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PowerTV is a new company that has been posting on hundreds of car forums, telling people that they want to "help" them to "share" automotive videos.
Research proves that PowerTV is a group of stealth marketers, getting paid to produce promotional videos for automotive parts companies, and to market the videos in forums. Read the full report below.
Are PowerTV employees on your forum right now, trying to "explain" these events?
Debunk their spin tactics with information from our PowerTV FactCheck section.
- News of this has spread to more than 100 websites, including public discussions on 85 different forums.
- The Detroit News has reported on GM's involvement in the PowerTV stealth marketing campaign.
- The Center for Media and Democracy, a non-profit organization that works on "investigating and exposing public relations spin and propaganda", has exposed PowerTV's spin tactics.
- So far, we've documented 27 forums that have banned PowerTV.
- Jon Nguyen ("powerjon"), a 21-year old PowerTV stealth marketer, has claimed to own 7 different cars (depending on which forum he's posting), including a "1990 Ford Focus", a car that wasn't even manufactured until 2000.
- On his personal MySpace page, a PowerTV employee mentions that PowerTV is an "online viral video marketing company that focuses on the automotive market". When we publish the statement in this article, he deletes it -- only to discover that we had already cached his MySpace page.
Many forums have recently been witnessing the arrival of a group of members working for a new company in the automotive industry: PowerTV.
These new forum members (going by the names of powermelissa, powerjon, poweramanda, powerscott, and nmrajames) post links to "videos" that were produced by PowerTV. The videos prominently feature the vehicles and parts of some of the largest companies in the automotive industry: General Motors, Holley, Comp Cams, Dynomax, and many others.
Shortly after the appearance of the new PowerTV forum members, forum administrators began receiving bulk emails encouraging them to sign up for PowerTV's free "video sharing technology", and to start their very own free PowerTV "channel".
When posting publicly on forums, PowerTV has portrayed itself as a "video production company", an "enthusiast video network", and a company that "partners with forums" so that they can have "their very own video player".
The truth is more accurately described by Lloyd Hunt, an Account Executive for PowerTV. On his MySpace page, Lloyd says:
"I work for powerTV Media. We are a online viral video marketing company that focuses on the automotive market."-- Lloyd Hunt, Account Executive for PowerTV, as stated on his MySpace page.
01/16 -- UPDATE: the above quote has been deleted from Lloyd Hunt's MySpace page. The original page had been saved by SpankMyMarketer.com prior to publication, and is now viewable in cache.
An "online viral video marketing company" is a company that produces videos for clients, and then promotes the videos for them online, using viral marketing tactics. Viral marketing is a set of marketing practices that capitalize on social networks to "encourage" people to involuntarily pass along a marketing promotion, such that it replicates and spreads "virally" -- analogous to a biological virus. The term "viral marketing" is often used as an attempt to legitimize the stealth nature of the tactics involved.
Of course, web-savvy people understand that "online viral video marketing company" is essentially a euphemism for "spammer".
Lloyd Hunt, as pictured in a PowerTV company photo, and in his MySpace profile photograph.
PowerTV employees initiate their promotions by registering on forums, and posting "videos" that they made. They never reveal that the videos are actually promotional advertisements, being paid for by the parts companies. And, they don't offer to pay for any forum advertising, instead describing their promotional videos as "news" or "event coverage". Then, PowerTV spams the forum admins by email, explaining that they can "enable" forums to have video-sharing "technology", and that, with PowerTV's help, the forums can create their very own video-sharing "channel".
The reality is that automotive companies pay PowerTV to produce and market their promotional videos, using a variety of unethical and illegal tactics. PowerTV's "video sharing technology" that "enables" forums to have "their very own video channel" (YouTube offers the exact same thing) provides a further opportunity for PowerTV to generate views for their clients' promotional videos and banner ads.
PowerTV was first exposed in this discussion on the Hotrodders.com forums, and has continued to be called out on many other automotive forums.
What forums have banned PowerTV?
Many forums have responded by banning the various PowerTV usernames. On some forums, when a member is banned, the word "Banned" is displayed alongside the banned member's username. By Googling for the various PowerTV usernames and the word "Banned", it was possible to locate a few examples of forums on which they've already been banned. At the links below, you can see discussions about banned PowerTV marketers, or user profiles in which the word "Banned" appears under their usernames, indicating their banning from that particular forum.
powerjon and nmrajames banned on 67-72ChevyTrucks.com*, powermelissa banned on DigitalCorvettes.com, powermelissa banned on DFWStangs.net, nmrajames banned on FNSweet.com, powermelissa banned on GTCars.ca, nmrajames banned on LS1GTO.com, powermelissa banned on LS1GTO.com, nmrajames banned on MFBA.org, powerjon banned on MFBA.org, powermelissa banned on MFBA.org, nmrajames banned on MustangForums.com, powerjon banned on MustangHeaven.com, powermelissa banned on MustangHeaven.com, powermelissa banned on NastyZ28.com, powermelissa banned on SEMBMuscleCarClub.com, powerjon banned on StangNet.com, powermelissa banned on StangNet.com, nmrajames banned on StreetFire.net, powerjon banned on SVTPerformance.com, powerjon banned on TampaRacing.com, powermelissa banned on TampaRacing.com, V8S10.org, powermelissa banned on VADriven.com, powermelissa banned on YarisWorld.com.
