If You Don't Remember the News, Google Will Remind You

Internet Retailer decided last week to break the news of iContact's June 29th 2007 funding... nicely timed on their website on September 4, 2008.

I was a bit confused to see the headline "E-Mail marketing and blogging provider iContact gets $5 million in funding" arrive in my inbox from my "iContact" email alert I've configured with news.google.com. Good work Internet Retailer.. it's only a bit over a year out of date.

For me the untimely news release with its automatic relay through Google News was good for a laugh and a minor inconvenience. I deleted the news alert without giving it much thought. Only today did I realize what this type of mistake could actually do... and it did.

This Monday (September 8th) the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper accidentally republished an article from 2002 announcing United Airlines' (UAL) filing for bankruptcy. In an identical fashion to how I received the reposted and outdated iContact funding article the Google News alert system noticed the target keywords included in the article (probably either UAL, the stock ticker for United Airlines, or the name United Airlines itself) and quickly sent out emails to all recipients with alerts registered for those words.

As it turns out, a number of recipients of that email were people with their fingers on the pulse of the public stock markets and upon seeing the article on the South Florida Sun-Sentinel website they quickly began selling UAL's stock.

Within the day UAL on Nasdaq fell from $12.50 to $3.00 at which point the market froze further trading. Although the stock rebounded to $10.60 the following day the difference represents a 15% drop in value due greatly to the accidentally posted article in South Florida.

I've included UAL's five day chart below from Yahoo Finance to illustrate the activity on Monday.


Taking a second look at the Internet Retailer article again I'm noticing something interesting. At the bottom there's a single paragraph about Sendmail Inc that mentions their revenue growth and one of their products by name. Sendmail is in a similar industry at iContact.

They are a provider of email sending infrastructure including software and hardware although they aren't a direct competitor of iContact. I'm wondering if the tactic being used here is to republish an old article about a company with a visible brand name likely to have a lot of Google News alerts configured for it and to then include news about a company hoping to get their message in front of that same audience. In concept it's a brilliant way to segment an audience and then use Google as the conduit for your message at zero cost to you.

I think this could get someone in a lot of trouble because it does involve using a trademarked (most likely) brand name to the benefit of someone other than the trademark's owner. I'm not sure if this technically is illegal but clearly using a trademark in a confusing way to promote another brand or company or product is illegal.

Although I feel like I've discovered a brilliant new guerilla marketing tactic and have discovered the cause of the reposted article mentioning iContact some facts point the other way including the fact that I couldn't find an earlier posting regarding iContact's VC funding on Internet Retailer site and the fact that the blub about Sendmail mentions their revenue over the first six months of the year.

Had this content been first written in late June 2007 when it was actually announced by iContact the timing mentioned in this statement would make perfect sense. Although maybe the piggyback news alert concept was actually utilized back in 2007 if the article went live online then for some period of time.