According to a study released at the beginning of this week by the Pew Internet & American life project, between February and November of 2004, blog readership was up 58 percent, with over a quarter of all Internet users reading them with some regularity.
In the same study, it was found that some 8 million Americans have actually created their own blogs.
But as MediaPost's own Gavin O'Malley reported earlier this week, the draw blogs have for audiences is not being translated into advertiser enthusiasm.
The reasons given by agency personnel as stated in O'Malley's article suggested clients' risk aversion. The popular blogs, after all, are those that lean toward the controversial. A blog about lipstick doesn't have quite the same appeal to large audiences nor garners the same involvement as one about red-state/blue-state conflict. And American advertisers aren't prone to taking risks these days.
One interesting comment from Ryan McConnell of Carat Insight was that it remains to be seen whether or not blogs will maintain their popularity in the post-political season.
Though I would argue that blogs will keep up some of their momentum, as it is my feeling that we have entered a phase when it is always the political season, I think that both risk aversion and uncertainty of their continued status aren't what holds advertisers back from using blogs as marketing opportunities.
The truth of the matter is, though some blogs - far fewer than the 5,431,239 blogs Technocrati counts as of the time of this writing - get passionate sizeable audiences, so do other Web sites.
There are ample alternatives to blogs with which advertisers can reach audiences if they are interested. EA Online and FanFiction.net have some of the most engaged and passionate audiences on the Web, if you are to believe NetRatings' time spent per person statistics (November, 2004). Or advertisers can buy ad networks and target those "passion places," as I like to call them, which can be identified with an advertiser's target audience.
Also, when you get right down to it, what are blogs other than simply text-heavy Web sites? In fact, if you go back just a few years, blogs look strikingly similar to your basic Web site from the mid to late 90s. Remember Xoom.com? How about Geocities? Anyone ever build a site on Tripod?
Blogs are just personal sites made easier to construct with the advent of more robust and facile prefab site building tools. Their diary-like format gives them a more personal feeling, which is authentic, but the blogosphere isn't some untapped vein of marketing gold we just haven't figured out how to mine. The blog is a format for a Web site not something different than a Web site, and there are already plenty of sites for advertisers to advertise with.
The industry we all work in consists of a culture that insists on affiliation with what Michael Lewis called the "new new thing" and which requires it to always be focusing on what is next rather than what is now. This sometimes leads to a kind of "irrational exuberance" for words or phrases that seem to come to us from the future.
Blog - a contraction of "web log" - is just such a word. And once the press outside the intimate, self-replicating circle of trade press got its hands on that word, well, it was only a matter of time until the hypnotic echoes had the industry talking back to itself about blogs as a powerful marketing tool.
Web sites that are blogs can certainly be used to positive effect by marketers, but the way they are used isn't going to look much different than buying on a network, and advertising on them is going to detract from what makes the blog so attractive in the first place; namely, its distant authenticity from consumer culture.