*(Note: 67-72ChevyTrucks.com has "unbanned" James Lawrence such that he could be allowed to present his version of the events. You can follow that discussion here.)
The following forums have confirmed that they have banned PowerTV, by emailing SpankMyMarketer.com:
BlueOvalForums.com, CarbdFord.com, Ford-Trucks.com, IMBOC.com, Mach1Registry.org, ModularFords.com, MustangEvolution.com, MustangsAcrossAmerica.com, TheMustangNews.com.
If your forum has banned PowerTV, please let us know through our feedback form, and we'll add your site to the list. Or, feel free to post your forum url in the original PowerTV discussion on the Hotrodders.com forums.
What forums and blogs are publicly discussing this?
Some forums (43 so far) are holding private, members-only discussions about this (we only know this because we can see the referrals in our traffic logs). Our policy is to only link to discussions that are publicly available for all to see, without registration. Here's a list of publicly-available forum discussions and blog postings in which PowerTV's marketing tactics are being discussed.
1320Drag.net, 3.8Mustang.com, 2005Stang.com, 460Ford.com, 67-72ChevyTrucks.com, AllisChalmers.com, AllNissans.com, BCSM.net, CamaroForums.com, CarbdFord.com, ChicagoSVT.com, ClickClickRacing.com, BradBarnett.com, BustedSpoke.com, CarJunkieForums.com, ClassicHeartbeat.com, ClubGP.com, Corral.net, CorvetteForum.com, CowtownJeeps.com, D-Series.org, DigitalCorvettes.com, DuncanMargetts.com, EngineSwapTech.com, FargoStreet.com, FBodyAddict.com, FirstGenMC.com, FNSweet.com, Fomoco.PHPBBNow.com, Fordification.com, FordSix.com, FreshAlloy.com, FullThrottleForums.com, GMV8.org, GoDragRacing.com, GoFastNews.com, GoFastZone.com, GrandMarq.net, GrassrootsMotorsports.com, HorsepowerHeaven.com, HorsepowerJunkies.com, Hotrodders.com, IMBOC.com, JeepForum.com, KillBillet.com, LS1GTO.com, LSXPerformanceParts.com, LuvTruck.com, JalopyJournal.com, M-100.cc, Mach1Mustang.org, MachineBuilders.net, Maxima.org, MentallyIncontinent.com, Moparts.org, Motor-Talk.de, MotorCityMarauders.com, MotownMuscle.com, MustangBlog.com, MustangForums.com, MustangHeaven.com, NastyZ28.com, NHTOC.com, NJFBOA.org, NSRA.org.uk, OlSkoolRodz.com, Pirate4x4.com, Pro-Touring.com, RangerPowerSports.com, RX7Club.com, ScreamAndFly.com, SmallBlockPosse.com, SN95Forums.com, StreetCarChaos.net, StudebakerDriversClub.com, TheRangerStation.com, ThirdGen.org, TractorSport.com, TurboBuick.com, TurboBuicks.com, TwinCityOutlaws.com, V6Power.net, V8Buick.com, V8S10.org, VADriven.com, Vintage-Mustang.com, WebRodder.com, WS6ZXR.com, YellowBullet.com, ZR2USA.com.
On Wikipedia, powermelissa attempted to write an "article" about PowerTV. Wikipedia administrators quickly deleted it, saying that "the article seems to be blatant advertising which only promotes a company". Further details are available on powermelissa's Wikipedia profile page.
In addition, the Center for Media and Democracy has exposed PowerTV's promotion in their Spin of the Day section. The Center for Media and Democracy is a nonprofit group that "strengthens participatory democracy by investigating and exposing public relations spin and propaganda".
Who's working for PowerTV?
So far, SpankMyMarketer.com has identified three main stealth marketers for PowerTV, and two secondary spammers. They are using the following usernames: powermelissa, powerjon, powerscott, poweramanda, and nmrajames.
Here's a name-by-name breakdown, with links to their presence on each forum. In most cases, we've used a link to their public user profile. However, when user profiles are not visible to unregistered forum members, we've substituted a link to a discussion that involves them. We didn't assume every instance of these usernames to be connected to PowerTV, and are only publishing the verified ones below -- it's usually easiest to identify them by their posting of PowerTV videos, or their placement of a PowerTV url in their forum member profiles. We don't yet know if each person is using just one username, or, (as we suspect) some of the usernames are being used by various PowerTV marketers and/or automated forum posting software.
