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Posts Tagged ‘astroturfing’

There’s a bit of a rant against Belkin paying people to talk positively about their products in reviews on commerce sites.

Users cry foul.  Blogs rail. Someone will probably get fired or reprimanded.

[Update 1/19/09: And here’s the letter from the CEO.  Read between the lines.  Someone got in trouble]

And it’s all over something that’s the oldest trick in the book. And is used far more than bloggers, magazines, advertisers, publishers, tv studios and users want to admit.

In fact, TechCrunch is one of the biggest offenders.  Sure, it doesn’t post payment terms on Mechanical Turk, but it does definitely feature favorable / traffic generating articles for a specific set of companies and products.  Maybe it’s only out of proximity to silicon valley or the network of connections of its author but it’s still biased and borderline advertorial.

Let’s get real, people.

Advertorial is a fact of the media and retail ecology.  There are certainly more aggressive efforts by some (such as Belkin) but I have yet to meet an ad agency that doesn’t employ an “organic positive word of mouth” strategy.

It’s called promotion, folks.  It’s worked very well for info-mercials (paid actors dramatizing the product).  It’s worked very well for direct marketing.

How is it functionality different than the individual users who post on Amazon or New Egg BEFORE a product even hits the streets?  Typically big brands have this positive fan base that will say anything that produce WILL be good, regardless of whether they use the product or not.  Do these same ranters have a problem with that?  Just think back to the huge amount of traffic Techcrunch and other bloggers received for SPECULATING on the iphone.

There seems to be some line advertisers can’t cross.  Some sacred “collective intelligence” tools should not be used for “dramatized promotion.” Yet, Google, the portal homepages, most tech magazines, news, tv shows, and almost all of Press Releases are full of this over-the-line-corruption-of-the-users-domain.

Speaking of press releases… is the whole idea of press release just as offensive?  Press release pose as news but are nothing more than advertorial.  Have you ever written a press release? ever been quoted in one?  The whole thing is fairly questionable.  Yet, the news media lives on press releases.

Again, let’s keep it real.

The vast wealth so far created online is mostly due to this battle between ad dollars corrupting the user domain.  Why else would VCs and big companies fund these online companies if there wasn’t some advertising game to play?  The only reasons to develop online services is to get eyeballs or sell products.  The only reason you want eyeballs is to sell products.

Is there some line we can draw that says it’s “false advertising” or a subversion of the trust of the public?  I don’t think so.

No online product that allows user contributions and expects to make money running ads or selling products can escape the scourage of dramatized promotion.  Nor should it want to.  You probably don’t matter as a service if people don’t try to abuse your system.

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