Flogging the Blog: Welcome, Marketers!
For at least a year, and in the last month in earnest, the trade press has been replete with tirades, polemics, evangelism, and meditations about the blog as a marketing platform.
Most of what we read is from those breathlessly fawning over the blog as an exciting, new, and meaningful method of personal communication with the larger world that marketers are going to be able to take advantage of in ways that they could only dream of before. Advertisers will be able to gain authenticity by being in a "raw" environment, picking up the warm glow of "coolness" from the halo cast by the blog itself.
Gawker media launched a blog for Nike's "Art of Speed," to much fanfare, commissioning 15 filmmakers to create films. This spawned a short-lived flurry of speculation as to what degree marketers will take their assault to the blog.
Well, I am a contrarian by nature, so whenever I encounter unbridled enthusiasm for every new thing, I am skeptical. My personal opinion about blogs is that by and large, they are simply web sites that serve as personal diaries being offered up to the masses in the hopes that someone will care about what the author thinks.
The industry talks about blogs as though there is something special about them. Before someone invented the word "blog" we just called them personal web sites. 99% of the blogs out there are simply diaries. Are those of interest? from an anthropological perspective, yes.
But how do we feel about those blogs produced by companies? They obviously serve the interests of the company. But can we really call them blogs? They might meet the letter of the law, but they stand in contrast to the spirit of the law.
The reason blogs are starting to find their way into the marketing landscape is because everything that has the potential for being a public vehicle of communication can ostensibly be part of a marketing landscape. The fractious media environment and audiences growing resistance to marketing messaging are forcing marketers to look to any virgin territory they can in which to place their messages and catch our attention. InSight advertising, which puts 1-sheets over men's room urinals... there is an example. Blogs aren't that different in terms of marketers looking for yet another way to get in front of an audience. Will other marketers follow suite? Of course they will; advertising is replete with followers.
The problem is marketers will try anything to get in front of consumers, even if it is a bad idea. This isn't to say that using blogs as marketing vehicles is a bad idea; just that marketers will try anything. They're interest is growing for good reason, but in the long run, I don't think it will bear any fruit.
The reason is that blogs, in essence, are individualistic personal expressions that are supposed to be for their authors' authentic manifestations of the self. To let companies co-opt that is to undermine the very power blogs have that is attracting marketers to them in the first place. Savvy marketers know this, so they start their own blogs, as is the case for Art of Speed on Gawker; but there is nothing very authentic (or special) about a marketer putting up a web site in support of a product, which is essentially all that is.
The kind of product placement featured in 'Art of Speed' is far more interesting and far more indicative of the kind of marketing we are going to see more of in the future. It is consistent with what I have called "flow experience marketing," based on the concept of 'flow' as developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, at the University of Chicago. The idea is that instead of creating an arresting experience with advertising full of a product's and brand's value propositions, you let products be part of an experience already being had. You let the product play the role of Robin rather than constantly casting it in the roll of Batman. The product or service becomes part of an experience and, thus, part of a user's "background of everydayness."
There will continue to be more attempts at using blogs as marketing devices, you can count on that. But the outcomes are going to be difficult to discern, and there is no reason to believe that people's acceptance of marketing in these environments is going to be any more palatable to a given user than advertising is in any other. There may even be the risk of backlash. What I liked about Nike's method with 'Art of Speed' is, as I alluded to, that they seek to be part of the flow experience rather than be an interruptive force.
But there is nothing unique about blogs that makes them better for this than other environments. Like all new things, to quote Frank Herbert, the author of the original "Dune" novels: "'this too shall pass away' applies to all the known universe."