The traditional “Chinese Wall” in publishing stipulates that ads need to be clearly labeled as ads and that editorial content is completely independent, i.e. not paid for. The classic “advertorial,” with content that appears to be editorial but was actually bought and paid for, always walked a fine line by merely using a small slug at the top that said “Special Advertising Section.” That system worked well enough in a world of mass advertising, with one-size-fits-all messages. But we’ve already seen in this new era of micro niche marketing that marketing messages need to be tailored for individual relevancy — it’s a big open question who will create all of this new marketing content, because traditional ad agencies aren’t set up to do it.
Bloggers, almost by definition, create their own niche communities — they create content, readers comment, other bloggers link — it’s a deeply symbiotic relationship where participants get to know each other. There’s a direct connection between bloggers and their communities — so who better than the blogger to create marketing messages that are relevant and interesting for their communities?
This issue was crystallized for me reading Jeff Jarvis’ account of his run in with PayPerPost President Ted Murphy at the AlwaysOn conference. PayPerPost has taken A LOT of heat from all corners of the blogosphere for violating the principles of the traditional Chinese Wall. I’ve written that it comes down to the issue of deception — paid content that’s not dislosed as paid content is deceptive. PayPerPost brough this on themselves by not initially requiring bloggers to disclose that their posts were paid. But much of the outrage (mine included) seems to have overlooked the issue of whether bloggers creating marketing content that is relevant for their readers actually makes sense — ASSUMING, of course, proper disclosure and transparency. This jumped out at me from Jeff’s post:
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.
But isn’t a blog clearly a publication, and therefore isn’t a clearly labled paid post equivalent to a host thanking a sponsor on a video/TV program or an advertorial in a magazine? Again, the issue of disclosure, crucial as it is, seems to be overshadowing the larger question, i.e IF you have proper disclosure, than that what are fair commercial practices for blogs?
Many bloggers, like David Weinberger, don’t believe in commercializing their blogs at all — and there are some other traditionalist bloggers (yes, it’s been around long enough to have an old school) who think that any ads on blogs are a sin. Certainly bloggers are not obligated to be commercial, but for those who want to make money from blogging, the standards are still very much a work in progress.
So just to play out this scenario — let’s say a blogger who writes about life and family, and has a number of readers outside of friends and family, occasionally writes a post through PayPerPost and properly uses the equivalent of “Special Advertising Section” to disclose that the post is paid. In the context of the entire blog, what’s wrong with that relative to how it has worked in other media?
I write this knowing that there has lately been a PayPerPost ad at the top of the Blog Herald — I can assure you that they didn’t paid me a cent to write this. Of course, the Blog Herald is paying me to write this, and PayPerPost is an advertiser, so did that influence my using PayPerPost as the example rather than one of the other services like ReviewMe? Oh, dear.
The truth is, standards in media have never been simple — blogs are just the latest medium to slog through the commercial mud.
Scott Karp runs ads on his blog Publishing 2.0, but does not get paid for individual posts (other than for the page views and ad clicks those posts generate — oh, whatever).