In what turned out to be our swansong on Gatorade, our agency created the biggest viral hit of the Summer with “Ballgirl.” An Ad Age writer called to talk about it today and like most industry journalists covering viral, he steered the questions towards the issue of transparency. Sure, not identifying “Ballgirl” as a Gatorade ad was benign, but is there a line not to cross with such ‘stealth’ videos? Must you always announce yourself when creating web videos for clients? How about working the comments and message boards–if you do that without disclosure are you within ethical boundaries?
All interesting questions but to me, they are all off point. The fundamental issue boils down to governance: as of now, TV has it and the web doesn’t. Clients can act in whatever way they choose on the web, unlike television where the FCC sets standards, enforces censorship and demands all claims be thoroughly substantiated (though somehow Enzyte and it’s execrable spokesperson ‘Smilin’ Bob’ got past them for a year or so). The web is not paid media like television nor is it burdened with television’s standards, which must make network executives more than a little peevish.
Which is why I think we all better enjoy this unbridled freedom now because like it or not, legislation will be coming to the web. This past February, the European Union enacted legislation that levies heavy fines on any advertiser that creates content for the web without identifying themselves. With this much money involved in the fight over ever-shrinking media spends, its only a matter of time before the US follows suit.