We're roughly estimating that our research here represents about 1/4 to 1/3 of the total, as this is just what we could locate in Google over the past week.
James Lawrence, the CEO of PowerTV. James has previously worked for Primedia, the company that owned most large automotive enthusiast magazines. James established PowerTV as a sister company to his existing company, ProMedia Publishing & Events. The photograph below was found on James's MySpace page, where he had selected it as his public MySpace profile photograph. 01/31 -- UPDATE: The photograph has been removed from James Lawrence's MySpace page. The original page is now viewable in Google's cache.
1969Stang.com, 2005Stang.com, 3.8Mustang.com, 502StreetScene.net, 50Tech.com, AllFordMustangs.com, AutomotiveForums.com, BradBarnett.com, CVSR.net, CaliforniaSpecial.com, Camaro5.com, CamaroZ28.com, CarForums.com, Club3G.com, CorvetteForum.com, DFWStangs.net, FastLSX.com, FNSweet.com, FocalJet.com, FordMuscle.com, FunFordEvents.com, GTOForum.com, GoDragRacing.com, GoFastZone.com, GotStang.com, JPCRacing.com, KYFBodies.org, LS1GTO.com, LincolnForums.com, LincolnVsCadillac.com, MFBA.org, Mach1Mustang.org, MarkVIII.org, ModdedMustangs.com, ModularDepot.com, ModularFords.com, MotownMuscle.com, MustangBoards.com, MustangEvolution.com, MustangHeaven.com, MustangMafia.com, MustangsAndMore.com, MyFordFreestyle.com, NLOC.net, NastyZ28.com, NewAgeGTO.com, ProModSource.com, RangerPowersports.com, RevXtreme.com, SCCOA.com, SEMBMuscleCarClub.com, SVTSnake.com, ShelbyForums.com, SoCalHorsepower.com, SpeedSoutheast.com, StangCrazy.com, StangNet.com, StangSource.com, StreetCarForums.com, StreetFire.net, ThirdGen.org, Thunderbirds.org, TransAmTech.com, TurboBuick.com, UltimateCarPage.com, V8Buick.com, Z06Vette.com.
Make your own parody comics of James with SpankMyMarketer.com's automated parody-creation tool: The SpankMaker.
Melissa Lawrence, the wife (or possibly fiancé) of James Lawrence, the CEO of PowerTV. "powermelissa" describes herself as a "big-time car girl" before subtly promoting various advertisers. More details on powermelissa are available in this discussion on the Hotrodders.com forums.
1320Drag.net, 1969Stang.com, 2005Stang.com, 240SXForums.com, 3.8Mustang.com, 50Tech.com, 5thGen.org, AFBForums.com, AllFordMustangs.com, BStuff.com, BlueOvalForums.com, BradBarnett.com, C5Forum.com, CaddyInfo.com, CaliforniaFords.com, CaliforniaSpecial.com, Camaros.net, CamaroV6.com, CarbdFord.com, CorvetteForum.com, CustomMagnums.com, DFWStangs.net, EverythingDuners.com, EvoTuners.net, F-BodyHideout.com, FastLSX.com, FQuick.com, Ford-Forums.com, FordForum.com, FordFusionForum.com, FordTaurus.net, GMV8.org, GTCars.ca, GTOForum.com, GirlsCanToo.com, GoDragRacing.com, GotStang.com, Hotrod.com, KYFBodies.org, KappaMotorsport.com, LS1GTO.com, LS1LT1.com, LS1Tech.com, LVFBody.com, LincolnForums.com, LincolnVsCadillac.com, MCRParts.com, MFBA.org, Mach1Mustang.com, ModdedMustangs.com, ModularDepot.com, ModularFords.com, MonteCarloForum.com, MoparChat.com, MotownMuscle.com, MuscularMustangs.com, Mustang-Forums.com, Mustang.com, MustangBoards.com, MustangForums.com, MustangHeaven.com, MustangMafia.com, MyFordFreestyle.com, NewAgeGTO.com, Off-Road.com, RacingSouthwest.com, RegalGS.org, SCCOA.com, SEMBMuscleCarClub.com, STLMustangs.com, SVTSnake.com, SportsCarForums.com, StangCrazy.com, StangSource.com, StreetCarChaos.net, StreetCarForums.com, SuperMotors.net, T6P.com, TampaRacing.com, ThirdGen.org, TorqueCentral.com, TundraSolutions.com, TurboBuick.com, UndergroundRacing.com, V8Buick.com, VADriven.com, VintageThunderbirdClub.org, WRXTuners.com, WS6ZXR.com, YarisWorld.com, YellowBullet.com, YourCobalt.com, Z06Vette.com, Z28.com.
