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Carpe diem: Ad firm draws flak for Robin Williams reference

This Nov. 23, 2009 photo released by Starpix shows actor-comedian Robin Williams performing his stand-up show in New York.


Public relations firm Edelman issued an apology this week after it drew criticism for referring to the death of comedian Robin Williams as a PR "opportunity."

In an article on the company's website, executive vice-president Lisa Kovitz said that the publicity around Mr. Williams' struggles with depression offered "an opportunity to engage in a national conversation" for brands.

"There's a very careful line they need to walk so as to not seem exploitative of a terrible situation but at the same time, it is a national teachable moment that shouldn't be ignored. (We too are balancing that line with this post.)"

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The piece touted Edelman's expertise in "helping our clients create or join public conversations." It encouraged mental health organizations to consider a "visible and aggressive" approach to publicize themselves and tell people to get help, and said that companies with experts on the subject or people with personal stories to share should reach out to media. It was titled "Carpe Diem."

Edelman was criticized for a crass response to a personal tragedy.

"We apologize to anyone we offended with our post. We did not intend to capitalize on the passing of a great actor who contributed so much," the company said in a statement on Thursday.

Ads miss the mark

Do advertisers know who they are talking to?

Online, they may not, according to a new study from Nielsen. The ad measurement and research company looked at 280 campaigns in Canada over the past year, and found that very often, those campaigns did not reach their intended audiences.

That's a problem, because online advertising is supposed to offer unprecedented ability for brands to speak directly to the consumers they want to target, and to waste less ad money.

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But the Nielsen study showed that even among large Canadian online campaigns, which reached roughly 10 million people, some advertisers were able to reach as little as 2 per cent of their desired audiences.

Campaigns aiming for broader groups were more successful (partly because there are simply more needles in that haystack). Those aimed at all men and women over 18 managed to speak to that group 92 per cent of the time. But greater targeting proved difficult: Campaigns aimed at females aged 25 to 54 reached that group just 31 per cent of the time; men 25 to 54, just 43 per cent of the time on average.

Nielsen is one year into selling its online ad measurement services in Canada, so it has skin in the game. But if its numbers are even close, advertisers have a lot of work to do to improve the quality of their online campaigns.

Desired audience reach by industry

(% of campaigns that reached target)

*Source: Nielsen

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Consumer Packaged Goods: 61%

Retail: 57%

Automotive: 54%

Finance: 53%

Pharmaceuticals: 48%

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