360i Staffer is Keeping AOL Mustang

Over the past couple of months, Digiday has explored the “gift economy” that exists within online advertising, in which media sellers are essentially required to shower agency buyers with drinks, outings and even tangible gifts in order to gain their attention.

As if to highlight the practice, AOL raffled off a new Ford Mustang at its digital content NewFront Tuesday in a move presumably designed to ensure or boost attendance at the event. Jamie Dorfman, a media manager at digital agency 360i, ultimately emerged as the car’s lucky winner.

But as word of the raffle got around, ad sellers began questioning AOL’s tactics. Members of ad-sales community site SellerCrowd appeared less than impressed, for example.

“Wow, that’s a new low. AOL should have a least rigged it where a more senior level person (media director+) won the car vs. a media planner,” wrote user Cicero13.

Meanwhile, a user with the pseudonym Mars78 questioned whether or not it’s appropriate for Dorfman to keep the car and whether her agency would allow it, stating, “Most of the bigger agencies have a limit on value of gifts employees can accept. I think it would be very difficult for someone from OMD, Mindshare, Starcom or other similar shops to accept this large of a prize.”

According to a spokesperson at 360i, Dorfman is keeping the car. As far as the agency is concerned, her seniority, coupled with the fact that she was selected at random, means there’s no conflict of interest at play. “Jamie is a relatively junior member of the team and not a decision maker. This was a raffle, not an attempt to buy influence.”

But one user on SellerCrowd saw the situation as crossing a line and questioned the long-term consequences of this type of giveaway.

“There are those media planners that I actually like as friends, so if Jamie is one of the good people, then I hope this blows up on AOL and not her. The problem is it won’t. I honestly wonder if it’s not the planners who are the problem here, but the sellers. We have to stop doing this to ourselves.”