Gawker is toxic to brands who partner with them

AdAge finally reports on GamerGate, and Alex Kantrowitz quotes an unnamed advertiser's conclusion about this mess, which much like the slow-motion implosion of Britney Spears mental health that Gawker took such mirth in covering, never seems to end.

"You cannot win. This is a lose-lose situation."

While that's a succinct way of putting it, it's also defeatist. I said well over a month ago that PR and advertisers had the chance to be proactive instead of reactive here and you still do. Your clients are paying you to be able to handle this shit, so handle it. Get creative with your methods of pulling out invisibly, or staying put, keep abreast of the situation, make sure social media handlers know what topic to stay away from and use the popular "no comment" when press calls for comment, unless you have a better idea on insulating your brand reputation. On that me & Adage seem to agree. Your media buyers should know if your brand is on pirate-sites, porn-sites or sites that are not a fit for your brand in other ways, make them earn that paycheck.

This is the conundrum brands are in: Every Gamergate gripe -- even if legitimate -- will be linked to the vile elements of the group. So giving in is seen as siding with the worst elements of it. So far, those not responding are in better shape than those who have.

The problem is what the media is doing now, acting on news seen on social media without confirmation or additional information from the brands being skewered by trolls and activists.

Take Adobe for instance, even Adage is misrepresenting what happened to them, as they state Adobe ".....gave in to their demands before fully understanding the situation."
Adobe however, has simply stated that they were not in fact a partner with Gawker and asked to have their logo removed from the partner page. That's a story of false advertising, but when only the social media accounts handle PR and there's nobody picking up the phone at brands PR headquarters these days, it's no wonder even the tradepress isn't getting that story right.

In fact, even Gawker media is confused, as at least one journalist insisted that Mercedes never advertised with Gawker, and another that they "weren't active" - both statements make the Mercedes logo on Gawkers current "partner" page look bad, if not downright illegal.

AdAge, you know better than this. Adobe was listed as partner with their trademarked logo on Gawkers partner page alongside other big brands such as Old Spice, Jaguar, Hulu, Bing, Ebay, BMW, HTC, Cisco, Lexus, Marriott, Speed stick, Ford, Budweiser, Comedy Central, AT&T, Marriott, IBM, Logica, Intel, Microsoft, Motorola, Google, Blackberry, Smartwater, Bing, Volkswagen, Virgin Mobile, State Farm, Samsung, T-mobile, Warby Parker, Qualcomm, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, Sprint, Scion, Aces, HBO, Comcast, Johnnie Walker, AMC, American Express, HP; Radio Shack, Dove (men), Nissan, LogmeIn, CW, ABC, Ford, BBC America, Yahoo!, Sundance channel, Bonobos, and Focus Features.

All impressive brands, but not all of these brands have actually partnered with Gawker. All of these brands are now however at risk of being dragged in the mud by Gawker, who have helpfully published a screed skewering former partner Intel, and non-partner Adobe in their post "how we got rolled by the dishonest fascist of Gamergate", just to make sure brands know to get the hell away from them. Does Ogilvy still trust Gawker Studios to produce things after this? Max Read starts off with a hyperbolic headlines and it gets worse from there. He has nothing but contempt for Intel and Adobe:

So let's say it now: Intel is run by craven idiots. It employs pusillanimous morons. It lacks integrity. It folded to misogynists and bigots who objected to a woman who had done nothing more than write a piece claiming a place in the world of video games. And even when confronted with its own thoughtlessness and irresponsibility, it could not properly right its wrongs.
Brands like Adobe and Intel, willing to distance themselves from independent publishers over the spurious claims of a limited but dedicated group of misogynists and trolls, share an important core value with Gamergate: Misogyny. Kidding! Kidding. The value that defines both Gamergate and brand response is cynicism.

The irony that he headlines Gamergate as fascism, a totalitarian ideology that denies independent thought, while skewering brands for attempting to distance themselves from the publication that serves the party line is not lost on anyone. Who in their right mind would want to risk a brands billion dollar reputation on a publishing house that cheered the Glenn Beck ad boycott, but then talks shit about any brand who wants to distance themselves from them? Gawker made their name on the Gawker Stalker, Gawker hoped to bankrupt Chick Fil A over charitable donations. Gawker celebrated when Firefox Chief Brendan Eich was ousted because he too had made donation Gawker did not approve of. Boycotts like this are the results of politicising everything, and now it's finally come full circle. There's a reason newspapers had a strict line drawn between editorial and advertising departments, one that now not only has been blurred by native advertising but also the birth of "ad studios" and "featured partner" at the likes of clickbait publications such as Gawker and Buzzfeed, who have spent more energy courting ad agencies than they did chasing down twitter-conversations to report on. Don't say we didn't try to warn you.

