Product Blog Tours

They connect potential customers with products and brands. They’re a breeding ground for consumer feedback and a market research source. From a marketer’s perspective, blogs pretty much have it all.

Now, if only we could infiltrate them.

Apart from blog advertising and the customized, branded versions many companies create, blogs are an untapped resource for interactive marketers. The content is fiercely defended by the bloggers behind them who want to ensure they remain authentic. This authenticity is exactly what appeals to marketers, and the consumer-generated content blogs contain is highly coveted in the online marketing community. Truly benefiting from these features requires getting involved with blogs on a deeper level.

That’s just what New Jersey-based interactive marketing agency MarketSource IMS endeavored to do to promote its client Castrol‘s high-performance Castrol SYNTEC Motor Oil.

“We thought, ‘Let’s think up an innovative idea to reach this [client’s] audience online beyond the banner,'” says Julia Bannon, an account manager with MarketSource. “We have been doing banner advertising on lifestyle and gaming sites, and it’s been very successful, but we wanted to do something unique this year to reach Castrol’s 18 to 34 audience through blogs.”

Bannon, who once worked in book publishing, remembered how popular virtual book tours were for the company’s published authors. Why not revisit the concept for one of her clients?

Just like that, the “SYNTEC Virtual Blog Tour” was born.

I found out about the initiative when my husband, an automotive writer, received an email from Bannon expressing an interest in his blog. “What we’d like to do with this Virtual Blog Tour is to bring a SYNTEC representative to your blog, making a ‘guest appearance’ like you see on ITConversations and other blogs,” the email said. “Our hope is that you could interview this representative, or have your audience submit questions about motor oils and get a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into making motor oil and how to choose the right motor oil for your car.”

“Sounds like an interesting concept,” said my husband. Yet he hesitated to get involved. He worried about introducing branded content into his blog.

He wasn’t the only one. Though Bannon did get several positive responses from auto blogs she’d targeted, she also received a number of messages expressing concern about blurring the line between advertising and editorial. “In the entertainment community, people are more accustomed to having people come on to talk about what they’re doing,” she says. “I was very surprised by the reaction. Even articles in auto magazines are based on stories pitched by automakers and manufacturers.”

Bannon makes an interesting point. I can understand why bloggers might be wary of being approached in this manner. Perhaps they believe they’re expected to praise the motor oil, regardless of personal opinion. No legitimate blogger wants to be perceived as being in a corporation’s back pocket. What would it do to their rep?

As a marketer, I’m obviously biased. I think MarketSource hit on something big; a way for marketers to boost their blog exposure in the most organic way possible. I’m disappointed more bloggers (and marketers) haven’t jumped on the opportunity. Castrol is putting itself out there in the hope it will be extolled, but it could just as easily be berated. The company knows that. Initiating an honest conversation with consumers is simply more important to it than trying to control its brand image — something today’s smart marketers know is virtually impossible.

There seems to be a somewhat adversarial relationship between bloggers and online advertisers — except, perhaps, with those few bloggers who manage to secure mammoth advertising contracts. Think what the blogosphere could be to both consumers and marketers if we attempted to work together.

I, for one, would be very interested in an inside look at many of the products and brands I consume. If that insight comes from a company executive who’s willing to take the good with the bad and respond to my questions and concerns, so much the better. A virtual blog tour really isn’t much different from the pitch process behind the majority of magazine and newspaper editorial. Why should marketers’ relationships with blogs be any different from those with the traditional media?

If Castrol’s audience were more consistent with my husband’s, I’d certainly try to convince him to give the blog tour a try. I’d hope others would do the same. I’m guessing there are a lot of interactive marketers out there eager to take their blog promotion to a whole new level.

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