Blogs: A Rich Media Ad Playground?

If it seems like a stretch to talk about blogs in a rich media column, you haven’t been reading many blogs lately. Though much has been written about blogs, they’re really one of the oldest aspects of the Internet. Back in the old days, they were called bulletin board systems (BBSs). On BBSs, people could post content and seek out people with similar interests. Before broadband, sharing information was the hottest thing about the Internet.

Advertisers, listen up. Even with broadband, sharing information and its byproduct, opinion, is still hot. You may be able to use it to your advantage.

Though the core function hasn’t changed significantly since the BBS days, blogs have taken on a new life as a constant source of information for users about almost anything. What makes blogs different is the sheer number of people using them. They’re seen by far beyond the number of people who read them in the early ’90s.

Is this a place for advertising? Maybe.

Now that a constant stream of opinion flows from a thousand primary sources in the blogosphere, we find commercial content overrun by consumer content, otherwise known as reality (this is also happening on network TV). Where does rich media advertising live in this opinion-oriented reality? Is there a shiny watch you can craft from all this unedited content?

Depends who you are.

Established brands with loyal fan bases will probably be more successful with blogs than companies looking for grass-root momentum before moving to mass advertising. Cars, sports, and affinity brand advertisers fall into this category. Should companies sponsor their own corporate blogs? Probably not.

Take the case of Dr Pepper’s Raging Cow product launch. Dr Pepper decided it would go directly to blogs to promote its product. The perks and ad dollars it provided to bloggers quickly turned against it when those bloggers exposed the deceptive plan. Let’s face it, it’s just not cool to pay people to talk about you.

What can you do with blogs or blog content? Look at what people are already saying about your product or service in blogs. Epinions, the mother of all product opinion sites (a kind of blog) is a good place to start. There’s a lot of insight to be gained reading the blogs, and there are a lot of advertising opportunities on blogs.

Next, target sponsored content that provides information or utility. Note I don’t say “entertainment”; I assume people visit blogs for information and opinions. Information or opinions served up in an entertaining way, of course, but not pure viral video. People post clips and share them with the world through the blogs they visit. Sponsored, related content seems the logical next step. These are just assumptions, though. Any foray into such advertising should be tested.

I’m not alone in thinking blogs could be a powerful online advertising force, possibly for rich media advertising. Not too long ago Carat Interactive announced it formed a blog department. There’s a lot of speculation out there about how it’s a rich advertising medium, but I haven’t seen a lot of action. This is scary territory. The power of unedited public opinion that’s potentially viral nature is daunting.

It really depends how receptive people will be to blogs receiving ad dollars. Today, you can get the odd banner or sponsorship into a blog without much noise from the blogging masses. If the content is about products or services and smacks of flashy, rich video spots or paid endorsements, look out. Remember what happened to Budweiser and Jib Jab? You can’t just publish stuff that’s akin to putting a sign around your neck that reads, “Watch me, I’m cool.” If we don’t already know Internet users are smarter than that, it’s time to change careers.

To truly harness blogs’ power and make it part of a communications plan is both a challenge and an opportunity. Manipulating opinion at the source is daunting, whether you deliver a video, a banner, or thoughtful words. You might get burned. Perhaps marketers should focus on listening to users through blogs and spend their dollars taking those insights seriously — and making their offerings better.

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