The dirty marketing technique of Astroturfing
Michael Kiely who shows awful judgement by calling himself “Australia’s only marketing guru’ has written about ‘Astroturfing’ a most unethical practice being used by big polluting industrialists.
Citing two recent books – Scorcher by Clive Hamilton and High and Dry by Guy Pearse – Kiely posits the dirty mining, coal and smelting industries spend big but hidden sums sponsoring ‘faux grassroots’ campaigns to block or delay any action on global warming. This has apparently been very successful and is behind the coal industry’s confidence it will receive big Federal compensation for the cost of reducing CO2 emissions.
The technique involves funding lots of small, usually right wing organisations to hire PR firms to run their agendas, creating an overall impression that they are part of a grassroots revolt.
Kiely claims all sorts of industries with unpopular agendas use the technique, including those pushing genetically modified foods, against gun control, against the link between cancer and asbestos and, of course, against the notion of climate change. Standard tools include conferences, white papers by ‘experts’ and self-published journals claimning to be objective and per reviewed and sporting titles like World Climate Review and Energy & Environment.
Related and similarly unlovable PR industry techniques: are ventriloquism and the echo chamber. Ventriloquism is hiring ‘independent’ scientists to position questionable messages as science. The ‘echo chamber’ is the repetition of key messages until they get noticed.
Unfiortunately as Media Watch so often shows, the media’s tendency to mindlessly reprint press releases almost verbatim creates easy opportunities for such techniques and a lazy approach to balance sees more space given to sceptics’ views than is reflected in scientific or community views. For example an analysis of articles in the most influential American dailies found that 53 percent expressed doubt as to global warming. However of a sample of over 900 articles dealing with climate change and published in peer-reviewed, scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, none expressed doubt as to the existence or major cause of global warming.
Kiely reasonably likens these public relations campaigns to the tobacco companies’ campaign to create doubt about the role of cigarettes in causing disease and the rearguard actions by earlier generations to defend lead and asbestos, slavery and wife-beating.
I’d really like to get a response to this unappetising stuff from the PR industry.