Sponsored conversations are deceptive marketing

, posted: 24-Jun-2007 10:23

In one corner: a bunch of earnest bloggers with big audiences looking to make money. In the other corner: seasoned public relations and marketing people, drooling over the big audiences and smiling benignly at the naïve bloggers.

When the two met, it could only end in one way, and it did: a total fiasco.

We're not supposed to think that though. Instead, we should be wowed by "conversational marketing" which is... well-known bloggers being paid to mouth corporate slogans and concepts. "Commercial conversation" is how John Battelle of Federated Media, which is behind the recent controversy, terms it as well.

To anyone who's been around media for a while, "conversational marketing" is indistinguishable from "advertorial". Personally, I hate advertorial. To me, advertorial means your company, products and advertising suck so much you have to resort to deception to get people's attention. So-called "sponsored conversations" fall into that same category of deceptive marketing, and it's essentially a very subtle form of spamming. "Blogvertorial" is perhaps the best term for it.

I'm reminded of "product placement" when I see "conversational marketing". Most blockbuster films nowadays like the new Bond movies are marred by vendors' products muscling in on the cinematography and plot. Thing is though, the audience paid to see the film, and not the products.

What's next? "Conversational comment marketing" where people are paid to insert certain phrases or slogans their blog entry comments? That's a "commercial conversation" isn't it?

The rot seems to have spread all over the web though, beyond blogs. Look at this Wikia page on The Human Network for instance. I found it through this Federated Media minisite, which is part of a campaign for Cisco.

Wikia is an ad-supported site, set up by Jimbo Wales of Wikipedia fame and Angela Beesley. Even so, I am not able to find anywhere in Wikia's advertising terms that the actual content can be used for marketing, and without any disclosure, like the Human Network entry. Maybe that was the idea behind Wikia all the time, but I can't imagine that's the "conversation" its volunteers signed up for.

There's a Wikipedia entry too for the Human Network, which will soon be deleted - interestingly enough, this discloses that the page was created as part of an advertising campaign. Sun Microsystem's "Participation Age" which is what Cisco ripped off for its Human Network campaign got into Wikipedia first, and also looks likely to be deleted. How much more "commercial conversation" does Wikipedia contain?

Watch this space: it'll only get worse.

Other related posts:
Speaking of prank calls
What PR people really think of journalists
Hacks <3 hacking

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