Ads on Blogs, Blogs as Ads, Part 1

There haven’t been many prominent blog marketing programs to date. The recent partnership between Nike and Gawker Media may well change that.

News of an alliance between the uber-brand and the publisher of six blogs, including famed New York pop-culture blog Gawker, broke just a few days ago. Interactive marketers were immediately abuzz. The purpose of the team up is to promote Nike’s new marketing project, the “Art of Speed,” a series of independent short films offering interpretations of the concept of speed. The promotion itself comes in the form of a blog microsite accessible from Gawker’s home page via a branded button and from which site visitors can connect to the various films.

It’s a unique approach to blog advertising, to be sure. Some critics, however, have noted the effort lacks the interactivity that makes blogs so alluring to Internet users. Traditionally, bloggers encourage readers to share their own thoughts and views. Nike’s microsite (and Gawker in general) doesn’t allow readers to post.

But this isn’t a traditional blog, and that’s precisely why it’s generating so much attention. The Nike blog initiative is the very definition of subtlety in advertising, putting the emphasis on promoting the films as opposed to the Nike brand itself. By partnering with Gawker, the company has uncovered an effective new way to increase awareness of the marketing initiative within its hip young target audience. Nike’s blog is primarily a lesson in online targeting.

Blog purists won’t like what I’m about to say, but the blogs we know and love are evolving. They’re being plundered for marketing purposes. We should’ve seen it coming. Introduction of advertising is the inevitable outcome for communication media popular with consumers. Blogs are no exception. The initiation of Nike’s blog microsite, along with continued emergence of blog ad networks, suggests we could soon be seeing a major shift in this Internet subculture.

Numerous factors contributed to this trend, steady growth of the medium among them (word is, Gawker receives between 500,000 and 700,000 unique visitors per month). The most notable is the new information we’re learning about blog readers: They’re a far more viable demographic for marketers than was previously believed.

Web ad network Blogads recently surveyed over 17,000 blog readers on various social and financial indicators, online spending habits, and their involvement with Web logs. The study shows nearly 40 percent have an annual household income over $90,000, and 30 percent are 31-41 years old (only 10.3 percent are 19-24 years old).

When asked about their interaction with blogs, over 66 percent of blog readers say they’ve clicked on an advertisement that appeared within a blog. More than 39 percent donated money, and over 22 percent purchased a product or service after that click.

In addition, about 78 percent of readers say blogs give them a better perspective than other news and information source. Sixty-one percent say they believe blogs are more honest.

This last attribute is a one that may make blogs a bit tricky for marketers to employ. Marketers are like public relations specialists in that their duty is to present a company, product, or service in a positive light. Their services are required primarily because the parties they represent often lack the natural appeal necessary to attract consumers. Marketers make the ordinary remarkable. This naturally tends to involve a little propaganda.

Blog devotees are accustomed to reading biased opinions from bloggers. Honest, authentic commentary is what blogs are all about. But they don’t take kindly to falsification or attempts to exploit blogs’ grass-roots nature for the hard sell. Remember Dr Pepper/7Up’s misguided attempt at a corporate blog in 2003? Enough said.

How then can advertisers take advantage of this embryonic medium? First, take a cue from Nike: Keep it real. For a departure from the theoretical and a lesson in blog best practices, tune in to next week’s column. I’ll address just how to go about promoting your business via blogs.

Nominations are open for the 2004 ClickZ Marketing Excellence Awards.

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