A rookie mistake

Dear corporate marketer. If you come up with a grand idea for a blog in which some fictitious of pseudononymous ‘actors’ pretend to be just regular folks who, unbeknownst to you, have set up a blog dedicated to saying how great you are, follow this advice: Don’t. It’s okay if you “sponsor” a blog and clearly state what you’re doing. However, don’t do it the way Wal-mart attempted to (detailed by Shel Holtz). Why use fake people when there are thousands of real people out there doing exactly what your actors are doing? I just don’t get it.

Scott Karp has a theory:

“If you have a great established brand like Apple, or a great new product, like an iPod, then sure, let people run away with your brand, because most people will say good things about it and encourage other people to use it. But if you have a problematic brand like Wal-Mart or GM, where a lot of people think your product/service is socially irresponsible, for example, then letting people control your brand is going to perpetuate your image problem. The only real solution is to improve your product or service — which is a lot harder than vague notions of ‘conversation.'”

I disagree with Scott (a rare occurrence) as I’m sure there are lots of people who love Wal-mart and devote themselves to the GM products they love. And all Scott had to do was drive by a Wal-mart on an Interstate to discover he’s wrong about RVers using Wal-marts as anchors for roadtrips (although “hip” they’re not):

“Edelman (Wal-mart’s PR firm) wanted to make consumers think that Wal-Mart is a hip place that you’d want to use as the anchor point for a roadtrip. The problem is it’s not. And because blogging is not a conrol-based medium, Edelman couldn’t make Wal-Mart appear to be something it’s not. It rang false, and they got caught.

But Scott’s underlying point is correct. Marketers (and media types) want to have it “both ways” and they can’t. They can’t cede control of their brands and still feel “in control” of the message. (They never could do so, but at least in the past, they could convince themselves they were.)

What were Wal-mart and its advisers thinking? And who came up with the idea of not disclosing who was paying for this promotional effort? Disclosure — be it a pay-per-post scheme for $2.50 a post or thousands per day — is a part of the ground rules, people.

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