Make your own parody comics of Melissa with SpankMyMarketer.com's automated parody-creation tool: The SpankMaker.
Jon Nguyen, a 21-year old stealth marketer working for PowerTV. powerjon focuses on the sport compact and "drifting" forums. Depending on which forum he's posting, powerjon claims a different vehicle as his own. For example, in his member profile on GMV8.org, powerjon lists his 2006 Pontiac GTO. On DSMTuners.com, powerjon lists his '91 Talon TSi AWD. On NoPistons.com, powerjon lists his 1990 Nissan 240SX. On SuperStallions.com, powerjon claims to own a 1990 Ford Focus (Ford Focuses weren't manufactured until 2000). On ToyotaOwnersClub.com, he lists his Corolla. And, on BMW sites like BimmerFest.com, powerjon adds his 1989 BMW 325is E30 to the list.
240SXForums.com, AFBForums.com, AllFordMustangs.com, BimmerFest.com, BimmerForums.com, BlueOvalForums.com, BoostCruising.com, BradBarnett.com, CamaroForums.com, CamryForums.com, CarbdFord.com, ChicagoSVT.com, ClubCivic.com, CorvetteActionCenter.com, CorvetteForum.com, CrazySpeed.com, DailyDrifter.com, DragCoverage.com, Drift.com, DriftCentral.com, EasternFBody.com, F-BodyHideout.com, FBody.us, FastLSX.com, FordF150.net, FullSizeBronco.com, GM-Diesel.com, GTCars.ca, GTOForum.com, GotStang.com, HPTuners.com, HorsepowerJunkies.com, KYFBodies.org, LS-X.org, LS1GTO.com, LS1Tech.com, LVFBody.com, MFBA.org, Mach-1.org, Mach1Mustang.org, MaconRacers.org, ModdedMustangs.com, ModularDepot.com, ModularFords.com, MotownMuscle.com, Mustang-Forums.com, Mustang.com, MustangBoards.com, MustangForums.com, MustangHeaven.com, My350Z.com, NLOC.net, NOPIForums.com, NastyZ28.com, NewAgeGTO.com, NoPistons.com, ProModSource.com, ProjectCamaro.com, RX7Club.com, RacingSouthwest.com, SFLDrifters.com, SVTPerformance.com, Scoobynet.com, StangCrazy.com, StreetCarForums.com, SubDriven.com, SuperStallions.com, SupraForums.com, TampaRacing.com, TideWaterRacing.com, ToyotaOwnersClub.com, TransAmTech.com, WildHorsesClub.com, YellowBullet.com, Z06Vette.com, Z28.com.
Everything2Stroke.com, EverythingDuners.com EverythingMX.com, ExplorerForum.com, MudAndDirt.com, Off-Road.com, RockCrawlersDigest.com, SoCaps.com, TundraSolutions.com
ATVFanatics.com, AudiForums.com, BNZSport.com, DezertRangers.com, DRIForum.com, DumontDuneRiders.com, EverythingDuners.com, EvolutionForums.com, HondaSociety.com, S2000.com, SuperHonda.com, SSRFanatic.com, TruckTrend.com.
In addition, the following forums appear to have PowerTV presence, but either their postings have already been deleted, or there's not enough evidence to be 100% certain that it's PowerTV's marketers (for example, the forum may have all of the "power" usernames listed as members, but none has yet made a post).
350ZMotoring.com, 500Ecstasy.com, 6MT.net, 6SpeedOnline.com, ATVOutdoors.net, AudiPortal.com, BadAssMustangs.com, Bimmer.info, BimmerWerkz.com, CA-Mustangs.com, ChevyHHR.com, DSM.org, DieselPlace.com, DirtRidersInternational.com, EverythingDiesels.com, Ford-Trucks.com, GMHummer.com, GMTruckClub.com, HondaSwap.com, HotBimmer.net, Kia-Forums.com, LS1.com, MP3Car.com, MaxBimmer.com, NWStreetRacing.com, NewBeetle.org, RS246.com, TeamCamaro.com, TeamFC3s.org, TruckForum.org, UnitedStangs.com.
What companies are paying PowerTV to do promotions for them?
The following companies pay PowerTV to promote their products through viral video marketing (this is not a complete list): BMR Fabrication, Comp Cams, Dynomax, General Motors, Holley, Livernois Motorsports, Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA), Turbonetics, Vortech Superchargers, Wheel to Wheel Powertrain. Below are some example promotions.
