Cashing in on bad news – unethical marketing or quickly responding to the public’s needs?2 min read

The deaths of both Jade Goody and Michael Jackson have received vast media coverage leading to an increase in online searches. The media frenzy over swine flu too has lead to large volumes of people searching for information on symptoms and advice. These reported events lead to opportunities for marketing but is it unethical or clever marketing?

Interest in Michael Jackson and therefore his work has increased posthumously, and many are capitalising on this by selling memorabilia and music recordings. Michael Jackson’s homepage ( increased from position 7827 on 24/6/09, to position 89 on 26/6/09 in the most UK’s most frequently visited websites – moving up a staging 7738 positions following his death, equating to a 17 fold increase in traffic. EBay currently lists 22,353 items relating to Michael Jackson, which I imagine, although I do not have any evidence, is many times higher than this time two months ago.

The media hype surrounding swine flu, coupled with the encouragement to use the NHS direct service has meant large numbers of people are searching for information on swine flu symptoms and advice. When the Swine Flu website was launched it was receiving 2,600 hits per second – or 9.3 million hits per hour, which clearly shows the level of public interest.  A quick Google search reveals PPC adverts for herbal remedies, air purification systems, anti viral drugs and preventative clothing including masks. Buying medication from online suppliers is at best risky, but what about those companies advertising precautionary measures products? Are they responding to public demand and efficiently optimising their PPC campaign, or are they cashing in and adding to public hysteria in order to generate sales?

It is vital that you know your PPC campaign inside out – precisely which keywords you are bidding on, what your ad text’s message is etc –  and be quick to responds with changes should a situation arise leading to your advert becoming inappropriate. For example, a celebrity magazine was running a PPC campaign with ‘Jade Goody’ as a keyword generating an advert. After she had died, the advert still was appearing with the message along the lines of ‘keep up with the goings on in Jade Goody’s life.’  This happened because she had died at the weekend and the advert settings were not changed until the weekday. By having an out of date message in the ad text, this advert could have the potential to damage the company’s reputation of being informative and up-to-date.

There is nothing ‘legally’ wrong with basing your PPC campaigns around current topics, but when they could be seen to be in bad taste, you need to think carefully before jeopardising your brand’s values and reputation for a potential short term gain.

Becky Hopkin

As MD Becky works to ensure Digital Gearbox’s values are being lived, and that our customers are receiving the best service possible. A self-confessed Disney fanatic, Becky loves spending down time with her golden Labrador, Nala, and her young daughter, Emily.

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