Jun 25, 2007

Your Brand Is Not My Friend: Web 2.0 Unmasked. Part 3

Part 1
Part 2

Part 3
Part 4 (via MP Daily Fix)
June 2008 Update (via Adweek)
SXSW Video (July 2009)

Wherein we turn our attention to blogs and the folly of using them as advertising vehicles.

Why is the "blogosphere" so popular? I mean there’s got to be something that gets so many people reading the opinions of a bunch of blowhards like myself.

The main reason, is no doubt authenticity. Bloggers are, by definition, writing for no one but themselves. It’s the unvarnished truth, or at least the blog writer’s version thereof.

So why is this so important? Well, mostly because people have lost faith in the mainstream media. Big time. They see the mainstream media as manipulated by everyone from PR agents to terrorist organizations. I mean the very existence of a phrase like “media savvy” tells you that something is wrong. But at a time when we’ve got everything from terrorists posing random unrelated crying children next to dead bodies for maximum effect on the BBC to Paris Hilton and her even classier parents negotiating to sell her jail stint story to the highest bidder, it’s hard to actually take anything you see or read in the mainstream media very seriously.

Enter bloggers. Mavericks who write for their own satisfaction, beholden to no one. Which makes them a lot more interesting than the guys who get paid to write the news for a living.

Take the ad industry. The trades are full of regurgitated press releases and scared execs verbally masturbating to each other’s work. Daily columnists like Stuart Elliot are busy trying to cover “larger trends” for “broader audiences” and basically ignore the day-to-day workings of the business. (How’s that for generous?) And then one day I discover George Parker and his Adscam blog. Parker, a foul-mouthed Brit who’s spent several decades as a copywriter, mostly on tech accounts, has no problem telling it like it is. (And then some.) His rants come off as authentic even when I don’t agree with them (his constant trashing of DraftFCB, for example) because they’re clearly uncensored and clearly heartfelt. And the conversations that stem from them ring true as well because none of the people posting on there seem to have any sort of (corporate) agenda either. Just lots of equally heartfelt opinions, even if that opinion can be summed up as "I hate my last agency because they screwed me over."

But here’s the rub: Adscam is exactly the sort of blog that 2.0 advocates would like to advertise—excuse me “engage you” on. (They do not, as I’ve been told several times, work in “advertising.” Yup.) The attempts they’ve made on this front are so well, amateurish as to seem laughable. Let me give you some examples: Nikon recently handed out free cameras to a bunch of bloggers, including Web 2.0’s unofficial spokesman Joseph Jaffe as loaners. In return, the bloggers (few of whom had ever expressed any sort of prior interest in photography) were supposed to post pictures they took with the cameras and write about how wonderful their new Nikon cameras were.

That’s right. For the cost of a seven hundred dollar camera, Jaffe and his ilk were given the ability to totally destroy any credibility they once had. To wit: Jaffe just posted about the birth of his new son. And used the opportunity to note that the lovely pictures he’d posted were taken with the aforementioned Nikon camera. Turning something that should have been a somewhat poignant moment into just another advertising opportunity.

Another situation involved Microsoft paying a bunch of tech-bloggers to use phrases like “people ready” (or whatever Microsoft's tagline is these days) on some microsite and have their names associated with it. A great uproar ensued in Geekistan followed by much tech blogger backpedaling.

In both these situations the brand in question wound up coming off like some sort of pedophile. Some big creepy unwanted entity that’s intruding, uninvited and unwanted, on a private conversation. An over-the-top metaphor, perhaps, but there’s no exaggeration to the feeling many readers had that they’d been violated. Because (all together now) Your Brand Is Not My Friend. And when I’m talking to my friends, I don’t want to talk to your brand. I may talk about your brand, but that doesn’t mean I want to talk with your brand.

The blogosphere, as my friend CK points out, is all about independence, objectivity and trust. (She calls it authenticity.) And she’s right. I mean if I thought that say, Nikon was paying George Parker to write about how wonderful their campaign was, he’d permanently lose me as a reader. Even if he was open and up front about it. Because it’s a slippery slope: once you take that first step, the doubt is always there-- is that really what he’s thinking or did someone pay him? Which is the exact issue so many people have with the mainstream media these days. Why replicate it in another realm?

