Remember when DJs could be bought to promote the records of a new band or recording artist. Or when special interest groups pay off their congressman to vote favorably for their industy's causes. Well, who would have thought us little ole bloggers could come under the same scrutiny? The FTC, that's who! This is a response to a practice that's come to be known as "Blogola" where companies curry favor from bloggers by giving them computers, weekend getaways, gift baskets, cars and other swag.
"Blogging for dollars" has become big business as stay-at-home moms are courted on equal footing with Industry top guns. In a recent Business Week expose' the following "Blogola" deals were undercovered. Here's a look at 12 brands and their efforts to get their products out front and personal with the American consumer.
1- Roger Smith Hotel Stay in NYC
Blogs: Chris Brogan and others (note: Chris Brogan is President of New Marketing Labs, and works with large and mid-sized companies to improve online business communications through the use of social software, community platforms, and other emerging web and mobile technologies).
Payoff: The New York City hotel offers a reduced rate for bloggers such as Brogan, who was also upgraded to a suite for no extra charge during a February visit.
Disclosure: Roger Smith Hotel doesn't ask that bloggers write about their stay.
2- General Mills
Blogs: My Boys and Me, Shake the Salt, and hundreds of others.
Payoff: General Mills recently began working with mom-friendly blog network MyBlogSpark to offer coupons and samples to its bloggers. So far the program has resulted in some 5 million visits to postings about General Mills products.
Disclosure: The consumer goods company doesn't ask bloggers to disclose the arrangement. Bloggers are asked to contact MyBlogSpark before writing anything negative.
3- Mars M&Ms
Blog: BlogHer Reviews by little ol' Me.
Payoff: To promote its new M&Ms Premiums in February, Mars sent blogger Amie Danny a basket of the chocolates and asked her to hold a contest to give M&Ms out to readers.
Disclosure: Danny discussed the candy's positives and negatives and described the gift basket as a marketing effort. "I applaud M&M's for trying something fun and different!" she wrote.
Blogs: Laughing Squid, Mauricio Freitas, and others.
Payoff: To promote the launch of Windows Vista in late 2006, Microsoft sent bloggers pricey Acer laptops loaded with the software. Laughing Squid's Scott Beale sold his machine on eBay (EBAY) and donated the proceeds to charity.
Disclosure: In e-mails with bloggers, Microsoft's public relations firm, Daniel J. Edelman, referred to the laptops as "presents" and didn't ask for anything in return.
Blogs: The Mobile Gadgeteer and others.
Payoff: For the 2006 launch of its Nseries smart phone, Nokia sent phones to 50 tech bloggers. It told the Washington Post that this "blogger outreach" program boosted profits by 43%.
Disclosure: Nokia told the bloggers that they didn't have to write a review if they didn't want to and it included a return FedEx (FDX) envelope to send phones back.
Blogs: B.L. Ochman's Whatsnextblog, gigglechick.com, media guerilla, and 47 others.
Payoff: In 2007, Nikon offered its D80 digital SLR to 50 photography bloggers for six months.
Disclosure: The camera maker asked bloggers to "make sure that, if you choose to write about the camera, you make it clear how you got it."
Blogs: 5th Time's The Charm, Nicole Forrester's Blog, Josiah Ng, and 97 others.
Payoff: Lenovo, the official sponsor of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, last year sent Lenovo IdeaPad laptops, along with Flip video cameras, to 100 athletes from 25 countries, asking them to record happenings in Beijing.
Disclosure: Each blog entry uploaded by the athletes also appeared on a Lenovo's "Voices of the Summer Games" page.
Blogs: Chris Heuer's Insytes, Technosailor, Jim Kukral, and others.
Payoff: Working with marketing company IZEA, Sears sent $500 gift cards to bloggers last December, asking each to take a friend on a shopping spree and write about the trip.
Disclosure: All bloggers were required to disclose the arrangement and were permitted to write about negative experiences at Sears.
Blogs: Kuma Type, okiraku diary, and others.
Payoff: Google in February hired pay-per-post agency CyberBuzz to offer Japanese bloggers undisclosed amounts to promote Google's "Hot Keywords" widget on their sites.
Disclosure: None was provided. Shortly after the incident, a Google Japan representative apologized and said the company would discontinue the pay-per-post practice.
Blogs: Veep Veep, A Year of CrockPotting, BooMama, and four others.
Payoff: In February, Hewlett-Packard gave seven bloggers at women's site BlogHer two wireless printers: one for each writer and one for them to raffle to readers.
Disclosure: All of the bloggers published links to a page explaining the deal on BlogHer's site.
11- Electronic Arts
Blogs: Lauren Bernat, Mommy Too! Magazine, and nine others.
Payoff: In April, Electronic Arts flew 11 bloggers to Santa Barbara, Calif. to work out with Oprah Winfrey's trainer and to test EA Sports Active, a new Nintendo (NTDOY) Wii fitness game.
Disclosure: Bloggers openly discussed the video game maker's sponsorship of the trip.
Blog: Jessica Knows
Payoff: Ford lent blogger Jessica Smith a new Ford Flex Crossover for one year—along with a gas card—in April.
Disclosure: Smith told her readers in October that she'd "be partnering with Ford over the next year to market the Ford Flex" and she created a separate section of her site for posts about the vehicle.
Well, as much fun as this ride was... apparently the party is over! This summer the Federal Trade Commission is expected to issue new advertising guidelines that will require bloggers to disclose when they’re writing about a sponsor’s product and voicing opinions that aren’t their own, or when they're compensated by an advertiser to discuss a product.
According to Richard Jalichandra, CEO for Technorati, "the guidelines may be tough to wade through, and tough to enforce, but the actions for bloggers and marketers are simple. The qualities marketers need to embrace to succeed under the FTC’s new guidelines are inherent to the blogosphere: transparency and trust!"
Pay-for-Play schemes just never seem work out in the long-haul. Just ask the last governor of Illinois... who went by the name of "Blagojevich". Hmmm... I wonder if that's where the name "blogola" originated from?
Now, we would like to hear from you. Which one of these deals would have tempted you to "blog for dollars"? Take our poll. Results will be tallied and announced on June 30, 2009.