sure you are aware that in order to write a review on iTunes an individual needs to purchase the game or app and can only write one review. Our interns and employees write their reviews based on their own game play experience, after having purchased the game by themselves, a practice not uncommon by anyone selling games or apps and hardly unethical.

I am in Europe until Tuesday, I’ll keep my eyes out for the story, once again I do hope you do some homework before posting erroneous or incorrect information about Reverb Communications.

Doug Kennedy

Although Kennedy is vice president of business development (once listed as "owner" on Linkedin), he seems to have missed the industry memo that includes the standard practice of disclosure, which is precisely why the Federal Trade Commission wants to hold reviewers liable for making false or unsubstantiated claims about products. In fact, companies paying reviewers could be held liable too, which in this case, would likely include all Reverb Communications clients given the Reverb proposal also posted by Biyani.

An alleged portion of the Reverb pitch that promises astroturf.

Reverb employs a small team of interns who are focused on managing online message boards, writing influential game reviews, and keeping a gauge on the online communities. Reverb uses the interns as a sounding board to understand the new mediums where consumers are learning about products, hearing about hot new games and listen to the thoughts of our targeted audience. Reverb will use these interns on [Developer Y] products to post game reviews (written by Reverb staff members) ensuring the majority of the reviews will have the key messaging and talking points developed by the Reverb PR/marketing team.

When firms attempt to 'serve' everyone, they really serve no one.

Yikes. Both communications demonstrate an almost willful ignorance of public relations and ethics, which seems surprising given Kennedy's background at GMR Marketing, Nvidia Corporation, and Sony Corporation. Since, the story of Reverb Communications' astroturfing scheme is making the rounds, and in some cases, dragging Reverb clients along with it.

If it can be said that a core component of public relations includes implementing planned programs of action that will serve both the organization and the public interest, then Reverb Communications seems to have failed both, and itself, equally.


Rich on 8/24/09, 1:47 PM said...

More Words:

Must read by Marketing Pilgram: "AstroTurfing the App Store" by Jordan Mccollum.

Rich on 8/26/09, 9:25 AM said...

Famous last words:

"There seems to be a growing acknowledgement, if not acceptance, that posting fake reviews is not only wrong, but unethical." — Paul Rand, president and CEO of Z√≥calo Group and president-elect of WOMMA, as told to PR Week

PR Week had also tried to contact Reverb Communications. In a very misguided moves, the company did not return phone calls. You can find the story here: Industry reacts to accusations that agency 'gamed' App Store

Anonymous said...

Is it any wonder there is no trust in marketers and advertizers? Tired of being lied to?

Rich on 8/27/10, 1:51 PM said...


"Public Relations Firm to Settle FTC Charges that It Advertised Clients' Gaming Apps Through Misleading Online Endorsements" — FTC

Anonymous said...

Actions like this, unfortunately reflect poorly upon all PR agencies. Transparency and authenticity are important anytime someone is online.

Anonymous said...

From what I hear from members of 2 of their publishing clients, misrepresentation extends to their publishing practices as well.


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