The FBI shuts down online poker sites, but what of their “dark marketing” partners?
April 18, 2011
Last Friday, the FBI shut down two of the most popular online gambling sites, Poker Stars and Full Tilt Poker, accusing their owners of money laundering and other nefarious activities. According to the Chicago Tribune, eleven people were arrested and indicted by the Feds. And they’re gunning for more.
Go to Poker Stars now. Online visitors are greeted with a message saying, “This domain name has been seized by the F.B.I. pursuant to an Arrest Warrant,” and an enumeration of federal anti-gambling statutes and penalties.” Talk about a buzz kill.
While I’m not a gambler, the story interests me because several years ago an online gaming site approached my agency to pitch for its marketing. We could have used the business but I’m happy to say we begged off, mostly for fear of being accomplice to criminal activity. But not before attending a briefing session with the client. Like I said, we needed the revenue; it was hard walking away.
I’ll never forget their presentation to us and, in particular, what the CMO called the advertising for his business: “dark marketing.” Dark marketing, he said, was advertising something that in “certain contexts” was illegal. He likened it to selling alcohol and cigarettes. Yet, in a very real way the term implied heavier baggage and bigger risks, more akin to prostitution and gun running. Honestly, any company that has to run its business “off shore” clearly has issues.
It was a creepy presentation but a titillating one. I felt dirty for having participated and yet also provoked. I knew gambling was a vice and a sin. But I also knew that meant the opportunity for doing brilliant creative was high. Edginess equals awards. In the end, the inherent sleaziness of the brand coupled with a stern caution from our legal department caused us to bail.
Yet, this notion of dark marketing stuck with me. When it came to making a buck, or winning awards, just how far were agencies willing to go? One wonders what, if anything, will happen to these sites marketing partners. Beyond morality issues, are there consequence to dark marketing?