At the Future of Online Advertising, Chas Edwards spoke about how various ways they do ads across their network, in particular 2 areas where the bloggers themselves provided input.
The first was an example from Microsoft:
They tested two types – the standard banner that was mass(ish) but one of their sites asked for something that was specialised..and wrote the copy from the MS site. The customised unit worked 60% better.
The second was something for Cisco:
A further thing they tried was more author driven copy, with the authors/blog writers adding their own definitions of ‘the human network’ for a campaign for Cisco. They invited 15 FM authors to wrote the copy that ran across the network. this was not the authors writing about the product, but to define something beyond the product. They allowed people to vote for favourite definition or provide their own. Results were great SEO, a wiki article etc., great blog conversation.
This approach of working with advertisers blew up over the weekend after a piece over at Valleywag
John Battelle’s ad network has roped in some of its star writers to an ad campaign on behalf of Microsoft’s “people-ready” catchphrase. In the ads, and the companion site built by Federated Media, Michael Arrington explains how his Techcrunch site became “people-ready”. “When is a business people ready?” asks Gigaom’s Om Malik. “The minute you decide to strike out on your own…” Other writers who’ve been paid to repeat Microsoft’s slogan include Paul Kedrosky and Matt Marshall of Venture Beat, as well as Fred Wilson, the blogger-investor.
Now the reality is not quite as stated – the blogger listed, and others, never got paid for writing the copy. They are, however, getting revenue from ads for the campaign that are running across the network. And this apparent conflict of interest had many people up in arms.
First up, Jeff Jarvis, who gives a detailed, sober account of some background to these types of campaigns
I tried to warn Federated when I adamantly turned down two prior similar campaigns, telling them that this would reflect poorly on the bloggers who do it, possibly on bloggers as a whole, on the network itself, and in the end on the advertisers. But they kept trying to push the boundaries, because that’s what advertisers and thus sales people do.
Scoble ads his perpective, wondering why endoresment is OK for some people and not for others
These two examples of advertisements are FAR further along the endorsement line than what was done by Federated Media. The ads that caused the TechMeme outcry were NOT endorsements at all, but were just bloggers talking about an advertising slogan and even then weren’t told what to say.
And we have perspectives from bloggers who provided some of the quotes – Mike Arrington, telling everyone to go away and mind their own business, Om Malik, who pulled the campaign off his sites and Fred Wilson, who reminds people that it his blog to do with what he wills.
Although, to bring it all back down to earth, take a look at Adrants POV:
Yawn. No one cares. It’s advertising. But, yes, you should be clear to your readers what is paid opinion versus organic opinion. Yes, the rules are changing and the old ones don’t work so well anymore. No, Federated Media’s Microsoft campaign won’t harm the industry or reader’s trust of media any more than they’ve already been by countless other shenanigans well before conversational marketing took the stage.
So joining in with the opinion expressing so derided in that piece, when I was listening to Chad, what he describes strikes me as a good idea. It still does. Many a blogger has bemoaned the one way broadcast method of advertisers, that they don’t listen to their customers to see what they think of their product. And here we have an ad network that is encouraging this interaction, getting customers and influencers to comment and add to the conversation. As explained in one of the examples, the blogger taking the copy and spinning it in his own words for an ad made for better results, as the blogger knew his readers and could make it relevant. The same for the wider idea of getting bloggers to contribute what they think about words and phrases. It’s all about relevance. And, at it’s heart, this is just UGC, which so many advertisers are using and so many social media marketers endorse.
The ethical dilemma comes when money is being made and they endorsement is not obvious to readers. Back to the framing question, these statements were not easily linked to the payment, even though the two were through different mechanisms – I’m assuming bloggers in the network are getting advertising revenue from the ads regardless of whether they contributed some verbiage , so why penalise the ones that did add something.
As Adrants states, this whole areas is new and people are working their way through it. Pick your ethical stance and stick to it. Mine – I’ll point out if I’m writing about something and getting a benefit directly or indirectly, as far as I can. That limitation is because I have no idea what ads get put on the network so could always be writing for (or against) a product or service that is being advertised without me knowing about it).