Sicko Provides Search Prescription for Other Advertisers

Michael Moore’s new documentary film “Sicko” is generating a lot of buzz online and off, but the agenda-driven healthcare flick is also helping unrelated advertisers promote their own agendas.

Web searches for “Sicko” result in a gaggle of sponsored links to video sites presenting related clips or the movie trailer, ringtones featuring tunes from a band that goes by the same name, and unrelated ads for a sale on bras.

But a Google search conducted on Friday — the movie’s opening day – also prompted paid links for an AIDS-related blog, a vertical health search site and a business magazine. The Shillfactor, a blog focused on “less drug intensive approaches to treating HIV,” used keyword “Sicko” to target a message to AIDS physicians and promote its own content. “Shillfactor to AIDS docs: It’s time to come out–again. Open your books so we can see,” read the ad.

Both the Moore film and the blog, written by activist Mike Barr, have gripes with the pharmaceutical industry, making the two a fitting ad couple.

Vertical health search site RightHealth is also glomming on to the timely search term. The tongue-depressor-in-cheek ad copy notes, “Get well-O. Learn more about taking control of your health.” is operated by a firm called Kosmix, which also runs RightAutos, RightTrips for vacation-related information, as well as politics, finance and video games search sites.

Kosmix began its Sicko-targeted campaign on Google and Yahoo last Wednesday, according to Shernaz Daver, head of marketing for the firm. The company expects the film’s PR efforts to prompt related searches, and in turn drive traffic to RightHealth. “People who are disappointed with healthcare are coming to the Web, so why not take advantage of that?” said Daver.

Advertisers from political candidates to auto dealers have learned that buying keywords affiliated with opponents’ names or rival brands can make for an easy form of so-called “conquesting.” In deploying its Sicko-based search campaign, recently-launched print and online publication The American Magazine is implementing what amounts to issue-based conquesting, or running an ad in a forum dedicated to a competitor.

The publication, produced by right-leaning think tank American Enterprise Institute, is buying the keyword “Sicko” in an effort to promote the new business magazine. The ad refers to the film as “short on truth” and links to an article alluding to “Michael Moore’s penchant for agitprop.”

“The odds are good that whoever it is doing that search is someone who may appreciate our publication,” said the magazine’s Managing Editor, David Robinson. “We’re trying to get out there and reach these influencers, these thought-leading individuals.”

The bulk of the magazine’s ad budget goes towards search advertising, said Sam Schulman, publishing director of The American. Schulman said he often “grabs a keyword or two” related to timely themes also covered in the magazine in an ongoing effort to drive awareness of the new publication among the media and potential readers.

Hanging those search campaigns on names of brands or people can act as a catch-all for ideas that might be more difficult to express otherwise. “Sicko is a product, and yet it’s an issue-based product,” said Schulman, noting the movie moniker acts as shorthand for all things healthcare. “It’s a Google AdWords dream,” he said, “It pulls it all right in.”

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