Is New School a Synonym for Blogomercial?

toomanyadsFred Wilson calls Nick Denton “old school” in the wake of Valleywag’s report that a number of influential bloggers wrote about Microsoft’s “people-ready” slogan as part of an ad campaign.  Fred says that, in complaining about this pay to say campaign, Nick is “stuck in the old media mindset.”  Fred is “excited to participate in an ad campaign that [isn’t] just mindless banners.”

Let’s think about this.

First, it’s important, and no coincidence, that the bloggers in question wrote these posts on a dedicated page hosted by their advertising company.  The page says “Sponsored by Microsoft” right at the top.  Sponsored is a pre-owned cars word for paid for.  Anyone who thought about it for a second would realize that these posts are little blog infomercials – blogomercials if you will.  The issue, of course, is that the same company who sponsored these blogomercials also runs ads on these folks’ blogs.

It’s not about lack of disclosure.  It’s about whether or not you want to be the blogosphere equivalent of Suzanne Somers hawking a ThighMaster.  It’s about the crossroads between cash and credibility.

All we have as bloggers is our reputation and our track record.  No ad campaign is worth risking that, regardless of whether it crosses any ethical line.  This is more about common sense than ethics.

Meanwhile, back at the crossroads, Mike Arrington tells anyone who doesn’t like the ad campaign to pound sand and gripes about losing money due to the temporary suspension of the ad campaign.  One day I’d like to see Mike actually address an issue thoughtfully instead of go into attack mode every time someone takes a contrary view.

Om Malik, on the other hand, says he will not continue running the ads.  Om says “Nothing is worth gambling the readers’ trust. Conversational marketing is a developing format, and clearly the rules are not fully defined. If the readers feel a line was crossed, I will defer to their better judgement.”  Paul Kedrosky says he’s done with them too.  Is that old school?  Only if being smart, taking the long view and caring for your personal brand is old school.

Once again, blogs are merely platforms for content.  While the rules evolve with the passage of time, just because you’re publishing online and not in print does not mean you can or should trash all the old rules and have a free for all.

Federated Media, the advertising company that ran the Microsoft campaign, had this to say:

ValleyWag today suggests that one of FM’s conversational marketing campaigns is hurting the editorial integrity of our authors. It says that Microsoft paid them to write, which is simply not true. They were invited to join a conversation with readers about Microsoft’s new theme, and they did so, but they didn’t write about it on their blogs. The only money they get from Microsoft is from ads running on their sites, for which they’re paid by the page view.

That is either one subtle distinction or splitting hairs, depending on how you look at it.  If there is a financial relationship involved, there is an issue of disclosure and credibility that must be addressed.  The fact that the payment isn’t directly tied to the posts in question doesn’t change that.

Tony Hung says that, at the end of the day, this sort of thing is no different than PayPerPost.  I don’t think it’s nearly that bad, but I do tend to agree with a commenter to Mike Arrington’s post who says:

Your name is on the ads. Your words are on the ads. You’re quoted as spouting “people ready” Microsoft propaganda crap like the cheapest B-actor reciting the advertisers’ slogan.

I don’t like it when Suzanne Somers tries to sell me a bill of goods on TV.  And I don’t like it when Suzanne Somers 2.0 does it in the blogosphere either.

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