[twitter]Stay up late on a Friday night and you’ll be inundated with the ads to sell your gold, clean out your stains and cook meals with ease. We get drawn in by the storytelling in the pitch despite the entire time knowing we are being pitched. We know it’s a commercial. We know there’s a phone number to come and yet we watch. The same thing is happening with blogs.
What started as an online storytelling medium, a place for people to diarize their lives, tell their stories, share information and offer up opinion is being turned into an infomercial. We are constantly being pitched and you just have to look at the way Mommy Bloggers are attacking the world of marketing to understand that what you see isn’t always an authentic message.
If you see the “PR Friendly” tag on a blog or Twitter handle, chances are everything you’re about to read is bought and paid for. That handle is the blogger reaching out to marketers to say “Hey, I’ll take your stuff and write about it on my site.” That PR Friendly tag is an active outreach by the blogger or twitter user to sell their site for stuff.
One of the best examples of how deep the marketing message has infiltrated blogs is SelfishMom. Her disclosure is more than 1500 words long. There are 16, SIX.TEEN different ways she gets paid to post content on her site. What started out as just a way for people to share their experiences and stories is now way for people to do so on behalf of an advertiser.
What do you expect?
When I write for the Future Shop Tech Blog, I am paid a fee for my content. Future Shop owns the blog and pays writers to supply it with content. On occasion I’m given products to review. But it’s a genuine review I’m asked to give. I don’t keep the product, it’s a loaner that must be returned. So when I say that I really like the Dyson Ball, the Panasonic Headphones or the AppleTV – I really do. And if I don’t like something, Tassimo, I’m free to post that too. Future Shop is hiring me to produce the reviews, not a manufacturer or PR company.
But when a blogger has “her own little blog dot com” they end up being paid to post directly by the client. The PR company does the pitch to the writer who ends up being easily convinced to write favorable content in return for products or consideration. It’s either that or trying to make their small business survive off the pennies a click from the ads surrounding the content.
Marketers are looking for different ways to influence the market and advertorial (editorial that is really bought and paid for advertising) ends up being an effective means to that end. And since it’s a little cloak and dagger, the money to be made – or more likely the freebies to be scored – are much better than what you’ll make off your humble AdSense ads.
Why are we so cynical?
Next time you read a blog recommending diapers or shoes or a vacation spot, look for the little disclosure tag. Chances are it’s not a random review, it was a product that was given in exchange for editorial.
It’s a slippery slope and it easily let’s cynicism sneak into the equation. I stumbled into a fabulous discovery a few months back. TwitCleaner is a tool that lets you analyze who you follow and helps you remove bots and accounts that don’t add value. I must have tweeted about it for 2 straight days, I was so excited to share my new find.
I over did it a bit, people were asking me if I was being paid to tweet it. I wasn’t, I was just sharing, but the cynicism was there.
At the end of her blog post she had to put “**No, I wasn’t paid to write this post. I just really, REALLY love Tim Hortons.”
Back in the day we wouldn’t have questioned Erin’s enthusiasm for Timmy’s. However, because of disclosures like SelfishMom feels the need to post, we question.
I get we’ve got to make money and catering to advertisers sometimes is part of that. I have had, in my job as a radio announcer, times where my boss has suggested I not speak negatively about a client that was in the news. When I wanted to make a joke about Bonnie Brooks, President of The Bay, I made sure to clear it with the company first so they had a head’s up in case it was misinterpreted.
So I get the relationship between client and content is a tenuous one. Still, wouldn’t it be nice to go back to the days where we could believe everything we read?
Is PR Friendly the new payola?
Back in the 60s, the radio industry got in a lot of trouble for accepting cash to play records.
Payola, in the American music industry, is the illegal practice of payment or other inducement by record companies for the broadcast of recordings on music radio, in which the song is presented as being part of the normal day’s broadcast. Under U.S. law, 47 U.S.C. § 317, a radio station can play a specific song in exchange for money, but this must be disclosed on the air as being sponsored airtime, and that play of the song should not be counted as a “regular airplay”.
The term has come to refer to any secret payment made to cast a product in a favorable light (such as obtaining positive reviews). [wiki]
How long until blogs suffer the same scrutiny?
What’s your take on blog disclosures? Do you accept free products in exchange for content on your blog?