Angie’s List a Perfect Fit for Limbaugh

This was forwarded to me by a #stoprush volunteer who wrote Angie’s List to cancel their membership over the company’s continued sponsorship of Rush Limbaugh’s sick misogyny circus. It is their unresponsive non-response:

Thanks for writing Angie’s List. As you requested, I’ve taken the steps to ensure your account will not be renewed. Keep in mind, you can continue to use your membership until it expires on ____.

We’re sorry to see you go, though. Our advertising strategy isn’t intended to express support for any one platform or outlet. Instead, we use as many venues as possible to share information about Angie’s List and to reach consumers with a variety of view points.

We place ads on all the major networks and cable outlets, as well as radio and newspapers, reaching outlets that range from conservative to moderate to progressive to liberal. On any given day, we’ll hear negative reactions to our choices from a part of that spectrum, most protesting that we do not support their particular issue or that we do support another.

Just as we trust members to read reports and make decisions about which service companies to hire, we trust them to make their own choices about which outlets to watch, listen to and read. That said, we have ongoing conversations about where to place our ad dollars, and I have forwarded your comments to our Marketing Department to add to that discussion.

Thanks again, ____. If you have any questions, would ever like to rejoin our service, or would like to submit feedback on local service and healthcare providers, just let us know. Have a good day.

“Both sides do it, therefore we ignore them all. We don’t take sides.” This disingenuous nonsense may work for Angie’s List, but it doesn’t sit well with recipients who find it condescending. It turns out that’s a pattern with Angie’s List, which is supposedly in the business of consumer reviews but takes little note of its own consumers’ reviews of its services.

That turns out to be key in understanding why Angie’s List would sponsor the sick misogyny circus called “Excellence In Broadcasting.”

Curiosity aroused last night, I looked up Angie’s List on some consumer websites. The first problem with their business model is that consumers must pay to post — one must be more than simply mad or glad at a business, but actually $5-a-month mad or glad. There are plenty of free sites like PissedConsumer.com that essentially let me do the same complaining without charge:

Angie’s List is a scam. After your company gets added they contact you and tell you that your company has been added and reviewed. If you’d like to have an enhanced listing you can pay us for that.

They specifically outlined to one of my vendors that what they would be paying for is good reviews. They achieve this for you in two ways. One is by paying people to write the reviews, the other is by using telemarketers who call current consumer members and pressure them to write good reviews for your company.

So the whole “we are acting in our members best interests” thing is bull! They have one interest in mind: their own.

Angie’s List casts itself as a kind of privatized online Better Business Bureau. Of course, the BBB doesn’t charge me to file a complaint, but the “Member BBB” sign on a store or business front is supposed to mean I can better trust its consumer practices. That’s apparently not true of Angie’s List. Here’s a comment below the post I just cited:

Before posting the review I emailed A.L. to ask if my identity would be revealed to the contractor. Call me paranoid, but I don’t need any trouble (had enough, thanks). They said in order to keep reviews honest they do not post anonymous reviews. Then she said that I shouldn’t worry, they will “only” release my name and address to the contractor if he asks for it. WHAT??? I emailed back that I really don’t want them releasing my name or address to ANYONE without my permission and to please remove ALL of my information off their site immediately. (And besides I know that is BS. Within days of signing up, I started getting fliers in the mail from all sorts of random contractors…they got my from where? Think I know.)

Indeed, Angie’s List is best understood as a redirected marketing scheme. Consumers pay to read reviews of businesses because they want to avoid bad ones. Angie’s List talks these businesses into paying for a better listing, advertising, and yes, happier reviews.

They also offer the names and addresses of their readers, including the person who paid to review their business, for direct marketing. The consumer is trying to find good information or warn fellow consumers. Instead, they inundate themselves with junk mail.

I found several accounts of reviewers being asked to write happier reviews or of having their negative reviews blocked or bowdlerized. So just how objective are the “unbiased” opinions on Angie’s List, given that reviewers’ real names are included in them?

Angie’s List brags about being the “only review site certified annually” by some auditing firm that very few people have ever heard of, but is allegedly a “respected” establishment. Why should a consumer review site have to be audited? And have you ever seen a business claim they are certified on a periodic basis by a disrespected auditing firm or one of ill repute? Redundant, redundant.