General Motors pays PowerTV to do promotions for them, specifically in connection with their new LSX engine. Members on BlueOvalForums.com pointed out that Jamie Meyer, the "Product Integration Manager" for General Motors, is also listed as a "Creative Contributor" on the PowerTV staff. Some examples of viral marketing videos that PowerTV has made for General Motors:
LSX "Build": 1320Drag.net, 1969Stang.com, 2005Stang.com, 50Tech.com, AllFordMustangs.com, BlueOvalForums.com, CaliforniaSpecial.com, CamaroForums.com, Camaros.net, CorvetteActionCenter.com, FastLSX.com, Ford-Forums.com, FordForum.com, FordFusionForum.com, FordTaurus.net, GMV8.org, GoDragRacing.com, HPTuners.com, LVFBody.com, LincolnForums.com, MFBA.org, Mach-1.org, Mach1Mustang.com, ModdedMustangs.com, ModularDepot.com, ModularFords.com, MotownMuscle.com, MuscularMustangs.com, Mustang-Forums.com, Mustang.com, MustangBoards.com, MustangForums.com, MustangHeaven.com, MyFordFreestyle.com, NewAgeGTO.com, ProModSource.com, RevXtreme.com, SCCOA.com, SoCalHorsepower.com, SpeedSoutheast.com, StangCrazy.com, StangSource.com, StangNet.com, StreetCarForums.com, SuperMotors.net, Thunderbirds.org, TorqueCentral.com, UndergroundRacing.com, VADriven.com, WS6ZXR.com, YellowBullet.com. (This one was so widespread, a user on LVFBody.com asked: "Is there a car website in the known universe that you didn't spam this on?").
LSX Shootout: Austin-F-Body.org, F-BodyHideout.com, GoDragRacing.com, KYFBodies.org, LS1LT1.com, MFBA.org, NewAgeGTO.com, ProjectCamaro.com, ThirdGen.org, WS6ZXR.com, Z28.com.
"Wicked Crazy" LSX: Austin-F-Body.org, GTOForum.com, KYFBodies.org, MFBA.org, TransAmTech.com, WS6ZXR.com, Z28.com.
SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association
SEMA, the Specialty Equipment Market Association, is a marketing group made up of thousands of aftermarket parts companies. In these promotions, PowerTV advertises the annual SEMA Show. SEMA has previously been featured on SpankMyMarketer.com, for their involvement in the failed Spank My Monkey promotion. Some examples of viral marketing videos that PowerTV has made to promote SEMA:
SEMA 2006: 2005Stang.com, 50Tech.com, AllFordMustangs.com, BradBarnett.com, CarbdFord.com, DFWStangs.net, GotStang.com, Mach1Mustang.org, ModdedMustangs.com, ModularDepot.com, MotownMuscle.com, Mustang-Forums.com, Mustang.com, MustangBoards.com, MustangForums.com, MustangHeaven.com, RevXtreme.com, SVTSnake.com, StangCrazy.com, StangSource.com, StreetCarForums.com.
SEMA 2007: 2005Stang.com, 50Tech.com, AllFordMustangs.com, BlueOvalForums.com, CamaroV6.com, CarbdFord.com, DragCoverage.com, F-BodyHideout.com, Ford-Forums.com, GTOForum.com, GoDragRacing.com, GotStang.com, HPTuners.com, HorsepowerJunkies.com, KYFBodies.org, LVFBody.com, MFBA.org, Mach1Mustang.com, MaconRacers.org, ModdedMustangs.com, ModularDepot.com, MustangBoards.com, MustangForums.com, MustangHeaven.com, NewAgeGTO.com, RacingSouthwest.com, RevXtreme.com, SpeedSoutheast.com, StangCrazy.com, StangSource.com, StreetCarForums.com, SuperMotors.net, TorqueCentral.com, WS6ZXR.com, WildHorsesClub.com.
powermelissa starts off this promotion by saying: "Did you guys hear about Dynomax's new event series?" When SpankMyMarketer.com tried to resolve this with Tenneco, the parent company of Dynomax, Tenneco tried to hide behind three different corporate lawyers. For the full story, see: A Tale of Three Lawyers. Some examples of viral marketing videos that PowerTV has made for Dynomax:
Dynomax Event Series: 1969Stang.com, 50Tech.com, AllFordMustangs.com, GoDragRacing.com, GotStang.com, Mach1Mustang.com, ModdedMustangs.com, ModularDepot.com, MoparChat.com, MotownMuscle.com, Mustang-Forums.com, MustangForums.com, MustangHeaven.com, RacingSouthwest.com, StangCrazy.com, StangSource.com, StreetCarForums.com, TorqueCentral.com, VADriven.com, VintageThunderbirdClub.org.
Are PowerTV's marketing tactics really illegal?
On most forums, users must agree to the forum's Terms of Service before registering. This is typically done by checking the "I Agree" checkbox before proceeding with the forum registration. This constitutes a legally binding contract, commonly referred to as a "clickwrap" agreement (you often have to go through a similar process when installing software on your computer). In most cases that have challenged clickwrap agreements, the terms of the contract have been upheld, and the contract has been considered legally binding. For more basic information, see the Wikipedia pages on Terms of service and Clickwrap. For a list of relevant cases, see: Contracts: Click Wrap Licenses -- Internet Law Treatise and Click-Wrap Agreement -- Internet Library of Law and Court Decisions.
