There was a ton of debate about the death of Paul Tilley, the ad agency exec who committed suicide last month. Some people charged mean bloggers with helping to push him over the edge—charges that seemed increasingly ridiculous, as people took time to consider the full situation. But Liberty Mutual, the huge insurance company, had another thought about Tilley's death: what a great way to promote our company! And that's exactly what they did, the sickos.
Liberty Mutual runs a website called ResponsibilityProject.com. It has a blog, videos, and other content promoting "responsibility," but it's fundamentally an interactive branding exercise tied to one of the company's ads.
Yesterday, a blogger at the Tribble Agency noticed that Liberty Mutual had bought Google Adwords related to Tilley to promote a story called "Death By Blog" that they're running on the Responsibility Project. That story, by ex-journalist Kathy McManus, attempts to position the Tilley-blog controversy as an "ethical" question, since some of the mean bloggers had posted mean remarks about Tilley "seemingly with no reason other than the chance to snipe at a big boss."
Another, more pertinent ethical question could be, "Is it right for a huge corporation, which has no legitimate claim on Tilley's life, image, or legacy, to buy ads based on the man's death in order to sell insurance?"
The consensus: no it's not, jerks. Ad industry bloggers who caught wind of the plan have called it everything from "wrong" to "irresponsible" to "insane," and AdScam referred to the company as, uh, "fucking douchenozzles." To make it worse, the company reportedly even bought the keywords "AdScam" and "Agency Spy"—the two blogs most closely tied to the criticisms of Tilley before his death.
It's obvious even to us that this is poorly conceived and tasteless. It appears that Liberty Mutual has pulled its keyword ads now (confirmation?), but this never should have happened in the first place. It would make a good case for the crappy "Responsibility Project."