Tuesday, December 07, 2004

The Line Between Evangelists and Shills

I've already discussed the idea of paying bloggers to talk about a product, as cooked up by Marc Canter and Marqui (which I recently discovered is headed up by a former boss of mine!)

It wasn't so much an ethical problem I had...I assumed bloggers who didn't own up to their shill status would get found out and roundly mocked by the blog community.

I thought the idea had practical problems as a marketing tool, briefly these:

From my original post:
You are incented to speak highly if you truly want ongoing revenue.
You run the risk of losing your revenue stream if you speak badly about a product.
You run the risk of being considered a shill by your readers if you speak highly of it.
You run the risk of losing your revenue stream when you've lost enough readers to make you not an influencer anymore.
Sounds like a vicious cycle to me.

It's all kind of a moot point. I'd have to say Marqui has generated a lot of buzz about themselves simply by initiating this program. The fact is that even if someone goes and looks them up to see what jerks would sully the blogosphere in this way. they're still going to find out something about Marqui's product, which they may have never otherwise done.

And the idea has helped CEO Stephen King and Marqui become a finalist for the Fast Company fast 50, which also might never have considered them if they hadn't made such a buzzable marketing decision.

I'd say Marqui will get their money's worth from the campaign, no matter what the bloggers say about their product and no matter whether any purchases are made because a blogger gave the product a good product review in their blog or not.

This Sunday's NY Times Magazine featured a story on a different kind of attempt to manufacture buzz, the kind pitched by the company BzzAgent.com. [Registration required.]

This is another idea that walks the line between encouraging word of mouth influence and simply spinning out shills.

In each case, what pushes someone from evangelist to shill is transparency.

Now, I evangelize plenty. I'm a TiVo-vangelist, an iPod-vangelist, a Blog-vangelist. I love to talk about my digital camera, about my Merrell clogs. Hell, I review every book I read, every DVD/movie I watch etc. in my blog. I'm all for evangelism.

But I think it's important to give people the background. I didn't know a former boss of mine ran Marqui when I wrote my original post on the Marqui idea. But now I know, so I divulged it up in the first paragraph of this post. I don't think it changes what I write about the idea at all. But I still think you'd like to know.

What disturbs me about the NY Times article about BzzAgent is how they actually encourage lack of transparency, which, if we're not being polite, is simply called lying in other circles.

Calling book stores pretending you don't know the name of the book?

Using talking points given to you by the company?

Talking about an eye cream at your grandfather's funeral?

It all sounds pretty icky if you ask me.

And it gives buzz marketing, which after all is part of Worker Bees' deal, a bad name.

Some other blogs commenting on this topic:

You can just do a Feedster search and find literally hundreds of posts. (See what I mean about the fact that simply establishing the program did the marketing job they were looking for.)

Clickable Culture Really Hates the Marqui Program

Marqui is collecting its own page of links on the "controversy" (and apparently knowing the CEO does not earn me a spot on their controversy page...jeez!)

And Stowe Boyd of Corante has been discussing it a lot on his Get Real blog: here and here.

There's also plenty of links to be found on Feedster discussing the BzzAgent story, of which my favorite may be this one from Gawker.

Enjoy the smell of controversy in the morning everyone!

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?