When overreach leaves you Naked and infamous

Naked Communications has piled embarrassment on itself by pushing for favourable interviews with Kevin Rudd. It has also highlighted advertisers' increasingly brazen approaches to media.

It appears Kevin Rudd wants to be 'down' with the young people. So much so his people have engaged a ‘youth specialist’ advertising agency to try and turn this desire into reality.

What happened next is all over the news today – and for good reason, it’s just so clumsy.

The agency approached three prominent youth media titles – Fairfax Media’s The Vine, Vice and Pedestrian – with an offer that gave them interview access to Rudd in exchange for what the Sydney Morning Herald is reporting as “free pro-Labor advertising and editorial".

It is extremely common for agencies representing advertisers to push for favourable editorial in exchange for access to a scarcely available subject. It happens every single day. The difference is it’s generally sweetened by the prospect of advertising spend.

This situation was different – it appears there was no advertising investment from Rudd or Labor, and it involved access to a figure who is not shy about talking to the media. Not only is an interview with Rudd barely a scarce resource, but nor do I imagine it would be highly coveted by these youth focused titles.

I worked as commercial director at a large youth publisher for the better part of three years. My role was to try and balance the requirements of the advertiser, the commercial requirements of the business and the content requirements of the audience and ensure a balance between commerce and creative. It’s a tough environment to work within and a constant balancing act – the advertising market is tough and Australia is grossly oversupplied when it comes to media publishers targeting this audience.

Luckily, in my time in this role the internet seemed like an afterthought for most political parties, with the only remotely political campaign we were briefed on or received advertising revenue from coming from the mining lobby in mid-2010. For the record this solely involved banners and no editorial.

The idea of dangling the carrot of a Rudd interview as an incentive was misguided. Web publishers live and die by pageviews and audience numbers. Rudd is unlikely to make a material difference to either, especially when the offer is shopped to not just one, but three, youth publishers.

The additional thinking to demand free advertising is also misguided. Publishers rely on advertising to survive as they have no other revenue stream – giving away your only product is bad business. Furthermore, it could set a bad precedent with an agency that has other, spending clients.

The agency in question, Naked, has stated that their actions were not at the directive of the prime minister nor his office, nor approved by them.

While an interview with Rudd is unlikely to send pageviews soaring, a story on how the ad agency representing him aggressively pushes for free advertising and content will definitely get readers clicking. It’s exactly the sort of embarrassing, egg-on-face story that drives the web – shareable, awkward and friendly to comment. You can be sure there will be commentators on their computers today taking shots at Rudd, the agency, the advertising industry and any other individual or group they feel may have contributed to the situation.

Yes, it happens every day – an advertiser trying to push the limits of what a publisher will and won’t do in exchange for favourable treatment or ad spend but it doesn’t happen everyday with the new prime minister of Australia. This gives it the oxygen it needs to reach the front pages of the nation’s newspapers and the nightly TV news bulletin.

Yet in a few days the mainstream media will move on, but for many publishers out there what happened with Rudd and Naked is a daily occurrence – being pushed to be seen to be adding value to advertisers, well aware the current advertising market dynamic is dramatically stacked in their favour.

The agency involved is widely regarded by those in the advertising world for finding innovative, creative and ethical solutions for client issues. It is unfortunate that this blunder will perhaps, at least in the short term, soil a company that produces great work. Unfortunately, the work done for Rudd wasn’t great. It wasn’t even good. It was just terrible.

Ben Shepherd is a media and technology consultant. He can be found on LinkedIn and on Twitter.