I’ve come across the term “idea laundering” a few times recently. It’s the practice of obtaining third-party endorsements by covert means so as to gain credibility by association. It can be done by suggesting that a person or organisation who supports the idea launderer’s position but has an association with it is actually independent. It can even go as far setting up a supposedly independent organisation that supports that same position.
Whatever the method may be, idea laundering is growing increasingly obsolete, despite the fact that people trust companies and the media less and less, meaning that independent third-party endorsement is more important than ever.
So why, despite this, is idea laundering passé?
Three reasons I can think of:
1. I may be naive, but I actually believe that more organisations want to do the right thing by being honest and transparent, and think idea laundering is unethical.
2. The prevalence of the web has meant that there is far more public content available. Chances are that there is credible, independent material out there already, available via a simple hyperlink. You’ve also got content aggregation, which is these days an extremely popular way for organisations to showcase external content on their own sites. Using RSS, the process is automated so that content is automatically published on an organisation’s site. More credibility with pretty much zero effort.
3. The PR risk is now far greater so it’s really not worth it. A faux pas is far more likely to emerge online. What’s more, it’s far more likely to spread, and once it’s out it can not be controlled. And to cap it all off, it’ll stay on Google forever.