Many forums have Terms of Service that explicitly prohibit the posting of commercial content, especially by those who have refused to pay for paid forum advertising. Despite this, PowerTV has been aggressively posting their commercial content on forums, in flagrant violation of many forums' Terms of Service.
Realistically, users "break" forums' Terms of Service frequently. It's usually not a big deal -- admins try to deal with it quietly and reasonably.
For many people, including us, the greatest issue is not that PowerTV was technically in violation of the law (plenty of automotive forum members don't drive 5 miles without "technically" violating the law ). And, while their refusal to pay for advertising insulted a lot of admins, it wasn't a big deal on Hotrodders.com (we don't allow any advertising on our forums, not even paid advertising).
The real problem here is that PowerTV was attempting to take advantage of countless forum members and administrators.
One of the larger companies involved in the PowerTV marketing scam was Tenneco, a $4.7 billion dollar automotive parts manufacturing company (Tenneco is the parent company of Dynomax, Rancho, Walker, and many other automotive parts brands). SpankMyMarketer.com contacted Tenneco many times about PowerTV's activities. Each time, they tried to hide behind a different lawyer. Their general counsel (the chief lawyer in a corporation) and their internal legal department were both unable to provide a satisfactory explanation, and thought that they could simply "remove" the stealth postings from all of the forums, effectively covering their tracks. Finally, they hired an external law firm specializing in Internet law. Through this law firm, Tenneco told us, in writing, that they had instructed PowerTV to stop violating forums' Terms of Service, and to clearly communicate the fact that PowerTV posts involving their products were actually advertisements. However, Tenneco still refused to stop funding the PowerTV promotions. (For more information, see: A Tale of Three Lawyers.)
We've been communicating by private phone calls, email, and conference calls with the involved companies and their legal departments. We've also notified the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), and we expect further legal action to take place.
We caught PowerTV on our forum. Any suggestions?
Obviously, it's up to each forum's administration to do as they see fit. Various forums are handling this situation differently, according to their established protocol or preferences. Some are deleting, some are banning, some are editing. Some are doing this in private discussions, some are calling out PowerTV publicly.
Our best suggestion is to edit the urls out of all PowerTV posts. Although this may not be practical for forums with many PowerTV posts, it has the advantage of rendering the advertisements largely useless, while freeing you from the onus of deleting posts. From there, it's your decision to ban or not ban, in accordance with your general policy, and in consideration of the specific posts that PowerTV made on your forum.
When posting about this, most forums have chosen to do so publicly. However, depending on your preference, you may opt for a members-only discussion, or a moderators-only discussion.
That's pretty much it. When the number of forums that have exposed the stealth promotion exceeds the number of forums that have been exposed to the stealth promotion, the campaign will likely be rendered ineffective, and the promotion will "reverse" back on itself.
If you're interested in "enabling" your users to have video-uploading "technology" , YouTube may likely still be your best bet. They have the same "channel" capabilities that PowerTV is offering, plus they're owned by Google, so you have less to worry about in regard to ethics. If you're looking for more of a DIY solution, you might like the free FLV PLayer, which we use here on SpankMyMarketer.com -- it supports playlists, a variety of streams, and, like YouTube, has a revenue-sharing advertising option. Beyond that, just ask around at a large forum for admins, and see what everyone has to say.
FACTCHECK: Debunking PowerTV's spin tactics
If PowerTV had honestly apologized, moved forward, and tried to make good on their mistakes, that would have been OK with us. Everyone screws up from time to time. However, once they were exposed, they tried to cover up their deception with even more lies and spin tactics.
PowerTV's spin tactics have even been exposed by The Center for Media and Democracy, a non-profit organization that "strengthens participatory democracy by investigating and exposing public relations spin and propaganda". You can read the article in their Spin of the Day section.
Some examples of spin tactics that PowerTV has been using on forums:
- "I mean, he tried to sue SEMA! Come on!"
PowerTV's initial strategy was to try to discredit Hotrodders.com by saying that the administrator had "tried to sue SEMA" (the Specialty Equipment Market Association).
On TurboBuick.com, powerjon said about the Hotrodders.com administrator: "he tried to sue SEMA". In that same discussion, powermelissa repeated the lie, saying: "I mean, he tried to sue SEMA! Come on!".
Nobody involved with Hotrodders.com ever sued SEMA, "tried" to sue SEMA, or ever took any legal action whatsoever against SEMA. This is a complete fabrication, intended to portray us as crazy people. PowerTV got called out for this lie in this post, and has not tried to use the tactic again.