So while I might have thought "back away slowly" was a good idea a couple of months ago, I now believe your brand has to strike first. Stay on top of this story and see where you are listed as an advertising partner. If your brand is not partnering with said site, have them remove your logo immediately, I'm sure legal can help you write up a decent letter on that. Seek out the next targets before you get dragged into this. Is your brand representing family values & healthy children? Then maybe a site discussing a progressive stance on pedophiles and describing the abuse of a seven year old girl as a "sexual relationship" isn't a place where your brand wants to be seen?

The grapevine (twitter) says that the next target is Newsweek, due to this article, which was picked apart by a academic social worker, who soon had to defend his data. And then there's this Newsweek reporters tweets that says bullying is good and makes jokes about bullying kids. Do you have people working in the social media department claiming pompous titles for social media strategy? They should be able to handle a few searches on word combos like "#gamergate harassment patrol" on twitter, or check out some tiki toki collections like the the dirty history of games journalism and The Gamergate Chronicles. It's why you pay them the big bucks.

Where did this mess even start? The irony is, "sexism in games industry" was the creative idea for the "drama" in a reality TV game show, as described in this "most expensive game jam article. Sexism is fashionable and on trend now you see. We all know who Matti , who represented Pepsi at the shoot, is. He tried to create some drama by asking the teams who had women onboard if the fact they had pretty women on the team was a disadvantage to them. " was like hitting the biggest nerve in the history of nerves with a pneumatic drill. Adriel built shit that flies around in space. It’s probably flying around in space right now."

What did those horrible sexist game-devs do? They all banded together and quit the show on the spot. That's the truth of how sexist gamedevs actually are, is -- they're not at all and yet the media is still running with this reality TV show plotline, referring to each other as sources, making the press even less useful than in the good old days when we at least could wrap our fish and chips in it.

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Anonymous Adgrunt's picture
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Anno's picture

"making the press even less useful than in the good old days when we at least could wrap our fish and chips in it."

I swear that's the only reason I ever bought a darn newspaper!

Haakon Løtveit's picture

Well, in the time before toilet paper, there was another use for it as well.
You just had to make sure that the ink was dry first.

Juan Bufando's picture

"I am sitting in the smallest room of my house. I have your review before me. In a moment it will be behind me!" - Max Reger

Jake's picture

You're entirely on point. The idea that a massive internet media company like Gawker could falsely present partnerships without advertisers catching wind of it is just astounding to me. Particularly with a site as rapacious and repugnant as Gawker Media. This is the equivalent of not only painting a target on your back, but giving everyone around you loaded AK-47's.

Advertisers would do well to heed your warning about social media. As someone who has been the regional head of technology for a fortune 100 company, I can tell you for a fact that most departments employ naive children in these roles and usually for a pittance. They are not taking this important and extremely visible communication channel seriously. In this modern day of internet communication, this is the equivalent of hiring a drunken hobo off the street and putting them in charge of greeting your customers as they come to the shop front.

Personally, I do believe that Nick Denton's media "empire" is on shaky ground. They've burnt an enormous amount of bridges, particularly with their ValleyWag coverage and many people are opportunistically waiting for a moment for the long knives to come out (several C-level's at my company would love nothing more than to take him to the woodshed). It's obvious that their strategy is to try and maintain momentum in the traditional press and outlast the protesters, hence providing a shield of plausible deniability in the eye of the public about their very real and public endorsement of bullying. However I believe that this is a gamble that will ultimately fail them. After all, the internet NEVER forgets and once the media focus gets diverted to the next news cycle, Nick will be left to deal both with having bullied advertisers as well as with the howling internet mob at his door.

Frankly, if one of my employees had engaged in such atrocious public behavior in the public space they would have quickly been shown the door. However, since my business isn't built on the reputation of bullying everyone around me, I suppose I can indulge in ethical behavior without having to worry about showing weakness in front of an internet that would love nothing more than to rip me to shreds.

I think there's an adage here about making beds that might be appropriate...

Dustin Geels's picture

I'd argue hiding their connection with these sites isn't gonna cut it because people are stupid they can easily just look at the ads too figur out who is a partner

Will_Z_Macht's picture

This whole situation seems like a massive cascade of failures that started as a simple trickle of poor decisions that never went unchallenged. Bad journalists weren't being reprimanded for bad behavior, which tacitly encouraged more bad behavior, and so on... and now we have PR people failing to react appropriately to the (inevitable and warranted) backlash (that they should have seen coming in the first place)... and advertisers getting caught with their pants down, not protecting their brand images from sites like Gawker... and establishment journalism failing to do actual journalism or fact-checking (not really a surprise anymore).

