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My recap and thoughts on this past weekends episode of “Days of our Blogger”
I have spent a lot of time thinking about my views on this weekend's events around the Microsoft "conversational advertising" being run by Federated Media (FM) on sites such as TechCrunch, GigaOm, ReadWriteWeb and others. I am a bit pissed off at not just what happened but also by the sheer number of posts about the subject. I am going to tell you exactly how I feel and what I believe in a somewhat condensed version. No fluff.
First, if you don't like what a blogger/journalist/whatever does, remove his/her feed, remove the favorite on del.icio.us and move on to another. Whatever blogger does not follow the values you believe in, you should not do business with. Yet, I find that people bitch and moan for days and weeks about x blogger or y blogger and still go back to his or her site. In the "late breaking news" category, today there are loads of substitutes out there. Even if the leader, currently TechCrunch, does get a story first, no doubt it will be on ten other blogs within a few minutes. And frankly lately, TC hasn't been the only site to get the story first. It seems more companies are working with more journalists than ever before.
Way too much fu****** drama. In the time of all this bitching and moaning, we could have build 10 new web apps. It's like "Days of our Bloggers", "All My Bloggers", or for the Brits, "BloggerOaks." It seems like every few months this crap happens again. If you want this kind of crap, go to PerezHilton or TMZ. Let's be business people dammit.
So let's start with a brief recap. The Microsoft "people-ready" campaign has been running for weeks. The Ask.com campaign also running for weeks has quotes from bloggers as well. And hakia's "human search" appears to be the first in recent time. My impression was that the Ask.com campaign just pulled some text from TC and used it. I am not sure if TC was paid for this. The A-listers for FM were paid for both hakia and Microsoft. Valleywag comes out with a story last Friday that "Microsoft pays star writers to recite slogan". Now frankly, reading the text by the various bloggers, it looked like someone said to x blogger, "what does people ready mean to you" and they answered. It didn't (and doesn't) seem like a Microsoft shill. For example, had the comment been something like, "I knew I was people ready when I used office 2007 because I love Microsoft." Fine. But it's not like that.
After the Valleywag post hit the news wire, it seems like all hell broke loose. Om Malik apologized and took the ads down immediately. Richard MacManus posted some general comments and Mike Arrington seemed to have the most heated reaction. Side note, Fred at Wired has a great piece about Mike and his success. Well worth a read.
Since Mike had the most gusto with his replies, I am going to focus here to make my points.
We do these all the time…generally FM suggests some language and we approve or tweak it to make it less lame. The ads go up, we get paid.
So Mike doesn't write the words that he puts in the box? To me that really is disappointing, especially for someone who values his opinion. It's accepted for an actor or sports star, I guess I am not used to it from a tech blogger. It makes it appear like he is a ventriloquist dummy which he isn't. Certainly will make me think twice about what's up in all those "conversational ad boxes" from now on.
Rather, it’s usually an answer to some lame slogan created by the advertiser. It makes the ad more personal and has a higher click through rate, or so we’ve been told.
Boy, I wonder how Microsoft, hakia or ask.com feels after reading that?
Heather, TC CEO, posted her first ever comment and here are some points of note:
Internet advertising needs more innovation and experimentation, not less.
I agree completely, see my comments below.
The ads are presented within IAB standard ad units, and I believe they are easy to distinguish as ads vs. posts on participating blogs. I’m all for transparency and disclosure, but when something is clearly an ad, I believe that’s sufficient disclosure that it’s an ad.
I disagree partly. Just because something is in an IAB size, does not always mean it is an ad. Some use those sizes for standard graphics and so forth. Also what happens when TC reports on MSFT news now? That's why disclosure is important.
Here is my belief on how this should have been handled. Valleywag post comes out. John at FM reads said post. John then immediately gets the affected bloggers together for a discussion on how this should be handled. All bloggers give their opinions and together the group provides an opinion. Instead what we saw was publishers fighting in public with their ad rep. These are businesses people, handle your affairs behind the closed doors. I am not sure Om took the right approach either but people think very highly of Om so overall I guess it was the right move.
In a post later this week, I plan to dive into the "paid buzz" topic and look at what qualifies as a paid post where disclosure should be required. Feed readers get it first!
Over my 11 years selling ad space, I have turned down probably 100 deals because they didn't feel right including one that would have taken care of me for at least a year. As I have said a million times, think before you hit the publish button, same thing goes for approving ads.
Part of this leads me to Suze Orman, the supposed financial guru. I won’t go into whether she is or is or is not a guru but she is a marketing machine with Digg-like fanboys/girls. About 4 years ago, she signed on to do a deal with GM for their cars and loans. Within weeks the backlash started. You are supposed to be non-biased and now you are pushing one car or loan over another came the cries. The ads seemed to stop pretty quickly.
Lastly, is there a male/female thing going on here? When Amanda goes out and becomes the "face" for DuPont or American Express, no one cares. She is a journalist right? She sat in the "press" row next to me at the SXSW awards. She reports for big media ABCNews and is their leading online star. But if she goes out and endorses something, it's "ok". I don't get it.
John notes that FM is trying new things when it comes to online advertising. I applaud his efforts. Pushing the envelope is what helps us as a group to move further. Someone has to be the first one to take the step into the unknown. The key is how we all react to the envelope pushing. It seems the learning here got lost somehow. Many writers said that Microsoft was the winner here. I don't think so. It's like they were sitting in the middle of everything spinning around them.
The bottom line is this. Bloggers, journalists, etc. can do whatever in the hell they want on their properties. It's up to you as the reader to determine if the site is one you want to return to. Period. Simple as that. I think by now you know my stand on ethics by now. I will never accept an ad that doesn't feel right, even if it means that I have to eat ramen noodles or get a second job. I guess it goes back to my accounting experience and having to sign hundreds of financial documents that say what I am signing is the truth. It has carried over to my writing here. If you ever feel like I am doing something past the line, let me know.