Posted 22nd July 2010.
Please Note I have had to remove a number of comments from this blog post. The comments were reports from readers about their experiences with Chris Cardell's products and services. Mr Cardell has threatened me with legal action if these were not removed (ironic on a post chastising him for trying to gag bloggers with legal action, I know). I have removed them until I can confirm the veracity of the claims against him.
There's an interesting little storm brewing over here in the UK.
There's a fairly well known business guru here called Chris Cardell. He does seminars for small business owners and has online membership clubs etc.. I can't comment on the quality of his work as I've never bought any of his stuff – however you can get a general idea of feedback by googling his name.
Earlier this year Cardell ran a direct mail campaign where the piece being mailed was made to look like a newspaper clipping with an article singing his praises with a post-it note attached in handwritten script saying “Ian, I saw this and thought of you. This guy is brilliant. Have a look at his website” and is signed “J”. The Advertising Standards Authority in the UK ruled the ad to be misleading and the claims in it unsubstantiated and told him not to repeat it.
He also came in for criticism that the “free gifts” he advertisised in the piece came with an expensive monthly subscription plan attached that many people found it difficult to unsubscribe from.
Recently he ran the piece again in slightly modified form (I got one myself and it fooled me for a minute or so).
I guess what he hadn't counted on was the uproar this approach would create in the social media world. Dozens and dozens of bloggers wrote posts on it. Some credited it with being clever – but most decried it as being deceptive and unethical.
The end impact was that if you google his name you get an awful lot of negative vibes. So much so that the first additional word suggested by google when you type in “Chris Cardell” is the word “scam”. That can't be good for business.
Update: He's tried to counter (or maybe even take advantage of) the scam association by running an adwords campaign targeting “Chris Cardell Scam”. he appears at the top of the paid listings, and directs people to a page where he calls traditional advertising a scam. So maybe he's hoping people will think that “Chris Cardell Scam” really means his views on advertising being a scam – rather than the original meaning of people thinking his direct mail was a scam.
So what's Cardell's answer been? Has it been to go back and review his campaign and whether he should be running it? Has he realised that in todays social media dominated world you just can't get away with some of the things you used to get away with?
He's hired a bunch of lawyers to send threatening Cease and Desist letters to bloggers to get them to take down their blog posts.
I'm not sure if they've sent similar letters to google to get them to remove the blog posts from their cache, or the Internet Archive to wipe them from the Wayback Machine!
Will his bully-boy tactics work?
Personally I think not. It's one of the great things to have come out of social media that you just can't get away with things or bury them under the carpet any more.
In even the recent past you could succeed with brilliant marketing and a mediocre product because it was relatively difficult for buyers (especially via mail order) to get any real feedback on what your product was really like. Nowadays you can. The truth is out there, and thanks to google it's a doddle to find it on blogs or via social media channels.
Now it may well be that I end up getting a Cease and Desist notice for this innoccuous blog post. But rather like the little Ants in Pixar's Bugs Life standing up to the big mean old grasshoppers – every time one of us gets knocked down, another will stand up to take their place, then another, then another. I believe that even big bad grasshoppery gurus and law firms can't take on so many of us blogger ants forever.
In fact, a number of posts just like mine have started appearing reporting on his attempts to legally gag bloggers. Here's one from popular IT commentary blog The Register.
I'll keep you updated if I get the big bad old letter…
What's your view? Is Cardell doing the right thing? Will it work – can he silence criticism from so many bloggers? Will it backfire? Drop you comments in the box below – I'd love to hear them.