Some people buy magazines and don't mind the advertorials at all. Some people pay for cable and don't mind spending hours watching infomercials. Some people hate advertorials and infomercials. Some people don't even realize that these types of content are paid advertising.
The traditional media has been doing these types of "content as paid advertising" deals for the longest time. If it did not work, odds are brands would not use it as a tactic and marketers would not recommend it to their clients. It works and it works well. Why should anyone be surprised if certain Bloggers are now willing to accept money to Blog their thoughts and opinions about a product, service or brand?
We thought Bloggers were above this type of advertising. After all, they are the coveted Digerati.
Bloggers were to be the next generation of communicators. Take one re-read through the now-classic book, The Cluetrain Manifesto, and you'll read countless diatribes about how these individuals - people like you and I - are the next media platforms. We're the next ones that people will look to as trusted advisors. As the technology changes and adapts, Bloggers were supposed to be the new humanity of marketing and communications. Social Media was supposed to save us from interruption marketing and all of the things that have made us feel just a wee bit icky about mass media and commercials.
We interrupt this Blog posting with an important message from our sponsors...
Forrester Research has put together a new report titled, Add Sponsored Conversations To Your Toolbox, that looks at the many "pay to Blog" programs that brands have initiated. Some of the campaigns look interesting and engaging and some of them will make you shudder. Along with the report has been a steady stream of really good commentary (you can find some of it here: Web Strategy With Jeremiah - How To Make Sponsored Conversations Work and Chris Brogan - The Righteous Web). To be honest, I thought I had really said everything about the topic (here: Transparency Is The Starting Point - Credibility Is The Finish Line and Trust Is Non-Transferable), but it turns out there is more.
It's about transparency and disclosure.
That seems to be the general consensus. My argument has always been that being transparent and fully disclosing that a Blogger is being paid to Blog about something is a given. The bigger challenge is in how the Blogger can maintain their credibility and audience if these types of tactics are suddenly sprung on the audience.
What about ethics?
Just the words "ethics in journalism" or "ethics in media" sounds like a stuffy university class that communications students are forced to take. It's also not about trying to equate journalism with Blogs (that's just another dead horse that no one wants to see trotted out anymore). The question as to whether or not advertorials in Blogs is ethical (and let's not kid ourselves, being paid to Blog about something is not some kind of new media experiment, it's an advertorial and it's been happening forever) seems to be the nut that no one wants to crack. Frankly, even the words "ethics in Blogging" sounds a little goofy.
There are no standards.
Part of the reason no one wants to look at ethics in Blogging is because everyone can (and will) do what they want. And, that's the beauty of the democratization of publishing. One click and poof, you're a Publisher. With that are going to come people who are more than fine accepting money to Blog about a company, and lots of people who think that it's the wrong thing to do. Brands will push and try to figure out just how far they can experiment in these channels and will have no issue if some of the Blogs they use get hurt in the process. Some Bloggers will have tremendous results and will keep pursuing these types of opportunities others will get chastised for it.
Ultimately, it boils down to one question:
Are the readers of a Blog comfortable with this type of content interspersed with their current experience, and will they stick around and support Bloggers who are taking money to post about certain brands?
As a Blogger, the bigger question might be: what does this do to your long-term credibility, and are these types of marketing programs worth the risk in terms of figuring that out?
It turns out that this is a question of ethics.