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Tenneco Sponsors Stealth Forum Marketers

Earlier this year, a Hotrodders.com investigation uncovered a widespread stealth marketing campaign spanning more than 100 automotive websites. The stealth promotion was first uncovered in this discussion on the Hotrodders.com forums, and was later featured in this article on SpankMyMarketer.com

A user posting as "powermelissa" was found to have copy-pasted identical posts across numerous hot rod and sport compact forums. First, "powermelissa" introduced herself as a "big-time car girl". Then, she began to subtly promote various automotive companies.

Investigation proved that "powermelissa" was in fact a stealth marketer working for a stealth marketing and video production company called PowerTV. PowerTV was being paid to spam forums in an effort to promote certain automotive companies, a practice that had been going on for years. On many forums, the Terms of Service prohibit such postings, which clearly appears to make the stealth marketing campaigns not only unethical, but also illegal.

PowerTV's clients include some of the largest companies in the automotive industry: General Motors, Holley, and Comp Cams. One of PowerTV's more prominent clients is Tenneco, a $4.7 billion company that owns many aftermarket car parts brands, including Rancho, Dynomax, Walker, and Monroe.

We're a big-time car girl.
To make parody comics of Tenneco's Board of Directors, check out The SpankMaker.


In an effort to peacefully resolve the situation, SpankMyMarketer.com privately approached Tenneco.


A Tale of Three Lawyers
First, SpankMyMarketer.com emailed Tenneco's entire senior management team. The email included a special tracking link, which was clicked on many times, from several different Tenneco computers.

Nevertheless, Tenneco refused to reply.

After a week of being ignored, SpankMyMarketer.com emailed Tenneco's executives again.

This time, Tenneco replied through David Wardell, their General Counsel. The General Counsel is the chief lawyer in a corporation, whose responsibilities include providing legal advice to a corporation's senior executives.

Mr. Wardell replied with the below email:

I have received and reviewed your note. We are in the process of reviewing and considering the matter to which you refer.

We will contact you at the beginning of next week to fully and fairly respond to your expressed concerns.

Kind regards,
David A. Wardell

dwardell@tenneco.com
(847) 482-****


After describing their intent to respond "fully and fairly", Tenneco passed the issue off to their internal legal department.

Then, a second Tenneco lawyer, Anne Frueh, attempted to handle the situation. Ms. Frueh, clearly unfamiliar with the Internet, said that Tenneco had instructed PowerTV to "remove" their stealth postings. Despite Tenneco's misunderstanding, most web users know that you can't just "remove" old forum posts whenever you like, especially in an attempt to cover up your tracks.

Here's Ms. Frueh's response:

I am a lawyer in the Tenneco Inc. Law Department and I have been asked to respond to your emails regarding the internet postings of video clips featuring Tenneco's Power to the Wheels promotional contest showcasing our Dynomax® brand products, posted to your website by PowerTV Media. Please direct further communications respecting this matter to me.

On behalf of Tenneco, I thank you for providing feedback on the PowerTV materials. We are very interested in the impressions these materials leave on viewers and respond appropriately to all feedback which we receive. In response to your comments, we have instructed PowerTV to remove all postings from hotrodders.com featuring Tenneco's Power to the Wheels contest and to refrain from posting any materials featuring Tenneco products or promotions on that site going forward. On an ongoing basis we review content to ensure that the promotional nature of the material is clear and that our postings meet all legal requirements and applicable standards and conform to accepted practices.

I thank you again for bringing your concerns to our attention.

Sincerely,

Anne E. Frueh
Corporate Counsel
500 N. Field Drive
Lake Forest, Illinois 60045
847.482.**** (voice)
847.482.**** (fax)


After notifying Ms. Frueh of the impossibility of a user simply "removing" offending posts, she ignored SpankMyMarketer.com. Further communication resulted in the following response, in which Ms. Frueh indicated that further dialogue is "unwarranted".

I apologize -- I thought I had sent my response out to you on Friday. Thank you for your further input regarding Tenneco's promotional activities. Tenneco thanks you for bringing this matter to our attention and has given your comments due consideration. Further dialogue on this matter, however, is unwarranted.

Sincerely,

Anne Frueh

Anne E. Frueh
Corporate Counsel
500 N. Field Drive
Lake Forest, Illinois 60045
847.482.**** (voice)
847.482.**** (fax)
Further dialogue is unwarranted.
To make parody comics of Tenneco's Board of Directors, check out The SpankMaker.


After Ms. Frueh's gaffe, SpankMyMarketer.com emailed Tenneco's senior executives again. Recognizing the gravity of the situation, Tenneco sought the assistance of an external law firm specializing in Internet law, Winston & Strawn, LLP.

Oh, crap.
To make parody comics of Tenneco's Board of Directors, check out The SpankMaker.


Tenneco's third lawyer to handle this situation was Brian Fergemann, a Winston & Strawn lawyer specializing in advertising, marketing, and Internet law. After hiring a web-savvy lawyer, Tenneco's attitude changed very quickly.

Best friends.
To make parody comics of Tenneco's Board of Directors, check out The SpankMaker.


After consulting with Mr. Fergemann, Tenneco agreed to "direct" the stealth marketing firm to alter their practices. Here's Tenneco's response through their third lawyer:

Thank you for speaking with me last week. I can assure you that Tenneco understands your concerns regarding the marketing practices of PowerTV, and appreciates that you have brought this to their attention. Tenneco values its customers' input on these matters. To that end, Tenneco has specifically directed PowerTV to modify its practices with respect to the promotion of Tenneco events as follows:

First, Tenneco has instructed PowerTV that it should not post any materials promoting Tenneco events on third party websites or forums if the posting of such materials violates the express terms of use for the website, including if such terms prohibit the posting of commercial messages or advertising. If you would like to provide me with a list your websites, Tenneco will specifically instruct PowerTV that it should not post any Tenneco materials on those websites.

Second, Tenneco has instructed PowerTV to clearly communicate in all posts and videos promoting Tenneco events that PowerTV is acting as a representative of Tenneco. In addition, Tenneco has instructed PowerTV to include a designation in all posts promoting Tenneco events that the post contains advertising or promotional materials.

Tenneco has also advised PowerTV that if it does not comply with these directions, Tenneco will discontinue its relationship with PowerTV.

I trust that these actions address your concerns. However, if you have questions, please feel free to give me a call.

Brian

Brian D. Fergemann
Winston & Strawn LLP
35 W. Wacker Dr.
Chicago, Illinois 60601
tel (312) 558-****
fax (312) 558-****
bfergemann@winston.com


Copyright symbol.
To make parody comics of Tenneco's Board of Directors, check out The SpankMaker.


Tenneco refused to stop funding the promotions.

Really profitable.
To make parody comics of Tenneco's Board of Directors, check out The SpankMaker.



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