A Year of Full Disclosure

Still looking for a New Year’s resolution? How about vowing to practice full disclosure this year?

As recently as late 2006, marketers were still mistakenly misguiding consumers online. Last year, blogs primarily bore the brunt of the blunders.

Wal-Mart and Edelman, its PR agency, were accused of faking a blog, or, more accurately, taking advantage of an opportunity to (somewhat clandestinely) sponsor one. The blog about a couple parking for free in Wal-Mart parking lots during a cross-country RV trip is already synonymous with corporate interactive marketing indiscretion. And it only emerged in September.

Then Sony was called out for its own brand of blog malpractice. The company’s “All I Want for Christmas is a PSP” blog was maintained by a fictional guy named Charlie. It didn’t take long for consumers to trace it to a consumer marketing firm. Sony ultimately ‘fessed up. The site was shut down. The embarrassment lingers.

A year ago, attention was drawn to Coke Australia’s fake blog, though it’s speculated the site was launched sometime in late 2005.

The Zero Movement originally bore no mention of the brand but was reworked to clearly promote the company’s Coca-Cola Zero product after bloggers began to share their suspicions and criticism, even going so far as to create a counter blog called The Zero Movement Sucks.

Where did these companies go wrong? When done well and done right, brand and corporate blogs can be an indispensable marketing tool. It isn’t hard to make them work:

  1. Choose a theme relating to your product or service, something both you and your customers really care about. How your product is made is a good one. How people live while consuming it is better.

  2. Hire a great writer.
  3. Provide useful information customers want to know about your theme.
  4. Make it clear the blog isn’t trying to outright sell people something. That’s what your brand site is for.
  5. Make it very clear the blog is a company-inspired and -funded effort.

Easy enough. So when marketers choose instead to go the way of the flog and keep the origins of their initiative under wraps, I’m always surprised. The move almost inevitably produces a viral nightmare.

That said, there’s no question the majority of the fake blogs we see are simply the product of blind indiscretion. I’d be amazed if these were intentional efforts to garner publicity under the conjecture that all press is good press. It takes about the same amount of effort and marketing bucks to create something sincere. No amount of media attention resulting from a flog can compare to the positive press derived from full disclosure.

Maybe the PR and marketing firms behind these sites didn’t understand the degree to which consumers take issue with being deceived online. Or maybe it was just fear. As a media planner or buyer accustomed to a more controlled marketing environment, you might find it hard to put yourself out in the open. Doing so with a medium heralded for channeling candor and admitting you’re affiliating it with a world accused of channeling hyperbole amounts to painting a target on your back.

There’s still a lot of value in corporate and brand blogs. As we start the New Year, let’s put this sort of marketing ploy behind us. It doesn’t do our industry or our clients any good to keep on faking it.

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