Online ads have popped up lately, telling readers that they can win a $150 Amex Gift Card for use at Hooters, if they complete a survey about other offers. One of those urges them to sign up for "free emails" from the Chamber of Commerce, which will explain "how to protect your family's future and bring common sense solutions to the health-care debate." In other words, getting involved with the Chamber's campaign against reform. These "incentivized ads" appear to be the favored new tactic of lobbying groups looking to generate the appearance of grassroots support for their positions.
What's going on here? The ads -- images of which were obtained by TPMmuckraker, and which you can see here -- are a product of the Chamber's campaign to use the web to generate "grassroots" pressure against health-care reform.
The Chamber contracts with a PR firm to handle the campaign, which then sub-contracts with an online marketing firm that handles the process of actually signing people up for the Chamber's campaign, an industry source explained. The Hooters card is the draw. Blinking pop-up ads and web pages offer readers the card in return for entering their names and personal information, and filling out a survey asking if they want to sign up for various offers. In this case, those offers range from agreeing to receive information about getting your college degree online, to signing up for the Chamber's emails. (You can also click 'no' not to sign up for each offer, and still get the Hooters card. But chances are you'll sign up for a few.)
If other online campaigns are any guide, readers who sign up to receive the Chamber's anti-reform emails are then enlisted in the business lobby's campaign in a more active way -- for instance, by being asked to send letters to lawmakers. A similar campaign last year offered "MyPoints" -- points-based rewards, redeemable in the form of gift cards from theaters, restaurants, airlines and hotels -- in return for sending an email to Congress on behalf of the American Medical Association, urging lawmakers not to cut Medicare doctor payments, a key AMA priority.
And we told you about how Facebook users were offered virtual currency in return for sending an email to Congress opposing health-care reform, on behalf of a health insurers lobby group. (Both the lobby group and the firm it hired, 720 Strategies, told TPMmuckraker their contract forbids such "incentivized ads," and that the ad was faked, though it's unclear by who.)
A Chamber spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Correction: A spokesman for Adfero tells TPMmuckraker that although the PR firm has worked on other campaigns for the Chamber, it did not work on this one, as we had previously reported. We regret the error.