Cameron Slater delivers whale-size bite to companies who cancel ads to avoid the Dirty Politics controversy.

The Dirty Politics storm has exposed the dangers of advertising on controversial political websites.

The Nicky Hager book attacked the Whale Oil site with allegations of dirty tricks and links to the National Party, the Food & Grocery Council and the tobacco industry - allegations rejected by Cameron Slater, the site's owner.

Slater and his attacking approach have always been controversial. But Dirty Politics has placed him at the centre of the election campaign, and his reaction to advertisers who have withdrawn from the site has been similar to his approach to politicians he dislikes.

In typically forceful fashion, he has implied that advertisers who withdrew from Whale Oil were aligning themselves with the left. He even published a photograph of Labour's Grant Robertson in a photo opportunity at a Pak'nSave as evidence the supermarket leaned to the left.


That logic will be shocking to any of the myriad advertisers who have hosted photo ops; taken to its logical conclusion, it would presumably see politicians banned from many retail premises.

Flight Centre and Pak'nSave both decided they did not want to be seen on Whale Oil and withdrew their ads as the political storm escalated. Pak'nSave - which is part of the Foodstuffs co-operative - suffered double trouble with Slater bizarrely accusing the supermarket chain of taking a political and/or ethical stance.

"I don't like the idea of where that's going to end up with a list of companies that will support left politics, and list of companies that will support the right," Slater said, with typical hyperbole, in an August 22 post.

"With everything else going on right now, the last thing we need is to go on a witch-hunt and divide the nation's businesses into political and apolitical."

Yet the standard view in media and advertising is not so conspiratorial. Advertisers often avoid being linked to political controversy.

Both advertisers said their withdrawal from Whale Oil was to avoid the danger of being called political.

Foodstuffs group communications director Antoinette Shallue said: "Due to recent publicity Whale Oil has become part of a highly emotional political debate.

"As such we have chosen that in the lead-up to the general election it is most appropriate for our brand not to advertise on this site. Our advertising withdrawal is that ... we refuse to be seen to be taking sides.

"We have nothing further to add on our decision, which will be reviewed after the election."

Flight Centre NZ managing director Chris Grieve said the company was non-political and it didn't position itself in association with political blogs.

"The company investigated this issue with our media agency and has set up an exclusion to ensure that Flight Centre's advertisements do not appear on any political blogs."

All this is a messy issue for advertisers and for media buyers who place advertising with small websites.

They buy space for ads using automated processes, pay no heed to content and brand, and focus on the number of readers. This hands-off approach is needed, largely because there is so much fragmentation of digital media, and the buyers don't have the resources to make one-by-one decisions. In some ways, these automated systems are taking the art out of buying and making it pure maths, with people picking the best prices online.

Advertising consultant Martin Gillman said it was possible to rule out some media from automatic buying systems, but this had to be a proactive decision.

Derek Lindsay is head of the media committee for the advertising agency body CAANZ, and believes that while there are still a few tweaks being made, the system of automated buying is working. "We had a meeting about this recently, though nothing to do with Whale Oil."

He said most ad agencies used automated digital buying, though they handled things in differing ways. Basically, it worked as a bidding system for online advertising. "It's a joint responsibility between advertisers and their agency to deal with problems."

Lindsay declined to comment on the situation with Whale Oil, where advertisers who have withdrawn are being chided on the site, but said advertisers were able to stipulate which sites they would not appear on.

"Some people do not want to be associated with sites that have violence or porn. Political sites might be different, some advertisers will be concerned about that and some will not."

In my opinion, it seems a much more laissez faire approach to media buying than the traditional way, but Lindsay says it works well.

The automated approach is a marked contrast to buying space in mainstream media, which are less likely to be contentious and where special deals and the advertising and brand associations are more important.

It has been intriguing to see the reasoned response of opinion-makers to the Kill the Prime Minister song, and compare it with the witch-hunt against John Tamihere, which led to the broadcaster being sacked from RadioLive.

In this latest case, there have been questions about taxpayer support for the band @Peace, though this was unreasonable since the NZ On Air support was for the band, not the song. There was some chiding over the sexual references to the Prime Minister's daughter, Steffi Key, and the obligatory cries of FFS. But overall, it was a sane response.

This was in marked contrast to the media storm that blew up over Tamihere, with the left approaching advertisers to withdraw from RadioLive and attacking Tamihere, Willie Jackson and anyone who dared suggest there were freedom of speech issues involved.

That issue came down to whether Tamihere asked the wrong questions of an unnamed young girl who called in to his and Jackson's radio show over the Roastbusters allegations. While this person - Amy - has disappeared from sight, it appears that she was actually known to the broadcasters.

The transgressions were much less direct than those by @Peace. Admittedly, there wasn't much that could be done to the band, which now seems to see how crass the song was. But songwriter Tom Scott is a talented individual and the telling off was all that was required.

However, when you compare the case with that of Tamihere, you can't help but think the vigilantes are more concerned about who does wrong things, not their actual transgressions.

Mighty relief over Power Rangers

There was widespread relief around Auckland film and TV production firms with the signing of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to return to New Zealand to make the next series.

The show - which screens in 150 countries - has been filmed here for 10 series.

Photo / Alastair Grant

Many hope its return will just be the first payoff from new, generous taxpayer subsidies that are encouraging US productions to come Downunder, though the high value of the New Zealand dollar against the greenback is still a disincentive.

Film Auckland chairman Pete Rive said last year had been hard for many people in the production sector, and the news had prompted cheers.

Film Commission chief executive Dave Gibson has also welcomed the return of the show, saying it had provided many work opportunities for New Zealand crews and talent.

Evidence of that was made clear a couple of months ago when Tom Hern, producer of the new movie The Dark Horse, which has been enjoying rapturous acclaim, said he and writer-director James Napier Robertson both started out as teen stars on The Tribe, then took parts in Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, before moving on.