The internet-connected home security camera company known for its doorbell camera, Ring, used LAPD officers as influencers in their controversial digital marketing strategy to gain credibility and increase adoption of their devices.
Years before their acquisition by Amazon, Ring’s influencer marketing strategy was to get LAPD and other law enforcement agencies on board as brand ambassadors to endorse the product.
To do so, Ring contacted LAPD and gave them free products and discount codes while encouraging them to spread the word about their company by mouth and promote the company to connections by handing out the codes. In return, they would be rewarded with free products.
Ring’s influencer marketing program was called “Neighborhood Pillar” and involved enlisting LAPD officers to “educate members of the community on the benefits of Ring.” The goal was to give discount codes and promotional materials to “influential people in the community that care about crime prevention safety,” with every 10 uses of the discount codes earning them a free Ring device.
The LA Times broke the story and obtained emails between the LAPD and Ring employees.
“You are killing it, by the way. Your code has 14 uses, eleven more and I will be sending you every device that we sell,” a Ring employee wrote to an officer in a 2016 email. “Do you have any community meetings or crime prevention fairs coming up?”
According to the report, at least 100 LAPD officers received one or more free Ring devices or discount codes that they could share with others to promote the product and earn free merchandise.
Of these recipients, more than 15 promoted the products. Ring ultimately gave away tens of thousands of dollars in free product, including at least $12,000 to a single police station, the Times reported.
Aside from the thousands of dollars’ worth of free merchandise, the upshot of the LAPD-Ring collaboration was a larger network of private security camera devices that law enforcement could tap into to obtain surveillance footage without going through painstaking, bureaucratic processes.
The digital marketing strategy ultimately helped Ring gain credibility as a provider of effective crime-prevention tools, and eventually helped secure their adoption by the tech retail giant Amazon. Prior to their acquisition by Amazon and a year after their communication with the LAPD, Ring was able to raise more than $200 million from investors.
Ring told Business Insider that they stopped the Pillar program in 2019 after Amazon bought them. They wrote in a statement, “The practices and programs in question do not reflect Ring today. We stopped donating to law enforcement and encouraging police to promote our products years ago. As Ring has grown, our practices have evolved, and we are always looking for ways to better serve our customers and their communities.
LAPD’s work with the private surveillance camera company raised some eyebrows regarding ethical violations, but the LAPD said it was all done above board and in line with department policies.
LAPD ethics policies prohibit officers from receiving “gifts, gratuities or favors of any kind which might reasonably be interpreted as an attempt to influence their actions with respect to City business.”
However, an agency spokesperson said that just accepting free devices and personally recommending those products to community members was not enough to violate the LAPD code of ethics. A paid endorsement, however, would have been a clear violation of agency rules.
According to a Vice report, Ring employed similar marketing tactics with other law enforcement agencies across the country, forming hundreds of partnerships and simultaneously establishing a large network for their surveillance cameras.
Ring’s products have also been criticized as presenting major privacy risks.
Instead of going door-to-door to request permission to use surveillance footage, Ring’s web app Neighbors allows officers to make requests with simply a few clicks (although now they have to make requests on a public forum). The app gained 1,200 police and fire departments as users in 2020.
Heidi Boghosian, a lawyer and former executive director of the National Lawyers Guild, expressed concern about the apps potential to create a “massive surveillance apparatus” that could threaten civil liberties.
“It has so much room for civil liberties violations. When you have the escalation of people’s fears of property or violent crime, it changes the way they interpret ordinary actions of someone walking down the street or ringing their doorbell,” she said, “And that can [lead to] communities of color [being] falsely accused of crimes.