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Damien Venuto: Clarke Gayford’s ads for Amazon should raise eyebrows

OPINION:

Clarke Gayford has reprised his role as the face of audiobook company Audible in Australia.

Readers might remember that an earlier iteration of this campaign was taken off air for the “dangerous message” of encouraging children a refrigerator might constitute a good hiding place.

There’s nothing quite as controversial in the latest ads to appear on Instagram, but they do pose an interesting question about who the partners of politicians should be willing to accept money from.

Audible is owned by tech juggernaut Amazon – a business that has courted controversy for anti-competitive practices, tax avoidance, paying workers less than the minimum wage in a number of countries and squeezing small businesses out of the market.

You might argue that these are simply global issues, but Amazon’s muscle has also been flexed against a successful New Zealand business.

At the end of last year, the tech giant made global headlines for selling a pair of woollen shoes that looked almost identical to those of New Zealand brand Allbirds. In response, the Kiwi company’s co-CEO wrote a scathing letter on Medium, pointing out that they had copied everything except the fact that Allbirds are sustainably made.

Of course, there’s nothing in contravention of the cabinet manual about Gayford (the partner of the Prime Minister) agreeing to appear in an advertisement for a company with a terrible workers’ rights record, a consistent habit of crushing small businesses, or one that has avoided taxes. The man is allowed to earn a living and is within his rights to accept money from whomever he deems acceptable.

The question here isn’t legality but rather the optics of the Prime Minister’s partner accepting payment from a technology giant notoriously adept at sidestepping regulation wherever it treads.

The risk of being associated with the toxicity of certain brands is why experienced influencers usually err on the side of caution when it comes to lending their profiles to certain companies. Consumers aren’t stupid and sniff their way through hypocrisy quite quickly.

Gayford, of course, had a media profile through his fishing show before Jacinda Ardern became Prime Minister. But Amazon isn’t working with Gayford because he knows how to extract scaled creatures from the ocean. The decoy baby attached to him in the earlier ads provides a clear indication of why this deal exists.

Amazon is no dummy when it comes to the power of advertising.The company recently overtook the Procter & Gamble, L’Oreal and Samsung to become the world’s largest advertiser, spending US$11 billion spreading its message around the world in the past financial year. That’s quite some clout if you’re looking to control the way people see you around the world.

In working with Gayford, the tech company is basking in the wholesome glow exuded from the stay-at-home dad supporting his partner – who just happens to be the Prime Minister of this country.

One commentator online suggested Gayford should be left to do these ads, comparing it to Mary English continuing her medical practice while her husband was Prime Minister.

This isn’t an equivalent comparison. As the Herald’s tech editor Chris Keall pointed out on Twitter, a better parallel would’ve been if English suddenly took up advertising for a big pharma company that had a drug under review with Pharmac – just as Amazon’s fate hangs in the balance with the review of a possible digital services tax.

This also happens in the context of a government department continuing to pump millions into Facebook and Google in advertising spend every year. Given the tax arrangements of these companies, much of this money has gone abroad.

Once again, there’s nothing illegal about this but you have to ask whether we should be supporting these companies in any way.

Ardern and Gayford are masters at shaping their public image, always making careful decisions to ensure they are cast in the right light.

You have to wonder if the small financial gain they made with Gayford’s appearance in these ads is worth the PR hit of an awkward alliance with Jeff Bezos’ Death Star.

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