Posts about Ad

Corrupting blogs

The insidious effort to buy bloggers’ voice and credibility in the name of buzz just won’t stop. So I want to make my own blogger’s pledge to you:

1. No one can buy my editorial voice or opinion.
2. No one can buy my editorial space; if it’s an ad it will clearly be an ad.
3. No one should be confused about the source of anything on my pages.
4. I will disclose my business relationships whenever it is relevant and possible.

This is what I learned working in the newspapers and magazines. A wise editor at Time Inc. boiled down all the church-v-state company and industry rules and policies into those first three tenets above; the fourth, I added. This is how we assure our independence from advertisers and financial interests. This is how we earn our credibility.

It is fine for a blogger or newspaper or vlogger or TV show to take advertising, clearly labeled. It is wonderful for a blogger to get paid to write, editorially. But when you write what a commercial interest tells you and pays you to write, then you are no longer speaking as yourself but in the service of that marketer. That’s fine, too, but it isn’t content. It is advertising (or advertorial, same difference). See Rules 2 and 3.

This all seems simple and obvious to me. But it’s not obvious to others, who think they can buy bloggers’ opinions and with it that buzz. They don’t understand that buzz, too, is earned. And they don’t understand that once a blogger — or journalist or publication or friend, for that matter — is bought and paid for, the credibility and value of their voice is reduced or ruined.

Credibility is the cake you can’t have and eat, too.

The problem with this is that it doesn’t affect just one blogger. Bloggers’ detractors love to measure us by our lowest common denominator: if one snarks, all snark; if one sells out, all sell out. This is why Jason Calicanis calls it a cancer.

Calacanis has been tilting at this windmill, calling out PayPerPost very effectively. He is optimistic that they have seen the error of their ways but I’m not so sure. PayPerPost brags about this blogger earning $1,000. And so I read her blog and have no idea whether to trust that her opinions are her own or those of her paymaster: Does she really like these flip-flops, this security system, Disney, or FTD flowers, or Bath & Bodyworks? I have no way of knowing because she doesn’t say who’s paying her. Not that I’m in the market for a motorcycle, but I wouldn’t trust her opinion if I were.

And then there is the shameful lapse of Edelman, who said they were blog-savvy and transparent but turned out to be paying for a trip by a blogger and a Washington Post photographer, ferchrissakes, across America and extolling Wal-Mart’s big heart. Richard Edelman finally apologized. But now they make me wonder what else they’re quietly engineering. I find it cold comfort that the signed the Word of Mouth Marketing Association’s ethics policy; I find it discomfiting that there is such an association. That’s word of our mouths they’re talking about.

And I have recently received at least two request from advertisers, via sales agents, to have me and other bloggers write things about their products. Each one came with a think layer of lipstick on the pig — for example, the writing may appear on another site. But they’re still trying to pay me to write about their product. I passed up $5,000 for the latest offer, which is a good deal more than what I’ve been getting lately for other ads you see here. But turning it down was easy. See Rule No. 1.

Now understand well that I end up doing business with marketers, directly and indirectly via ads and employers. Edelman paid me to come speak at a corporate meeting and that has been on my disclosures page. I got six months’ use of a Sprint phone; they didn’t ask me to write about it but I told you about the campaign and then gave the phone away. I’ve just advised an advertiser and its agency on buying ads on blogs and I made it clear to them that I will disclose that when they come out with it. I ended up accidentally giving another advertiser free advice — and passed up revenue again — when I told them they should not try to market by spamming Wikipedia; since I didn’t end up doing business with them, I’ll spare them embarrassment of saying who they were. None of these people will buy my opinions. See Rule No. 1. And I will be transparent about my dealings with them. See Rule No. 4.

But this isn’t about ethics pledges and industry policies. It’s about personal integrity, about honesty, about having a direct and open relationship of trust and credibility. You may disagree with my opinions — and, oh, you do — but you should at least be assured that they are mine.

: LATER: Via a link to this post, I just saw a data base allowing bloggers to get things free for review. I don’t object to that. Journalists get free books, screenings, food, and at least use of devices for review. And bloggers can’t afford to do what Consumer Reports does and buy everything it tests. The opportunity for corruption still exists: ‘If I give bad reviews, I won’t get the stuff anymore.’ But if you give nothing but good reviews as a result, your credibility and value with, again, suffer. So I believe in revealing the source review material.

: Meanwhile note that CBS just paid $2 million to settle accusations of pay-per-play.

A new kind of advertising

Gabe Rivera has created a new kind of advertising for TechMeme, which he explains here and here.

Simply put: He takes feeds of the latest posts from sponsors’ blogs and puts that in an ad box on Techmeme. That’s their ad. It’s brilliantly simple: dynamic advertising controlled by the advertisers, who will make their ads — their content — relevant to the readers who see their feeds on Techmeme.

I talked with Gabe about this at a conference months ago; he has put a lot of careful thought into the idea. I like it. It’s relevant; it’s human and not automated; it’s appropriate to the form. And it pays. Gabe is charging $4,500, $3,500, and $3,000 respectively for the three month-long spots (I’ll save you the cipherin’… that’s $132,000 per year). For the advertiser, that works out to a $5-8 CPM, which is good. I’m not sure there’s much difference in the first versus third position. And I think there is an opportunity to put more advertisers in the box (cookie me and show me different advertisers’ blog posts on different visits). But I think this works and I’ll be eager to hear the sponsors’ experience.

