URoomSurf's Questionable Marketing Tactics

uRoomSurf.com offers a roommate matching service targeted to high school students anticipating their freshman year in college and college students. The concept behind uRoomSurf is a sound one that has the potential to deliver value to room-mate seeking students. This post by Brad at BlueFuego tipped me off to uRoomSurf.

I'm less enthusiastic about uRoomSurf's marketing tactics. Justin Gaither volunteered to me during a phone call today that uRoomSurf has tasked an intern with creating Facebook groups using this naming template:

University Name Here Class of 2014.

This naming convention, designed to deliver near-top listing in search results, intentionally creates the impression that the group is affiliated with the university. uRoomSurf us leveraging university brand awareness to create awareness of their service. In my opinion, this marketing tactic is unethical. It may also infringe on the institution's trade mark.

Yesterday, I tweeted:
Is Uroomsurf.com a scam? The anonymity of who is behind it fails the sniff test. I'd avoid. More background: http://bit.ly/8eDxNB

This morning, I received a phone call from:
Justin is the other Co-Founder of URoomSurf.com. Justin is a Class of 2008 alumnus of the University of Miami, graduating with a BBA in Finance with a minor in Marketing. While at the University of Miami, Justin served on the undergraduate student government executive board as Treasurer. Justin is a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity, does not like bugs, and is really good at basketball!
Justin was curious why I had concerns about uRoomSurf.com. I explained to Justin that I have no issue with uRoomSurf.com. However, I do have serious concerns with their marketing tactics.

Justin's primary responses to my expressed concerns about the ethics of creating Facebook groups with university names were: "But it works" or "I don't see an issue."

I suggested to Justin that contacting universities first, before using their name, might head off a lot of potential grief later. Justin dismissed this approach with, "we talked to some people who tried that, and it didn't work." Exactly! Schools aren't thrilled by organizations seeking to leverage the university's brand equity.

Justin also asked my opinion on uRoomSurf joining organic "class of" groups and pimping uRoomSurf via those platforms. I have fewer concerns about this approach, assuming (a) it is appropriate given the rules governing the FB group and (2) it is made crystal clear that uRoomSurf is unaffiliated with the institution in question.

To his credit, Justin did offer to take down the "Ohio Northern University Class of 2014" Facebook group created by a uRoomSurf.com intern. I just checked and it appears that Justin acted on his promise and removed the group. Thank you, Justin!