The blog, walmartingacrossamerica.com, chronicled a couple's journey across the country in an RV while stopping at various Wal-Mart parking lots. Although the blog did not initially bear any clear disclosures outside of an advertisement, the trip was funded by the group Working Families for Wal-Mart [WFWM], a Wal-Mart-backed organization designed to promote a positive portrayal of the company. The group is part of Edelman's effort to turn around the reputation of the controversial retailer.The fact is that, 'passing off' is bad practice, transparency is essential and both Edelman and WalMart know this and both are culpable. There is no excuse. It is, as Edelman says, an error. It is also bad practice and reflects on the professionalism of the profession. In the UK Asda was acquired by Wal-Mart and would hope its PR team is more professional.
Richard Edelman posted a statement of apology for the incident on his personal blog on Edelman's website today.
"For the past several days, I have been listening to the blogging community discuss the cross-country tour that Edelman designed for Working Families for Wal-Mart," the statement said. "I want to acknowledge our error in failing to be transparent about the identity of the two bloggers from the outset. This is 100% our responsibility and our error; not the client's."
Edelman went on to say his agency supports the transparency guidelines of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association [WOMMA], which call for disclosure of the source of such efforts.
In the UK this form of practice is banned by the CIPR code of conduct. It may also be illegal anyway.
When Colin Farrington comes out of his six month purdah and it will not be soon enough for CIPR to ask its lawyers the nature of the legal position. Certainly in election law passing ones self off as another candidate or representing a participant is not legal and there is a lot of consumer law that would make miss-representation illegal as well.