Anti Ads: Consumer Group Steamed over Yanked Billboard against Mercury Insurance

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By Admin on September 15, 2009 2:33 PM

It's hard to turn around in any city or on any highway without seeing ad space selling us on the fabulousness of all variety of goods and services. What happens if some of that same ad space is purchased to send passers-by the opposite message? In the case of an LA billboard by Consumer Watchdog against Mercury Insurance, it appears that the billboard gets yanked... but that a lawsuit may follow.

Mercury Insurance provides auto, personal, homeowners and commercial insurance in 13 states. As reported in the LA Times (and noted in The Consumerist), the consumer protection group Consumer Watchdog placed a billboard ad in Los Angeles through CBS Outdoor which read "CONSUMER WATCHDOG SAYS: YOU CAN'T TRUST MERCURY INSURANCE. Find out why at consumerwatchdog.org."

According to Consumer Watchdog, it put up the billboard in the midst of California's raging wildfires in part to draw attention to Florida's punishment of Mercury for illegally handling hurricane claims -- in order to warn Californians to attentively document wildfire related claims with Mercury.

CBS reportedly approved the ad before placing it. The ad was supposed to run through September 20th. That is, until Mercury's attorney's contacted CBS and CBS took it down sometime around September 3rd. The Times reports a statement from Mercury Insurance that CBS, "as a responsible organization, has removed the defamatory statements from their billboard. Consumer Watchdog's claims about Mercury Insurance and its motivation are without merit."

Here are the reasons Consumer Watchdog says consumers should not trust Mercury Insurance. They include:

  • previouss punishment for violations of consumer protection laws regarding claims handling in California and Florida;
  • internal documents detailing Mercury's claims handling processes revealed through prior litigation; and
  • information as to Mercury's political contributions and connection to an FBI political corruption probe.

Mercury has not identified what portion of the billboard it believes to be defamatory.

A letter from Consumer Watchdog's attorney's to CBS Outdoor asserts that the only contractual grounds for removing the billboard would be nudity, pornography, profanity or obscenity in the billboard's content -- none of which were present in the Don't Trust Mercury ad. The letter demands that CBS put the ad back up or face a lawsuit for breach of its contract with Consumer Watchdog.