Why Marketers Resist Blogs

Over the last 18 months, marketers have enthused non-stop about the potential of blogs as an ad medium. They've gushed over the authenticity of bloggers' voices, heralded the diversity of viewpoints, and rhapsodized about the affluent, educated audience blogs attract. But when it comes to actually pulling the trigger on ad deals, many online media firms--epecially those representing companies in risk-averse sectors like financial services and health care--have hesitated to recommend anything more than a trifling investment.

The reasons for this aren't hard to discern. By their very nature, blogs deprive marketers of the control they've come to expect: a company's ad could conceivably sit next to a post ripping its product or brand. Media firms have also expressed concerns about scale, worrying that only a handful of blogs will ever achieve anything resembling critical mass.

The former issue won't be addressed anytime soon--to install even a thin layer of restraint would rob blogs of their reason for being--but the blog community has marshaled its resources to address the latter. Following the lead of Gawker Media and Weblogs Inc. (for which aol spent some $20 million), bloggers have allied themselves with networks that aggregate sites to make them more appealing to advertisers. In October, a gaggle of 70 widely read bloggers joined forces as Open Source Media, with plans to showcase blogs next to news headlines.

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Online media planners are encouraged by the trend. "It's rare when you find a blog with a standalone audience that can really sell media," says Mohan Renganathan, associate director, digital services at MediaVest. "Aggregating like-minded blogs is a much more viable proposition."

But blogs have a way to go before they earn the full confidence of the online media community. "Obviously, you don't want to change anything--the free-forum thing is what we all like so much. But it takes a certain type of advertiser that's willing to stomach the potential negative outcomes," says Michael Hayes, vice president, interactive at Initiative Media. So far, Hayes has only ventured into the blogosphere on behalf of a few entertainment and gaming clients.

Blog marketing experts believe that would-be advertisers understand the risks, and politely suggest that those who don't can take their business elsewhere. "Some advertisers don't want to find their messages in a tricky--for lack of a better word--environment," shrugs Sarah Bernard, general manager of HuffingtonPost.com. And while blog networks cheerily promise to work with marketers of all colors and stripes, certain online mainstays remain off-limits.

"We don't do things like screen takeovers and full-screen ads, because they annoy our readers," says Gaby Darbyshire of Gawker Media. "Advertisers are always looking to do something different and more punchy, but blogs have to be more sensitive to reader sensibility than just about anybody else."

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