- "We aren't paid to post videos on forums"
PowerTV employees repeatedly say that they "aren't paid to post videos on forums", and that they're simply posting links to their clients' videos so that they can help drag racing grow.
On BradBarnett.com, powerjon says "We are not paid to spread the videos and links, we do so on our own will to promote and grow the drag racing industry." On MustangForums.com, James says "We were never, ever paid to post on the forums". On 3.8Mustang.com, James says: "we are not paid to post videos". On FullThrottleForums.com, powerjon says "we aren't paid to post videos on forums". On 67-72ChevyTrucks.com, James says "We are not paid to post videos on your forums, or on any forums".
Is PowerTV really posting all of those videos just to help everyone out?
Of course not. The parts companies are paying PowerTV to produce those videos, and then to promote those videos on the web. Obviously, part of that promotion is placing links to their videos on numerous forums. However, since their contract likely doesn't say: "We are specifically paying you for posting our videos on forums", they are legally allowed to say "We aren't paid to post on forums".
- "We are a media company covering the event"
PowerTV portrays themselves as a third-party media company, that is "covering" certain drag racing events, like reporters from CNN, covering a presidential debate.
On 3.8Mustang.com, James Lawrence, the CEO of PowerTV, says: "We are not sponsors of NMRA, NMCA, NOPI, V6 Shootout, World Ford Challenge, etc. We are a media company covering the event just like 5.0 Mustang, Muscle Mustangs, etc.".
What is James's connection to the NMRA (National Mustang Racing Association)? Is PowerTV really just a "media company" that's "covering" NMRA events, or are they financially connected to them?
Interestingly, James neglects to mention that he helped found the NMRA, and used to be the owner of the NMRA.
This was mentioned in a post by powermelissa, on the NMRA TV forums. The post has now been deleted, although it can still be viewed in Google's cache.
James also doesn't mention that PowerTV is "a sister company of the NMRA", which is how a PowerTV employee describes PowerTV in this job posting from September of 2006.
- "I am telling you the god's honest truth"
James's latest tactic has been to send forum administrators an emotionally dramatic story about his life, trying to convince them that he's really an honest, ethical person.
On 3.8Mustang.com, a forum member mentioned a "'cut and paste' sob story you PM'd me and the mods". On 67-72ChevyTrucks.com, a forum administrator printed this "cut-and-paste sob story" in a discussion.
In the letter to the forum administrator, James claims: "I have been an honest, ethical person my entire life", and says: "I am telling you the god's honest truth".
He then goes on to describe his employees, saying that they include "a 31 year old camera person with a pregnant wife".
This is a sign of how desperate James is. His spam tactics were exposed, and his cover-up spin didn't work. His only remaining option is to try to falsely tug on peoples' heartstrings, by invoking a dramatic story of honesty, ethics, and his cameraman's pregnant wife.
- "An entire line of b.s. about us spamming Wikipedia"
We noticed that powermelissa had registered on Wikipedia, and had tried to write an "article" about PowerTV.
As evidenced on powermelissa's Wikipedia profile page, a Wikipedia administrator informed her that her PowerTV article had been tagged for "speedy deletion" from Wikipedia, in accordance with section G11 of the Wikipedia criteria for "speedy deletion" -- "Blatant Advertising". The administrator then added that "the article seems to be blatant advertising which only promotes a company".
Finally, the Wikipedia administrator said: "Please read our guidelines on spam".
On 3.8Mustang.com, James says we had "twisted and spun this into an entire line of b.s. about us spamming wikipedia."
- "Stealing your personal photos from your honeymoon"
In this report on PowerTV, a MySpace photo of Lloyd Hunt, a PowerTV employee was used above. PowerTV has several employee pages on MySpace, in addition to the "official" PowerTV MySpace page.
On 3.8Mustang.com, James brings up Lloyd Hunt, saying: "The guy has a family and kids, and somebody stole a MySpace photo from his personal web site". He then says that people from Hotrodders.com had "e-mailed him threatening letters threating to 'take him out'".
Wow. That's quite an accusation.
First of all, the photo wasn't "stolen". It was a public photo, reproduced in this report, legally, in line with US Copyright guidelines that allow for reproduction of images for purposes of "criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research".
Second, it's not "a MySpace photo from his personal web site". It's his MySpace avatar -- his public profile photograph on MySpace, that he chose to represent himself with on MySpace. It's not "from his personal website", although that does make it sound juicier.
James then refers to this as "stealing your personal photos from your honeymoon". Yes, that's really what he says. Once again, we are talking about Lloyd Hunt's public MySpace avatar photo.
Why does James Lawrence, the CEO of PowerTV, use such a ridiculous tactic?
On Lloyd Hunt's MySpace page, we found him admitting that PowerTV is really an "online viral video marketing company that focuses on the automotive market". When we published this, it was quickly deleted from his MySpace page. Of course, we had already cached the page as proof.