I’d love to have a such a unit here.

Killer local advertising

The Journal writes a good primer on marketing online via blogs and search and such. Buried in there is a gem of an anecdote that shows why newspapers and yellow pages are in deep trouble with local advertising — unless they find new ways to serve them and compete with Google:

It’s hard to engage in any public relations, of course, if the public doesn’t know you exist. In early 2004, Kenny Kormendy says he was on welfare and struggling to make ends meet as a taxi driver in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. He had tried to reach the public through typical means, such as ads in the telephone book or handing out cards at the airport, but says there “were so few calls, it was unreal.”

Mr. Kormendy was decent on computers, he says, and so he built a rough Web site for his company, Gopher State Taxi, figuring travelers coming to town might locate him when searching for transportation. But he never popped up front and center in search-engine results until he stumbled upon Google’s AdWords service, a cost-per-click advertising program that rotates advertisements on the right side of Google’s search page based on the specific keywords a user types. He decided to give it a shot.

It paid off. In recent months, Gopher State Taxi has routinely popped first on Google’s sponsored link for core keywords, including: “Minneapolis, airport, taxi.” Mr. Kormendy says his business has grown to a network of nearly three dozen cabs and he is off welfare. He estimates his total payout to Google is about $175 to $205 monthly, based on how many clicks his ads get. “People with cellphones on planes can find me,” he says. “Almost every time I ask someone, they tell me it was on the Internet. And nine times out of 10 it’s from Google. I don’t have $50,000 to compete with [bigger taxi companies]. But with what I create off the Internet, I can blow them away.”

Increasingly people turn to the Internet instead of phone books or newspapers to find restaurants, office-supply vendors or any kind of service. In addition to advertising opportunities, companies including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon Inc. and Time Warner Inc.’s America Online unit are tailoring their search products to include maps, narrowed neighborhood searches and storefront images to court small businesses with local audiences.

Lipstick on a . . .

Henry Copeland is amazed: Estee Lauder is buying blogsads.

I was invited in by one of the Lauder brands about two months ago to talk about blogs and I pushed them to advertise out here. I’m not saying I caused this buy (and besides, because I’m sadly not in the Blogads pool now, I’m not even getting the ad myself). But I did see that these people were vitally interested in figuring out how to build a relationship with customers via blogs.

Henry is quite right to be amazed because the cosmetics industry is perhaps the last to embrace online, let alone blogs. Cosmetics are pure brand: smoke for the mirrors, advertising in a bottle. They bought slick, fashionable magazines because they wanted to be slick and fashionable. But now even they are realizing, I think, that their brands live not on pages but with people.

What a friend we have in…

Jesus has a MySpace account. He lists his hobbies as “beard care, extreme waterskiing” and his favorite film as “The Life of Brian.” Last I looked, poor bloke has zero friends. In fact, He needs to advertise for them. But does He pirate videos?

Stand up and be counted…. and counted

The Audit Bureau of Circulations — the agency that verifies the copies sold by newspapers and magazines — just announced a new effort to combine print and online audience numbers.

But their logic is off. The Times says that for their first test case, Advertising Age, they “arrived at a figure by combining the publication’s print readership with a day’s worth of its Web site traffic.” The Times also reports that newspapers say this isn’t accurate because it doesn’t account for people who read both the paper and its online site. And I say that measuring only one day is ridiculous, for as many studies have found, very few people come back to online sites every day (and the truth is that they probably didn’t read papers every day, either; it’s just that they were delivered every day). If the goal is to measure total audience — total reach — then this will inevitably fall way short.

I toiled for way too long on the ABC committee that first tried to measure online (I suffered through endless meetings debating the question, ‘What’s a page view?’) As it turned out, advertisers didn’t really care about auditing the audience of online sites — and thus publishers didn’t want to pay for the service. Advertisers care only about auditing their own flights of ads; the wanted to verify that they got what they paid for. And that makes sense. For in an online site, you don’t really care how big the whole site it; you care about how many people your ads reach how many times.

The ABC and other old media players keep trying to use old math with new media. It won’t compute.

One here, one there

Political blogs in the UK are lashing together to create an ad network. That helps. But I’ll say it again and keep saying it: Advertisers won’t bother with a balkanized world of separate blog networks; we need an open ad marketplace to give them choice and control and to give us proper value.

Advertisers: Head, meet sand, insert

Advertising Age has an amazingly story — amazingly bad — trying to assure advertisers that they don’t need to worry their not-so-little heads about all this digital stuff they hear. The moral to the story: Most people don’t read blogs or hear podcasts, so don’t bother. You’d expect me to get huffy about this and I will. First, I wonder whether Ad Age delivered similar bromides at this stage in the growth of cable and the VCR. Second, this only continues the myth that only mass matters. It doesn’t matter that most people don’t read blogs or hear podcasts. It never will. In a post-mass marketplace, you will have to look for audiences wherever they are. Yes, you should look on network TV … only you won’t find as many there as you used to. But to ignore not just these new media but also their potential is just stupid. Ad Age, you should be ashamed of yourself.