CSR Website Review: Liberty Mutual’s Social Media Ploy

screen-shot-2010-08-01-at-123430-amIn its most recent social media campaign, insurance firm Liberty Mutual tries to fake its way into CSR rather directly by adopting a marketing theme of “responsibility” in its new social media website the “Responsibility Project” (pictured). In the past, Liberty Mutual has created some great, feel-good advertising such as commercials where characters “pay it forward” and help strangers (…and reduce insurance risk). However, Liberty Mutual's most recent attempt to use social media is less than transparent and flirts with fraud.

The Responsibility Project itself is a faux-site. It is a website funded by Liberty Mutual that does its damndest to be mistaken for a website created by a thinktank or NGO. On its own, the idea is… highly unusual; ethics is not often a pop culture concern, though it looks like Liberty Mutual wants to be the "TED" of ethics; instead, it just lifts TED videos straight from TED itself. (Side note: did TED approve such use??) Anyway, the site features discreet Liberty Mutual branding: a small logo at the top and text at the foot of the page- full disclosure for observant users. The rest of the site works out to about an estimated 80% Liberty Mutual propaganda and 20% random third party content such as the the TED videos.

Liberty Mutual's Responsibility Project videos includes a series of short films (6-7min long) featuring famous actors like Danny Glover and Ron Livingston (so, it cost Liberty Mutual serious money). Other compnies, like Orbitz, have sponsored similar shorts, obviously in an attempt to score a viral hit like OldSpice did. But in this case, they fail. Liberty Mutual’s condescending shorts are also painfully, obviously  pro-insurance. So not surprisingly Liberty Mutual defines responsibility by labeling things that cost it money as irresponsible: texting while driving, lawyers and malpractice, failing to wear a bicycle helmet, drinking and driving, theft, etc.

The biggest problem with the site is its attempt to look neutral and user generated; the films are supposedly made by an “independent film company”, which probably refers to an independent film company financed to produce a specific Liberty Mutual script. Also, it's not clear, but at least some of the “comments” under the videos and posts must be manufactured by Liberty Mutual. The comments are cordial, respectful of the content and other commenters, written by people that disclose their full names and are generally grammatical. This is inconsistent from typical commenting patterns for anyone who is even remotely  experienced with digital media. From below the “Lawyers” vid:

“Buck McKibben" wrote that: “Situational ethics equals no ethics. Things are true or they're not. Lawyer's professional attitude that intentionally misleading people is OK as long as the specific words you say are true is a twisted attempt to justify a more sophisticated form of lying. The guy was smart to retrieve his ring, because people who lack ethics often lack them in every aspect of their lives...including relationships.”

“Mitch” replied: “i agree with that!”

“Julie” also replied: “ I also agree. More often than not, people who lack professional ethics also lack ethical behavior in their personal life, with friends, in their marriage and in dealing with the general public. Good for him and shame on her.”

Later, “Joe” comments: “You are totally lame. Who picks apart an ad that's trying to promote responsibility…Who cares? Grow up...”

Come on. One is inspired to sue just to open a discovery process and find out how much of the content is fake and how much is real. Did they require employees to comment?

How a company markets is extraordinarily descriptive of its overall CSR program.  And social media marketing is powerful, but relies on third party momentum. Liberty Mutual's synthesized social media community is deceptive. In the “Lawyers” video, Liberty Mutual ironically criticizes lawyers for “creating truth” for their clients, when they’ve created content in an attempt to look like some thoughtful third party website. It’s sad, it's a perfect example of how NOT to do social media marketing, and it’s a CSR fail.