How can James Lawrence, the CEO of PowerTV, explain the disappearance of that sentence from his employee's MySpace page? He really has no acceptable explanation, so he attempts to greatly over-dramatize the events, saying that we stole "personal photos" from his employee's "honeymoon", and then threatened to "take him out".
Here we begin to notice a pattern:
- In his original "explanation", after first being exposed, James compared a Hotrodders.com forum administrator to "the anti-abortion radical movement that went so far as to start murdering doctors".
- When forum members bring up the fact that "powerjon", a PowerTV marketer, was caught lying about which cars he owned (including a "1990 Ford Focus", a car that wasn't even manufactured until 2000), James won't answer them. Instead, he has been sending forum administrators a dramatic story about his lifelong honesty, his fiancé, and his cameraman's pregnant wife.
- Faced with the exposure of another deception (a PowerTV employee admitting that PowerTV was really an "online viral video marketing company"), James again refuses to offer an answer. This time, he tries to spin the reprinting of a MySpace avatar photo into stealing personal photos from someone's honeymoon.
James never really answers or addresses any of the serious allegations against PowerTV. Instead, he just insists that he's honest and ethical, and that he's telling the "god's honest truth". Then, he tries to divert attention by spinning each situation into an emotionally controversial story about doctor-murderers, pregnant wives, or "personal" honeymoon photos.
Believe it or not, we've never murdered any doctors, or stolen any "personal" honeymoon photos .
Actually, SpankMyMarketer.com has been covered in the press, defended by free speech lawyers, and even studied in Harvard Law School.
Why are you guys making such a big deal out of this?
SpankMyMarketer.com routinely monitors the stealth marketing activities of several key elements of the automotive industry, and intervenes when necessary. In most cases, we are able to resolve situations with extended private communication. Occasionally, these discreet methods fail to bring about a resolution -- talks break down, companies hide behind public relations firms, and corporations send in lawyer after lawyer in a vain attempt to defend their actions.
In this situation, we spoke with many of the involved companies in an effort to get them to stop funding the PowerTV promotions. It didn't work. Nobody apologized, nobody tried to make good on what had happened, and nobody stopped paying for the PowerTV campaigns. So, after numerous failed attempts to resolve this through private emails and phone calls, we took this situation to the public, the press, and the federal government.
PowerTV's executives are the same people behind the automotive mags and the TV shows. James Lawrence, the CEO of PowerTV, and Mike Acosta, the Sales Director, have both worked for Primedia, the company that once owned most large automotive enthusiast magazines. James also admits that PowerTV uses "the same network TV model to run our show as does HorsepowerTV, Two Guys Garage, Pimp My Ride, etc."
These days, most car enthusiasts are savvy enough to understand that the mags publish content primarily to satisfy advertisers, and that the TV shows are written for the advertisers, a process known as advertiser-funded programming (note how the producers of HorsepowerTV attract advertisers by telling them that they will "tailor show content to benefit your bottom line!").
These are common examples of how automotive knowledge and culture have been sacrificed for financial gain. We see PowerTV's campaign as an attempt to do the same thing to automotive forums, by using deceptive tactics to take advantage of hundreds of forum administrators, and millions of forum members.
Automotive forums are places for people to share their thoughts, ideas, and friendships. Many of the larger parts companies seem to have a "Pimp My Forum" attitude, and we think that it's well worth the time and the effort to stand up to them.
After Hotrodders.com was repeatedly spammed by PowerTV (email spams and forum posting spams), we Googled for "powermelissa" and uncovered the campaign. When private communication with James Lawrence ended in personal attacks, we exposed the campaign in this discussion on the Hotrodders.com forums. From there, we searched Google for other PowerTV usernames and PowerTV urls, detecting their presence on numerous forums. We also found the official PowerTV MySpace page, which led to various PowerTV employee MySpace pages.
The photo of Melissa Lawrence is a still image from a PowerTV promotional video. The photos of James Lawrence, Lloyd Hunt, and Jon Nguyen are their public MySpace profile photographs. On January 16th, 2007, Lloyd Hunt's MySpace page was altered to remove the part where he says: "I work for powerTV Media. We are a online viral video marketing company that focuses on the automotive market." The page is still viewable in SpankMyMarketer.com's cache.
On sites that allowed public searching of their forum archives by non-registered members, we also researched PowerTV posts. However, if access to the search function required registration on that forum, we didn't register. If PowerTV-related discussions were members-only, we didn't pursue them, as we didn't want to register with the sole purpose of reading members-only discussions.
Prior to publication, every link referenced on this page was saved in SpankMyMarketer.com's cache.
We've already privately emailed 72 of the affected sites, with individually-written emails detailing the specific PowerTV presence on their forums.
Feel free to comment on this issue, either privately through our feedback form, or publicly on our forums.