Now blogging itself has become a popular tool for many corporations. It’s an easy solution for unimaginative agencies: get the CEO to write a blog. It’s trendy, it’s hip, it sounds good when you’re talking to other CEOs on the golf course. “Hey guys, I have a blog now!” But I don't see how it's a viable solution. A CEO clearly has an agenda. So his blog reads like a serialized version of an annual report. His opinions are safe and neutered and only the most gullible of us assume they weren’t written for him by some in-house PR flack (excuse me, “corporate communications officer.”)

So next time you feel compelled to suggest that the CEO write a blog, remember that a far better solution might be a well done FAQ. Not nearly as sexy. Extremely low key. But it’s one of the few things on a web site that’s generally written from the consumer’s POV. Here’s all the stuff I, the consumer, want to know. With answers. Arranged in a way that makes sense for me, not you. My questions define the document, not your answers. You’re finally being silent and telling me what I want to hear rather than what you want to say.

That my friends, is a conversation.

Part 4 (via MP Daily Fix)


Anonymous said...

if you and everyone else never used the word blogosphere again it would not be too soon.

Alan Wolk said...

Agreed. I had intended to put ironic quote marks around it. Thanks for reminding me.

Anonymous said...

blogosphere works. that's why people say it. come up with a better word.

must say i've been following this with great interest. toad is on a roll. keep agreeing to the point where i'm going to claim some of your opinions for myself. if that's OK.

good blog writers are like good English pub landlords. frustrated performers who finally got a stage.

Alan Wolk said...

Thank you "Sixth Reader"
Love the moniker.

Yes, you may certainly claim these opinions for yourself- that's what they are there for.

And yes, anyone who knows me will tell you that I am most definitely a frustrated performer. Very perceptive.

Anonymous said...

Ya know, the vast majority of social blogs--like many of life's random encounters--just isn't very keen. Presumably, most who publish them aren't really thinkers and, to the extent they can think, alas, they can't write.

Still, the digital persuasion arts represent a vibrant, colorful, and compelling landscape. As a society, we're now blessed with the power of mobile (my "city desk" is 2.8"), realtime, interactive personal journalism--a miracle. There's no going back.

On the corporate side, Lenovo's (home of ThinkPad) blog might be a sort of model. It's a pretty good "workhorse." For visitors, it's a source of insight not quite available any other way. Lenovo's handful of bloggers are mid-level managers who handle tough subjects directly--and take lots of heat--with dignity and a wink. Is this the high road?

Here's a sample dialogue on ThinkPad branding:

A nice series, Toad. Your point of view is reasoned and your agenda matters.


Anonymous said...

Why you called me your friend. And yes, I call it authenticity (and I label that 'advancing' and always will). Just watch to see how far authenticity will prevail in this medium.

Alan Wolk said...

Wow. Great comments. Thanks.

@KBAM: I checked out the Lenovo blog and you are correct- it is very well done. The guy writes better than I do-- literary allusions and everything. That said, I suspect this is the exception rather than the rule. Lenovo has a strong fan base for the Thinkpad who are worried about its future and they (more importantly) have several managers who can write engagingly and frequently enough to maintain a blog. Not sure how common that's going to be. But I agree there are companies for whom a corporate blog makes sense (auto makers could do with some honesty and interaction) but it's far from a universal solution.
Oh, and thanks for the compliment.

@CK: Authenticity is going to become even more crucial. For bloggers and for advertisers. Because as I posted in The Real Digital Revolution consumers now have the ability to research products independently. So you'd better be telling the truth in all your marketing materials or people are going to find you out pretty quickly. It will be interesting to see if the trend towards authenticity extends beyond the developed nations of the West. Less developed nations tend to go through a period of advertisers spouting all sorts of unregulated BS because their consumers aren't sophisticated enough to call them on it. I'll be interested to see if the addition of the web speeds up or eliminates this part of the cycle.