When does it end? Where does the incompetence stop?

At this point, it seems like the only group in control of their image is the #GamerGate crowd - donating to charities, squashing trolls and harassment. It's generally not a good thing when professionals are being shown up by plucky amateurs...

Lunar Archivist's picture

"When does it end? Where does the incompetence stop?"

There's a saying in GamerGate: "The ride never ends."

What I find astounding is the lack of common sense of a lot of the major people involved in this fiasco. The gaming media journalists would rather burn everything to the ground rather than be forced to admit any wrongdoing and their bosses and the owners of the sites they work for seem to be perfectly happy to let them do it.

Who in their right mind runs a business this way? And why hasn't anyone been sued for libel, slander, or fraud yet given the amount of misinformation that these people willingly spread around?

Megafire's picture

The sheer incompetence of the people involved in this is astounding. When you consider that #GamerGate, a group the size of which is currently estimated at around 25,000 people, has managed to keep itself in line as well as it has, while everyone else seems to be dropping there marbles all over the place, you have to wonder just what the hell is going on.

At this point, many of us within GG have been speculating that these people just don't know how to lose, and therefore keep raising on an empty hand against an opponent that cannot lose anymore.

The amount of discipline GG has shown, in the meantime, is incredible. Our image to anyone who has the intellectual integrity to actually look at the issue is a very positive one, while our opponents keep growing more and more toxic. It's no wonder so many who wanted to stay neutral have joined up.

Voyager's picture

Most likely, they are behaving that way because that is how they got into power in the first place. Extremely ridged ideologies can exert a tremendous amount of control over things for a time, and if your job depends on making reality go away, you can do it for a time, until finally the reality because to much to push back.

Once that happens, the inherent brittleness of such systems becomes very apparent.

The Leader of Gamergate's picture

That inherent brittleness, rigid ideology, and denial of reality leads to more than not knowing how to lose. It's also the reason behind their inability to switch up tactics. All they know how to do is try the same thing again but harder this time.

Someguy's picture

What's going is that Gawker is pulling the same thing they always pull: inflammatory remarks and crowdsourced anger. However this time their targets are people who, many of which, don't even have twitter handles to flame to oblivion. These people are writing directly to advertising companies and telling them they don't like what Gawker is doing. It's what should have been done years ago, except now Gawker has dug itself into a hole with their writers and is digging until they hole they can pop out of the other side of the earth unscathed. Except that's not going to happen.

Someguy's picture

Wow darn phone. That sentence should read: and is digging their hole until they can pop out of the other side of the earth unscathed

ThomasB's picture

There's an old saying - If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.

Derp Meowslurp's picture

I've personally sent out around 30-40 emails. Most of which really had nothing to do with GamerGate itself, just some of the unsavory things uncovered and brought to light by supports of GG. things that should have been addressed a long time ago.

Why anyone thinks they can defame, mock, and marginalize their core consumers and somehow come out the other side smelling like roses is astounding. I know they relied on the "misogyny" and "terrorists" narrative, but frankly I don't think anyone with a brain had really bought it. Except those with an a priori ideological slant that sees the "patriarchy" as a legitimate threat. and any threat or harassment, even by anonymous trolls, as evidence of a grander conspiracy.

The Escapist Online Publication admitted that there may have been some untoward things occurring and revised their ethics in response. It wasn't really the most satisfactory thing, but they have heretofore been left alone and almost completely forgotten. It reeks of guilt or an ulterior motive to kick against the pricks with wanton abandonment.

rix's picture

I support Gamergate.

I also, for my company, approved ~$10 million in server purchases so far this year. At a previous, much larger, company, I bought laptops by the *pallet*. And I'm still in my 30's so I'm going to be doing this for a while.

You can bet Intel and Adobe care about my views, and I am debating whether to bring this up with the microsoft rep when I meet with him next week. And, I don't expect much pushback. Because who do you think Intel, Adobe and Microsoft line employees are going to identify with? Nick Denton, or people like me?

LN's picture

Oh shit that sounds really fucking fun. Please tell us how it goes!

Zeno's picture

Be sure not to go with Dell, George Reese - an executive director at the company - called gamers the ISIS of the technology world in a tweet.

raphidae's picture

Rix: they completely underestimate who they are targeting. They actually seem to believe the young white neckbeard narrative they are pushing.

Except those grew up over the last decade and now have very good (executive) jobs.

Personally I choose to do business with HP instead of Dell in the future since the latter failed to react to Reese's conduct on twitter.

That's close to half a million Euro we won't be bringing to Dell.

And you can bet I'll be in contact with our MS and Adobe reps too (we partner with both)

I assume there are a lot more of us than they realise...

jon's picture

The narrative that we are all neck beards is simply slander. gamergate consists of a youthful, tech savvy crowd, with a healthy mixture of adults that buy these products.

