Are You Legally Obligated to Speak Well of Your Advertisers?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008 by Mistlee

Are You Legally Obligated to Speak Well of Your Advertisers?

By Dave Taylor

A few days ago radio personality (and I use that word loosely) Don Imus was sued by an advertiser for voicing their adverts on air, but
also making disparaging comments about the company too. It was widely reported in traditional media - indeed, I bumped into it on USA Today's story - but I have seen almost no commentary about it here in the blogosphere.

The company suing Imus is Flatsigned Press Inc. and it is related to their promotion of The Warren Report on John F. Kennedy's Assassination, written by, and signed by, former President Gerald R. Ford, who was one of the members of the original commission.

On his show, Don Imus sarcastically needled that the publishers "have been waiting for (Ford) to croak so they can unload these (books)", said that the ads were cheesy and then even made fun of the company name itself: "Now that he's flatLINED, you go to"

At some level, the lawsuit is groundless because one presumes that the company knew in advance that Don Imus has made his reputation and built up a tremendous listenership by being a jerk, by being critical, sarcastic, rude, hostile, and racist. This is the same Don Imus who was fired from the lax CBS Radio Network for making some idiotic comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team. If you ask a racist ass to promote your product, you should be prepared for them to have their vitriol spill over and taint your company, product or service too.

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Nonetheless, I think that it's interesting to consider the ramifications of whether there is an obligation or social contract between the advertiser and the publisher, whether there's any sort of explicit relationship between me and the advertisers that pick my site for an advertising venue? And what if there's an intermediary, an advertising network like b5media or even AdSense?

So spin this scenario out, dear blogging colleague: you add an AdSense block to your weblog and continue to write pointed, occasionally critical commentary about your industry, then a merchant who kinda-sorta gets how online advertising works buys some clicks through AdWords and is horrified to have a customer tell them that you were slamming the company while they were paying for their advertisement to appear on that very page!

Scary scenario?

I am the last person to defend someone like Don Imus, but I do think that there's a very gray area that we're all going to have to face if Flatsigned Press were to win this lawsuit.

What do you think?

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