Last night, I moderated a panel on buzz and marketing at the Always On conference in New York and I started it off by slamming Pay Per Post, the infamous service that pays bloggers to write positive posts about products, and a presentation by the company’s president, Ted Murphy.
Murphy showed a video a mom created for Pay Per Post, showing her little kids smashing a camera with a hammer because it wasn’t an HP. I was appalled (so was David Weinberger). So they have created something that entices mothers to exploit their own children as cheap shills. For shame.
The discussion went on with the panelists — including an advertising and a PR exec — agreeing that you can’t buy buzz.
At the end, who should stick up his hand but Murphy. He said that Pay Per Post is transparent about its posts being bought; I said that this was damned recent and only after much pressure. He also said that he saw no difference in Amanda Congdon making commercials on her old or new vlog and a Pay Per Post person making a commercial on her blog. Fair point. But one of the panelists said that Rocketboom is clearly a show and a commercial makes sense in that context; the relationship is clearer. David Weinberger said that marketers and the public have been at war for a century and the internet and blogs were to be his refuge from that: a place to have conversations with friends. I asked whether Weinberger, who takes no ads, hates me for doing so. He said, no, because the relationship is, again, clear: It’s about someone buying space on my page, not about buying my endorsement. He called Pay Per Post “corrosive” to the conversation. Pressed again on the demarcation, I brought up the rules I was taught as a journalist (emphasizing strongly that I was not trying to call all blog talk journalism or to hold it all to the same structure and rules): Simply put, the rule is that no one can buy my voice and with it my credibility.
The conference was a bit disorganized and our panel, the last of the day, got on late after confusion on the schedule about the session. They tried to cut us off on time but the room and I revolted and we kept going; the discussion was rousing and fun.
After it was all over, I saw a camera guy — with good HDTV rig and steadicam, even — who had been shooting the session. I thought he was Always On’s guy. But at the elevator bank, the camera was still following Murphy. ‘What, you have a reality show?’ I joked. No joke. They do. They call it Rock Startup and try to make themselves into rock stars (Murphy is “The Murphman“) and even say they’re trying to sell it to a network — though, of course, it’s really just a commercial. Here’s an episode about their brashly painted, branded monster truck and how they’re going to promote by taking a couple of “smokin’ ” promo “girls” to bars. The hubris of this organization is astounding.
I asked Murphy whether he had seen Startup, the movie about the hubristic and failed startup GovWorks. No, he’d never heard of it. I suggested that he get the DVD. When I met with GovWorks in the bubble, I refused to allow them to tape it. Well, now perhaps I’ll end up in the sequel.