Anonymous said...

I don't see authenticity being the rule at the end of the day. The temptation is too strongly there to overhype to features/bennies, to conceal or conduct a spin on the flaws. Or for that matter, for the competition to do a behind the scenes trashing of a product that comes off as authentic but is actually dirty work.

Anonymous said...

A great thread -- that needs to be aired. How about if people just started working on the 'first life's' instead of some wanky avatar crap. Friend? I don't need any more friends. I need cool products that work. And even cooler ones that don't work. I need health food and I need absolute junk food. I need to drink artisinal well water and rotgut tequila. I don't need brands to be friends. I may want to wear their logo on my t-shirt (lee clow), but only if they're for the band cheap trick. that's what i want. i do not want more product placement in my life. i want products and i want my life.

thanks for raising this.

ken krimstein

Anonymous said...

what i love about your analysis is that it could only come from one with some mileage on, as i'm guessing you do. and you're right. i too have had enough of new media pretenders who ain't never done nothing themselves except talking about doing something. some time. but never quite do it. and blog about doing it instead.

(cue overexcited response from young inteweb types who, not uncoincidentally, aint done nothing yet either. and so it goes.)

Anonymous said...

"It will be interesting to see if the trend towards authenticity extends beyond the developed nations of the West. Less developed nations tend to go through a period of advertisers spouting all sorts of unregulated BS because their consumers aren't sophisticated enough to call them on it. I'll be interested to see if the addition of the web speeds up or eliminates this part of the cycle."

Agreed, very interesting. Wonder how to track besides needing some history (introducing a product into a new market, following the sales, following the convos).

Linus Kendall said...

Hm, interesting read. You do write a really good blog. One thing I would challenge though is that the CEOs can't be authentic.

Obviously they have an agenda, but if they clear about WHAT it is and their agenda is sufficiently interesting they'll make a compelling blog. However I agree with you that blogs written by some random PR officer won't convey that agenda in an authentic way.

We did an interesting exercise here at the company where I work yesterday, we showed them how blogging works and what tools they have. We asked if they would be interested in joining in and doign this - and most of them were so excited.... They had wanted to do it, but nobody had ever showed them, or hadn't asked them (and then reminded them to keep on going .. it's a bit like starting to exercise regularly!).... we'll see how it pans out - but it was an interesting session...

So, in general I agree about authenticity, but I disagree that a CEO is incapable of showing it (though if he tries to hide behind a facade or a PR officer - this will obviously be the result).

- Linus

Anonymous said...


I got the eerie feeling you were channeling me as I read your three part post. Brilliant. It's rare to read such clear-eyed rationality from someone who's part of this business.

I listened to you and CK rock Jaffe's world and thought it was awesome. I'm not sure he fully understood your criticism but when he started rationalizing the campaign by doing phony marketing math (listeners/readers x conversion rate x margin - media spend) you knew his argument was lost.

At one point he was actually making an argument for traditional, non-contextual marketing - i.e. even though the media channel (Jaffe) and his audience lacks context and relevance to the product, the reach x impressions drove a good ROI so the campaign was a success.

You and CK should cajole Jaffe to do a follow up on the topic of social media.

Anonymous said...

Tom - thanks for your commentary. I'm not sure my world got rocked at all by Toad and CK, but I sure enjoyed the conversation and trust/respect their input.

I think you might have missed the whole point, but that's cool my brother.

For what it's worth, I try to wear 2 hats:
1) A marketer
2) A participator

It's easy to stand back and throw stones. It's easy to dissect and pick any program apart. I could easily have said nothing and kept the camera to myself. I instead chose to talk about it and share this live case with people interested in understanding how the world is changing and what their roles might look like in it.


Anonymous said...

Oh man. This is absolutely cracking me up.

"But here’s the rub: Adscam is exactly the sort of blog that 2.0 advocates would like to advertise—excuse me “engage you” on. (They do not, as I’ve been told several times, work in “advertising.” Yup.)"

I heard this allegation for the gazillionth time yesterday! I really thought I was the only one who found this entertaining. Hah.