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Hidden advertising on the rise on the internet

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Advertising agencies are increasingly often hiring commenters who praise the products of their clients on the internet. The magazine Týden has tracked down one of them. She pockets CZK 25,000 a month for the hidden advertising.

There is no cheaper, more effective and less conspicuous way of advertising. And Czech companies have already noticed that. The only thing they need to do is to spread praising comments on offered products in the right internet discussion forums.

“Girls, I’ve tried many products, but this is the only one I’m really excited about,” a commenter who calls herself Alicebellini, praises a new cosmetic product on one of the portals for women. The weekly Týden was following her internet tracks and found out that she has left similar recommendations on at least five other specialized websites. During a personal meeting the commenter acknowledged that she gets paid for her comments.

Artificial just as real

Abroad, this marketing strategy is described in detail. Advertising companies use secret agents in discussion forums to praise television sets, washing detergents and cars. Commercials do not work any more. “Such cheating is called astroturfing – according to an American trademark of thick artificial grass that looks as real,” said Petr Čaník who teaches ethics of entrepreneurs at a university.

Czech advertising agencies are still discovering the magic of astroturfing. And not only they. Website administrators have also started noticing hidden advertising. “We delete such contributions all the time,” said Lukáš Vodička from Omlazení.cz.

That is where Týden has caught track of Alicebellini for the first time. The 30-year-old woman introduced herself as Gabriela Jelínková during our meeting, but she indicated immediately that this is most likely not her real name. She has been publishing her comments under thirty different pseudonyms on the internet.

Models are not attractive any more

I advise girls about their cosmetic problems and I recommend products to them which are represented by our company on the market,” Jelínková said. “Sometimes I admit that I work for a particular company, other times I pretend to be a regular woman who has had good experiences with our products. Digitally adjusted photos of models with thick eyelashes will no longer convince anybody to purchase a particular mascara,” she said.

She gets paid CZK 25,000 for astroturfing every month. However, she does not want to disclose the company she is working for. “Our employees are definitely not involved in such activities,” said Nikol Novotná, spokeswoman for L´Oréal, whose products Alicebellini praises most often.

From the other side

Some companies do not get actively involved in discussions, but they pay close attention to what is being written about them. For example Kateřina has also experience with this: “In one discussion I referred to an e-shop with children goods (because I was very satisfied with it) and when I made another order later a woman wrote back and thanked me that I had praised their firm, that she was very pleased.”

An intern was held responsible

The best-known scandal occurred last year in April. An intern with Bison & Rose was promoting the services of ČSOB and Poštovní spořitelna in online discussions under various false names and at the same time she was attacking the competition. Bison & Rose sacked the intern promptly. “It was purely her private activity which didn’t have anything to do with us. Moreover, she was using our computers only occasionally,” said Roman Šmíd from Bison & Rose, distancing himself from what was a hot potato at the time.

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