This Conversation Is Sponsored by Pampers

We already know that advertising is everywhere. In fact, in a typical day, the average eight-year-old is bombarded with 1.2 million ads. Okay, maybe not 1.2 million, but it’s a lot. Unless the ad is monumentally creative, it’s all just white noise.

In response, consumers have gone old school … sort of. They’ve stopped listening and instead ask their friends what to buy. And here’s the “sort of” part: That friend might be someone they never met, but feel they know intimately. Yes, I’m talking about bloggers — specifically, people who blog about personal things. The “mom blogger” is a great example.

Yes, you’ve never actually met the mom blogger. But you did commiserate with her last week when her kids had the flu and her husband was away on business. You cheered for her when little Ava (or Emma or Sophie) finally graduated into “big girl” underpants. In fact, sometimes you feel like you know her better than your real-life friends. So when she tells you which brand of pull-up diapers she likes best, you believe her, right?

Not so fast. See, advertisers have caught on that popular bloggers have become the new tastemakers, which makes said advertisers’ collective mouths water. Imagine: Being able to reach a huge, highly targeted audience of potential consumers just waiting for advice about what to buy next.

Here’s what’s been going on: Advertisers have started sponsoring blogs with highly targeted banner ads and giving bloggers “free” products. The blogger is supposed to write about the product, and if she wants to keep the supply coming, it better be a glowing review. This all makes advertiser and blogger very happy. But unless they start thinking long-term and paying attention to their audience, it’ll be a short-lived love affair.

What’s happening now is a lot like what happened about 10 years ago with email spam. It used to be that if something landed in your inbox — even if you didn’t recognize the sender’s name — you’d open it, read it and maybe even click on whatever offer was inside. Now we just delete those emails. The game is over.

So, here’s my advice to all the bloggers out there and the companies that rely on them to promote products: This can be a fine arrangement, but if you don’t follow a few rules, you’re going to lose trust, followed by your audience.

For the bloggers: You’re providing a helpful service – new moms do want to know which diaper you liked best. However, you need to be upfront about your relationship to the product. Tell your audience that such-and-such a company asked you to try it out, and then tell us what you really think. If you give some negative reviews, we’re more likely to believe your positive reviews. And don’t worry that your supply will dry up. After all, who wants crappy products anyway, even if they are free?

For the advertisers: People (at least for now) really do pay attention to bloggers and take their opinions seriously, so you’re smart to give products to bloggers. But that’s where your relationship must end. If you try to control what they say, people will be on to you and your credibility will be blown. Besides, if you do get a negative review, maybe it will help you create a better product next time.

We’d love to hear from you. If you run a blog, has anyone approached you to promote product? Or can you think of any egregious examples of bloggers abusing their power for product?

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4 replies
  1. W Robert Padgett says:

    Very insightful piece. Personal blogging has erased the once sacrosanct line between editorial and advertising, because the blogger both writes the reviews AND accepts the ads. She must learn to balance her desire to earn an income with her need to remain objective and transparent.

    And you’re right, bloggers and the companies and products they write about will face even more scrutiny from an increasingly sophisticated audience that expects — no, demands — transparency.

  2. Anna says:

    It’s still the wild, wild west and will be interesting to see how it evolves. My hope is that bloggers will rise to the challenge hold themselves to the same level of integrity as (good, re: ethical) traditional journalists do. But it’s tough since unlike journalists, bloggers don’t get a salary or have a boss who holds them to those standards so crossing the line becomes easy and in some cases, even a necessity if they want to keep blogging full time.

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