cash4goldThe $3 million dollar media buy on the Super Bowl, the ad featuring MC Hammer bought Cash4Gold….a reputation management disaster?

The blogosphere is ablaze with negative stories about the business that buys gold, jewelry and valuables from cash-strapped consumers. In fact, those stories started months before the big game when blogger Rob Cockerham of provided extensive documentation that the online service offered only one-third the cash for his gold as a local pawn shop.

The post was picked up by A-list blogs Boing Boing and the Consumerist (the latter has run a slew of negative posts about the company) with predictable results — the negative stories shot up to the top of Google’s search results for the company’s name.

If you didn’t believe SEO was a form of PR, this story should convince you. Any number of search experts who specialize in reputation management can, in time, help a company to make amends and if not eliminate nagative search results, at least get them off the first pages of results. Cash4Gold, however, seems to prefer the quick — and dirty — fix.

Cockerham received a letter from Cash4Gold’s vendor Trendy Interactive asking, “Is there a financial arrangement we can come to that will offset your
Adsense income and make it worth your while to take down or at least “de-optimize” it for that phrase?”

When he didn’t reply, a follow-up missive arrived:

“I work with Cash4Gold on the reputation management. Your article is
ranking #3 on their brand term. They would really like to make it worth
your while to take it down or make it more positive. They did something
similar by joining (OTHER CONSUMER AFFAIRS WEBSITE)’s advocacy program.
Is it worth a few thousand to take it down? If not, maybe a donation to
your favorite charity is more to your liking?”

Cockerham still didn’t take the cash – but he took up the gauntlet by blogging his story. As of today, it’s been picked up and expanded upon by dozens of blogs such as Venture Beat, and yet another entry on Boing Boing, the web’s most popular blog.

Prediction: it’s just a matter of time before this story hits the mainstream media. Not that there aren’t plenty of sleazy companies out there, but Cash4Gold’s mistake was not putting their house in order before turning the spotlight on themselves with a big, fat, splashy, expensive Super Bowl ad. That in itself has generated oceans of ink for the business, and now – like it or not – they have themselves a follow-up story.

And while last week they had a reputation management problem, thanks to the Super Bowl, they now have a public relations disaster on their hands.

The first, and most obvious step for the company to take is to immediately sever relations with Trendy Interactive, and publicly announce that they’ve done so. The company’s CEO must apologize to Cockerham, as well as announce proactive measure teh company will take to address both employee and consumer complaints (over 250 registered with the Better Business Bureau).

Perhaps this isn’t what Cash4Gold thought their Super Bowl investment was buying them, but this is what they got. If ever there were a moment for a company to get humble and do the right thing, rather than try to buy their way out or organic negative search results, this is it.