December 5, 2014
Bayer, Red Bull: Fake Advertising in Social Media
The Viennese PR agency Mhoch3 has used fake identities to post on online forums for years, putting up positive comments for Red Bull, Opel, BAYER and other companies. The Coalition against BAYER Dangers demands criminal proceedings.
According to inquiries by the Austrian magazine DATUM, the PR agency Mhoch3 has published several hundred thousand postings using fake names. Clients were companies such as Red Bull, Opel, BAYER or TUI. The director of Mhoch3 confirmed that this type of 'online reputation management' had been on offer for ten years and is still being used.
The fake comments can be found on social networks such as YouTube and Facebook, but also on SPIEGEL ONLINE, the most important German news site. The PR professionals usually pretend to be innocuous users who simply offer friendly support. They aim to appear authentic by putting in spelling mistakes and asking personal questions.
Acting on behalf of BAYER, Mhoch3 promoted, amongst other things, anti-flea medication such as Advantix, Advantage and Kiltix from the company's line of veterinary products. Employees were asked to make up a pet for themselves so they would appear more credible.
Where the controversial hormonal intrauterine device Mirena was concerned, the users' health was put at risk. There are thousands of reports about Mirena having side effects, some of them severe.
All the same, the agency published postings imitating the tone of helpful friends (some minor spelling mistakes included in the German original):
=> 'I had the hormonal IUD Mirena put in a year ago and have to say that I'm very happy with it. I was afraid of having it inserted at the beginning, but it wasn't that bad at all.' Olivia34, psychologie.at
=> 'I had Mirena inserted, that's a hormonal IUD too, and my gynaecologist has had very positive experiences with it (...) - I can wholeheartedly recommend it.'
=> '@ sporzal: my advice - it might not be Mirena, it might be an allergy. Unfortunately I have also found that out only recently. I had headaches really often and that's no fun - I can understand that.' MauMau, hormonspirale-forum.de
Mhoch3's internal evaluation after the BAYER campaign summarizes: 'As a general principle, it can be said that the internet is an ideal platform for spreading information about contraception.' According to the summary, the users' reactions often showed that they believed the friendly comments and were interested in the intrauterine device.
The agency also had the task of 'slicking up' wikipedia articles. Prior to every campaign, the PR writers were given training, sometimes even personal lectures by the clients. Many of the fake comments can still be found online.
Jan Pehrke from the board of the Coalition against BAYER Dangers demands criminal proceedings against the responsible persons at BAYER: “Unfair advertising practices are a tradition of BAYER's. In this case it is fully obvious that BAYER was trying to circumvent the law, as advertising prescription drugs such as Mirena is banned in Europe. We must not allow pharma producers to play down the risks of drugs and shamelessly manipulate the public debate.”
BAYER spends just over 10 billion euros per year on advertising and marketing. The company refuses to provide a breakdown. BAYER often goes beyond the limits of what is allowed. Penalty fees for unfair advertising practices are included in the financial calculations from the start and paid from the petty cash.
further information: BAYER conceals marketing expenses