Saturday, May 9, 2009

Quid Pro Quo and Pay for Post Blogging - They Think You're Stupid

There's an interesting post up on Techcrunch today, "News Flash: Paying for Coverage is Still 'Taboo'". This post by Sarah Lacy is about yet another Pay for Posts blog service, or possibly a re-spin of a company that had also contacted her in the past. It's not really a new topic, but like Sarah notes in her post and what I think is rather amusing -- this is one of those "Yet Another Great Idea to cheat Google until Google comes back and crushes your page rank" plans that always turns out poorly for all those involved. Well, I guess all involved except the guys at the top of the pyramid.

You know, there are a lot of ways that you can look at this:
  • You can approach is as John Moore does in Brand Autopsy with his concept of "Creationist Word of Mouth versus Evolutionist Word of Mouth".
  • You can question the knowledge, wisdom, and understanding of the people who promote this type of approach
  • You can explore some of the many ways how "true" content trumps misdirection: Google search results versus "the old competitive model" that included paid listings in the search, etc.
For me, what this reminds me of is the thing that happens in a corporate meeting every time I try to explain how Google's Adwords program works. Invariably, as my audience starts to understand how ads are positioned and billed, somebody in the room is dreaming of ways to beat the system. What usually follows is a several minute period where they force you through an exploration of their various "cheat the system" ideas. Somewhere deep within our DNA there's probably a "gaming the system" gene that's responsible for some fundamental aspects of evolution -- like our ability to craft stone tools. But it probably also means that the first pyramid marketing schemes were created not long after the first markets were opened (and probably well before the Egyptian pyramids were built).

And while, deep down you hope for some sort of great moral clock that's building a list of the cheats and will eventually enact retribution and balance (ala Google), some of this is really a battle for the low ground. In my mind, most products being marketed this was are going to be average at best and likely much lower than that.

Is "Noise" Really Word of Mouth?
If your best selling point is "blank million people can't be wrong", do you really have something worth talking about? One of my favorite questions when I talk to someone in a start-up is, "how are you going to change the world?" Admittedly, while there are some people who will be moved to purchase something simply because other people talk about it and recommend it, but real "Word of Mouth" has a different flavor, a different taste that's driven by passion. It's sort of like the difference between butter and margarine -- while it may look the same and be used in the same way, it doesn't taste the same regardless of how much somebody tries to tell you that it does. It certainly doesn't cook the same.

Now they want you to believe that there's no difference between butter and margarine. They think people in the world can't tell the difference between butter and margarine. They're selling the world on the idea that, if you just tell enough people that there is no difference between butter and margarine, it will be so. Most of all, they want you to put your reputation on the line (your permission asset) and tell your friends and family, from your heart of hearts, that there is no difference between butter and margarine. Or that margarine tastes just like butter only better -- richer, fuller, more umami. Hey, they'll give you a dollar... cause they make a buck on each tub of margarine they sell... until your friends wise up.

While all of that may make sense if your trying to unload a giant lot of one-time-only infomercial-style products, if you have a real product or a real brand, there's only one word for the whole idea -- quackery.

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