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Google as spin doctor

Google blogger says health care industry should counter negative attention from Michael Moore's Sicko documentary by buying ads from Google.

In one of those oops moments that has already generated significant backlash and could end up in a guide on "marketing don'ts," a Google blogger has pissed on Michael Moore's new movie Sicko and has offered to help the poor, unfairly criticized health care industry to fight back. How? By selling them Google ads.

"The film is generating significant buzz and is sure to spur a lively conversation about health coverage, care, and quality in America. While legislators, litigators, and patient groups are growing excited, others among us are growing anxious," writes Lauren Turner, an account planner in Google Health, in her blog posting this weekend titled "Does negative press make you Sicko?" (The italics are mine.)

"Moore attacks health insurers, health providers, and pharmaceutical companies by connecting them to isolated and emotional stories of the system at its worst. Moore's film portrays the industry as money and marketing driven, and fails to show healthcare's interest in patient well-being and care," she continues.

Turner's solution to the negative media? Marketing!

"We can place text ads, video ads, and rich media ads in paid search results or in relevant websites within our ever-expanding content network. Whatever the problem, Google can act as a platform for educating the public and promoting your message...If you're interested in learning more about issue management campaigns or about how we can help your company better connect its assets online, email us."

The blog quickly made it to Slashdot where one reader wrote in feedback: "Since when is it the job of a search engine to 'educate' people on political issues anyway?" Another wrote: "Google might want to consider changing their motto to 'We pander to anyone that can pay.'"

ZDNet's Dan Farber also weighed in on the matter and wonders what Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and CEO Eric Schmidt think about Google "actively helping the health care industry beat back negative press."

After feeling the heat, Turner posted a second blog clarifying that her original post was her opinion and not necessarily Google's. And she sticks to her guns, arguing that the debate over health care is so important that it's perfect for the medium of advertising.

"Whether the healthcare industry wants to rebut charges in Mr. Moore's movie, or whether Mr. Moore wants to challenge the healthcare industry, advertising is a very democratic and effective way to participate in a public dialogue."

Philipp Lenssen summarizes the message behind Turner's posting in his Google Blogoscoped blog--"In this 'democracy,' it will cost you money to participate; the more money you have, the more you can participate."

Instead of spending money on ads designed to spin the story, why don't members of the health care industry create high-quality content to present their side? Are they worried that no one will notice?