Responsibility to Ethics in Marketing
The world of advertising, marketing and public relations have been criticized for years for being deceptive. It's depicted in television and movies. Always the same. The adman is a sleazy character, selling lies to the public to push product. He smokes in his office, drinks old-timey cocktails and charms his clients with deception. To an extent, the dubious labels are warranted - persuasive messages are indeed, often developed and disseminated based on appealing to human emotions - often insecurities, and fears.
I used to think that the Recovery Community was somewhat immune to this. We are dealing with overcoming a disease - a winnable one, and so our messages are of hope, courage, and restoring the family unit. There really isn't much room for deception (for the most part). But then, along came the Internet and search engine rankings. Everyone wants to be at the top of Google's search and companies will do just about anything to do it. Even if it's highly unethical. A recent Addiction Professional article entitled,"Accusations of unfair play: Utah center attacks bait-and-switch marketing,"tells the story of Cirque Lodge director Gary Fisher.
From the article:
"Twice learning in recent months that his facility's name was being used to divert consumers to information about others' nationally prominent treatment chains, Fisher decided he had had enough. Last week he shared his frustration via e-mail with a number of his peers, including leaders at the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers (NAATP) who have debated how aggressively they should work to enforce the association's code of ethics for member treatment centers."
It takes a lot for an individual or a family to come forward and admit that there is a problem - one which requires professional help. When someone in need seeks help for something this important, this sensitive, they most likely spend a good amount of time researching their options and program choices. The fact that facilities are deceiving these people is downright egregious. According to Fisher, when searching for "Cirque Lodge" on Google, the top results led to an advertisement that when clicked revealed an 800 number for a well-known national treatment center, not Cirque Lodge.
“When our person [who placed the call] said he thought they were calling Cirque Lodge, they said, 'No, this is [Other Treatment Center], we are much better than Cirque Lodge,'” Fisher wrote in an Oct. 28 e-mail to the NAATP. He went on to say: “Capitalizing on someone else's brand is wrong. I don't think there is any debate about this.”
Couldn't agree more. The center in question's response was to cancel the contract of the marketing firm they claimed was responsible. I suppose certain search engine optimization companies do not make their clients aware of the tactics they're using to achieve results? Most would obviously have their doubts.
“They all want to say they have nothing to do with it,” Fisher says of his peers in treatment administration. “But we all know how these companies harvest beds—there is always some kind of sleight of hand, some bait and switch.”
Eventually the tactic was traced to a marketing consultancy by the name of Recovery Brands, which operates directory sites such as Rehabs.com. He said Cirque Lodge contacted Recovery Brands' co-founder, Abhilash Patel, who replied that he would fix the problem. But after several weeks had passed with no action taken, Fisher said he went directly to the CEO and the problem was ultimately resolved. A couple of weeks later, a Cirque Lodge Google search led to an advertisement called "rehab-review." That link led to, you guessed it - the same well-known national treatment provider. I guess it's time for them to blame another vendor and cancel another contract.
When these types of practices exist and are not being policed, families in need are suffering. These people are distressed at the time they place the call - it's a time when all they want is for the lying, deception, and manipulation in their own lives and of their families' to end. When the call they place is a bait and switch - another lie, another manipulation... in a time when what they really need is courage, hope and the truth - we are not practicing ethics, we are not being responsible to our patients and to the recovery community as a whole.