What Brand Managers Can Learn From the Scientology AdSense Boycott

Last Updated Nov 24, 2010 6:00 PM EST

Most people want as many ads as possible running on their web sites, but some object to the Church of Scientology's ads which come through Google's AdSense service -- and which seem to pop up everywhere. The tool that allows small-media providers to block or filter certain types of AdSense advertisers ought to be regarded with caution by brand managers (even if they don't work for Scientology): Consumers who dislike your company now have another tool with which to organize boycotts of your brands.

Scientology started a new ad campaign last year, and it's still running ads on late-night cable TV suggesting that viewers might be immortal if they only open their minds. Online, web site operators who use AdSense tend not to pay much mind to who is advertising on their site. As long as the clicks bring money, they're content to let Google's algorithms serve up whatever they want.

But certain types of publishers -- those interested in science, or technology, or religion, or those who just don't want to look like they're taking money from the cult-like church -- have a vested interest in not promoting Scientology.

You can see complaints from people horrified to find their micromedia is being used as a platform for Scientology ads here and here and here and here.

That, in turn, has led to a number of sites showing step-by-step instructions for AdSense's competitive ad filtering section, for people who want to switch off Scientology.

Why should you care? Huge numbers of consumers are also self-publishers -- via Twitter, Facebook, blogs and whatnot -- and therefore ad media vendors as well. Traditionally, if your company was caught celebrating Islamic New Year or supporting right-wing assassins, then shoppers could boycott your products. Sales might suffer.

But now, as more people figure out they can block your ads, the more likely it is that they'll come up with the idea of organizing a mass AdSense ad-block if you offend the sensibilities of the public.

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Image by Flickr user fibonnacci blue, CC.