If I owned a company I would just pull out of pop culture and gaming altogether, not because the "journalists" are unethical hacks, but because the gaming industry as a whole has a lot of growing up to do. Not to mention most of the audience uses ad block anyways. It is such an unnecessary risk.

Slam1263's picture

It is amazing to me that Gawker Media, hasn't been burnt to ash, their land salted, and the survivors driven into the sea.

GamerGate is the epitome of what happens when you are disrespectful to the consumers of your products. They will stop consume your products, and will consume your resources.

Bryan Scandrett's picture

The msm hasn't worked out yet what is actually happening. And their advertisers desperately need to be up to speed on the bigger picture. Altered reality 101 - criticizing/calling out/critiquing poor behaviour IS NOT misogyny just because the offender has a vagina. This alone has changed the way we do business. Forever. And the defining character of the sjw,s is their refusal to be held to account - for absolutely anything.. That's over. For good reason. Get used to it.
The sjw/feminism/gynocentrism has taken it's mortal wounds and tho it may take years to up and die, they are squarely on the wrong side of history, and if corp's don't start wriggling now, there is going to be enormous hemorrhaging of money once the thrashing about begins in earnest. Intel was just the wake up call.
Non-gyno exec's need to carefully and quietly remove the ideology from their hr dept's to avoid the internal mines that will begin detonating in the next few years. Out of the question just a short while ago but now an imperative as nothing will stop the wider MRM and many more GG type events are the future, online and off. The tactical and strategic environment has changed markedly over the last couple of years and is only going to develop.
Right now, social values are changing like they haven't since the sixties. Bottom up change. Any idea that company policy can be dictated from external ideologues needs to be defended against. Because such people will burn the shit to the ground before they relinquish privilege. Companies need to respond to events without a millstone.
Any corporate exec that is not roundly versed in the detail of the gender issues, that cannot assess any and all situations beyond a gynocentric paradigm, will be a major liability to their shareholders. A lot of people need to do a lot of reading and homework as this will shake the market and not in a good way for anyone who likes profit.

Mark's picture

Well said. Companies like Gawker have become so totalitarian in their politics that they're actually trying to bully not only their own audience, but their own advertisers into submission. They've gotten away with it for so long they no longer know where to draw the line. I'm afraid they're past the point of no return and would sooner dig their own grave than adhere to journalistic ethics now.

Steve Harris's picture

This article seemed like it might be a legitimate opinion piece on Gawker Media until you tipped your hand in the final paragraph:

"What did those horrible sexist game-devs do? They all banded together and quit the show on the spot. That's the truth of how sexist gamedevs actually are, is -- they're not at all"

A few game developers on a reality TV show quit over sexism and that instantly invalidates the existence of sexism in the entire population of game developers? This display of Gamergate-levels of illogical nonsense reveals quite eloquently that this piece is nothing more hit job by someone with a chip on her shoulder.

Lunar Archivist's picture

Congratulations! Your fallacies are reductio ad absurdum and ad hominem, Steve. You've officially lost the argument.

Antifeminists's picture

7/10 of the mods for kotakuinaction also moderate antifeminist porn reddits. See

Lunar Archivist's picture

You're citing BuzzFeed as a reliable source? Are you Ryulong from Wikipedia?

Also, what the heck does it matter what kind of weird kinks the moderators have as long as they do their jobs properly? It's the members of the subreddit that're important, and no one's fooled by your guilt by association crap.

Operative G's picture

I'm paying more attention to the long game. As some have pointed out, the active members of the movement number somewhere close to 25k, with probably quite a few inactive lurker members watching. That means that after this ends, if the GGers lose, you'll have at least 25k consumers made bitter and jaded and angry. While some may kowtow, I would be willing to bet that a larger number of these people will be picked up by other causes and you can bet that they will be smarter, angrier, and far more cynical. However, if they win, you can bet there will be at least a lull... but sooner or later, these consumers, now somewhat experienced in waging long campaigns against media and likely very sensitive to perceived corruption, will turn their sights on larger media.

I feel that the best outcome is the second, but only if manufacturers are able to forge some measure of trust with their consumer base first. Establishing trust is key and pushing for a more balanced narrative will do wonders for their ultimate outcome. Unfortunately, much of the games media has shown itself to be an unstable ally, and I would guess that even if they were to come out of this unblemished, this would not be the first consumer revolt.

I do not believe, in the long run, staying in the middle will be a viable strategy. But first, it is imperative to make whatever side chosen palatable to the public at large.

blabla's picture

Now I can't get that stupid Britney Spears song out of my head.