“Reviews are submitted by verified members, not anonymous visitors.” Like I said, there’s the rub. The big rub. The deal-breaker rub. The rub-a-cat’s-fur-the-wrong-way rub. Any self-respecting collector of consumer opinions, including those annoying people at the mall with their clipboards and pencils and diplomas from How to Be a Mall Stalker 101, knows that anonymous reviews are generally far more accurate than ones where a person has to provide their name and contact information. If I live in a small town where everyone knows everyone and I use Good Ol’ Billy Bob’s Auto Repair, I’d rather not have good ol’ Billy Bob know I’m the one who complained about the fact that his dipstick mechanic left the dipstick out of my car when they did the oil change…

The non-anonymous nature of Angie’s List reviews, as well as their paywall, offer the illusion of security. Think of it as the online version of a gated neighborhood — complete with its own private police force. Their Complaint Resolution Team is

essentially a mediation service. If a member’s objective is a mediation service this is fine. Since companies potentially buy advertising, the motivation of Angie’s List is to keep the companies happy. Because Angie’s List is motivated to keep companies happy, the mediation service decreases the objectivity of Angie’s List

Indeed, the review I just quoted reveals that Angie’s List is a daily email spammer and occasional phone solicitor, while its free magazine is an ad circular. Speaking of their magazine: BPA Worldwide, the “auditing firm” whose seal of approval Angie’s List touts, makes its money by auditing circulation of business-to-business and consumer magazines. It is not a consumer affairs organization.

Angie’s List is not even a profitable company. Despite claiming a $130 million IPO last November, it has never actually made money:

The provider of online consumer reviews reported Monday in its latest Securities and Exchange Commission filing that the company lost $43.2 million through the first nine months of 2011, pushing total losses since 2006 to $160.6 million.

Its loss through Sept. 30 represents a 59-percent increase from the same time frame last year, when losses totaled $27.2 million.

Revenue through Sept. 30, however, grew 46 percent, to $62.6 million. And paid memberships climbed to more than 1 million, as Angie’s List increased the number of markets where it does business to 175.

All those TV ads we started seeing last year were a bid to drive up first-time user charges so that Angie’s List could pull off a public stock offering with a puffed-up profit to earnings ratio. Among the more common complaints I found last night were monthly recharges to surprised customers who thought they had moved on. It remains to be seen whether this business model is sustainable; I find it much more likely that Angie’s List is just another internet bubble in its expansion phase.

At this point, you’d expect to find an Ayn Rand-worshipping right-wing lunatic pulling the strings, wouldn’t you? According to his own bio, Angie’s List CEO William S. Oesterle is a past director of corporate affairs for the Hudson Institute, the original neoconservative think tank now closely allied with ALEC. Regular Hudson contributors include the Kochs, Richard Mellon Scaife, and Sam Walton’s kids.

Having steeped himself in their world, Oesterle worked on Mitch Daniels’ campaign for governor and sits on a banking board in Indianapolis. So as a private businessman, you’d also expect to find a small-gummint advocate like Oesterle using public tax incentives; that hypocrisy is old sauce by now, isn’t it? Again, I was not disappointed:

Finally, (Indianapolis) will direct $1 million in federal tax credits toward Angie’s List. The tax credits would be applied to the newly acquired real estate, said Melissa Todd, vice president of operations at Develop Indy, the city’s economic development arm.

[...]

Angie’s List also will be eligible for as much as $7 million in tax credits from the Indiana Economic Development Corp., based on its plans to hire 500 people.

We should not be surprised that Angie’s List continues to sponsor the Rush Limbaugh sick misogyny circus. No company in America should be less surprising as a Limbaugh sponsor. The only surprise is that Angie’s List still enjoys so much fluff reporting from the “liberal” media.

About Matt Osborne

Veteran blogging the culture wars from Alabama. Video journalist, mash-up artist, aspiring novelist, and metalhead. Expect bunnies, geekery, dark humor, and snarky empirical analysis to annoy idealists of all stripes. You can follow me on Twitter, but be ready 'cause it might get loud.
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