Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Marketing Value (Not the Ethics) of Fake Blogs

You might recall the "Lincoln Fry" McDonalds commercials during the Super Bowl. Or you might not. I didn't find them to be either memorably good or memorably lame.

Seems McDonalds created a blog to accompany these commercials, complete with comments, trackbacks and multiple posts. Seems the blog is fake. Fake because it purports to be written by the couple who found the Lincoln Fry and plan to auction it off.

The blogosphere has been in a tizzy about it this week, with most bloggers crying "Shame!"

Today, however, I read a post by fellow NewComm Forum attendee Andy Lark, who thinks the uproar is a little overblown.

Now, I posted over at my personal blog about the whole ethics discussion, closing with the following:

"Now, ethics are ethics. Creating a fake blog to raise donations for a fake child with leukemia is unethical. It's unethical via email. It's unethical via a TV ad. It's unethical door-to-door.

And bad marketing is bad marketing. The question, to me, is whether this fake blog will actually serve to help McDonalds achieve any tangible marketing goals. And whether the long-term distrust that McDonalds may create is worth the short term buzz. That, to me, is the interesting question here.

And now I'd like to think about that question: was this good marketing.

On the plus side:

-You can't deny McDonalds got some buzz off of this, even if it was mostly negative buzz. But you've got a lot of people talking about them this week. And who usually talks about McDonalds?

-If anyone actually bothers to click through to the Lincoln Fry web site and then the Lincoln Fry auction, they will find that first of all the web site is clearly denoted to be a McDonalds site, and even better that there is an auction going on for the prop used in the commercials, with proceeds benefitting Ronald McDonald House...a worthy charity.

On the minus side:

-So, they're pimping a misshapen french fry...exactly how does this make me want to eat their food? In other words I find something incongruous between the goal: to get people eating food, and the delivery mechanism...featuring an anomalous example of that food.

-The goal was to get better Google juice? Really? Because people don't think of McDonalds when they think fast food? Somehow I always think of Google juice goals and online buzz campaigns in general to be most (not only) useful when you want to build awareness and compete with those larger companies that have more immediate name recognition. Nobody already has better name recognition, I would guess, than McDonalds...down to the recognition of their golden arches logo.

-That issue of trust and bad buzz offsetting the buzz to begin with. Now one could argue that having a bunch of bloggers mad at you is not too terrifying to a fast food company. A consumer electronics company or software company? Yeah...this would be a serious blunder. McDonalds? Not convinced. But making this poor, fake attempt at blogging is going to hamper anyone giving any amount of love to any future attempts they might make to use blogging in a really productive way.

What way would that be?

Well, I wish McDonalds had started a blog when "SuperSize Me" came out. Have one of their staff nutritionists write it. Talk about the evolution of McDonalds over time to include healthier options, more environmentally-friendly packaging, focus on charitable endowments etc. Or have someone eat there for 30 days straight, but do it with health in mind and see how they do. More like the Stonyfield Farms model of blogging. Giving up trying to be so hip and cool and instead becoming real.

BTW: I'm no McDonalds fan...I'm a vegetarian, so I haven't eaten there in eons...I'm just thinking about how they could use blogging in a positive fashion.

I have to come down on the side of believing that this little Lincoln Fry-gate will have little positive marketing impact for McDonalds, especially looking beyond this week of buzz peak.

I tihnk this whole issue of fake blogs is much ado about nothing. If someone poses as something they're not and bilks their readers for's fraud, not bad blogging. Other than that it's caveat emptor.

Blogs can be serious, foolish or anywhere in between. I don't believe in the wisdom of there being a "right way" or "wrong way" to blog.

I find your defintion of ethics an acceptable guideline and addressing the correct point...blogs are new, but they're not different. I don't see the need for blog specific ethics or certifications.
Couldn't agree more.

Thanks for commenting.
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