October 30th, 2006

If You Can’t Tell Whether Something Is An Ad, That’s Deception

by

People don’t like to be deceived. When they think they are looking at noncommercial content, and you give them an ad instead, that’s deception. That’s why Wendy’s took flack for circulating ads on YouTube that were not clearly discernible as ads. And that’s why PayPerPost’s new disclosure policy generator won’t help bloggers avoid deceiving their readers and thus destroying their credibility.

An option from DisclosurePolicy.org:

The compensation received may influence the advertising content, topics or posts made in this blog. That content, advertising space or post may not always be identified as paid or sponsored content.

If you tell people in the fine print that you might deceive them, and then you go ahead and try to deceive them — well, that’s still deception.

The definitions should be clear and simple. It’s an “ad” if someone paid for it. If anyone looking at whatever the thing is — a blog post, video, text link, whatever — can’t tell it’s an ad, that’s deception.

In a world of infinite media, the only asset anyone has left, whether blogger, search engine, or traditional media company, is TRUST. Deception destroys trust, and so it’s fundamentally bad for the media business.

Comments (23 Responses so far)

  1. Hot Air Politics As Usual Harold Ford Jr. race-baiting ads — parody and counterparody 0 Ace of Spades HQ Left-Wing Spin Left publicizes Facebook pic of Corker’s daughter kissing a girl 0 Publishing 2.0

  2. YouTube, Google, and Rumors vs. Truth in the Blogosphere 4 days 14 min old If You Can’t Tell Whether Something Is An Ad, That’s Deception 4 days 20 hours old Can I Please Blog Your Private Meeting? 5 days 23 hours old Is Audience Measurement Still Relevant? 1 week 1 day old Will MySpace and Facebook Be Victims of Their Own Success? 1 week 1 day old

  3. てなことを思っていたら、こんな記事がありました。 「If You Can’t Tell Whether Something Is An Ad, That’s Deception » Publishing 2.0」 まさしく、シンプルにズバリと書いてくれています。

  4. Good point, good way to look at it. This is one differentiation between obvious ads (Amazon, Google, banner ads) that are pay per click or pay per action, and the “payola” type situation that PayPerPost presents.

  5. Good observation Scott.

    I’d note that bloggers need to own their Disclosure Policy and input like this helps them reach best practices. Many bloggers are operating in a vacuum as they document what their Disclosure Policy might be. That’s why we created DisclosurePolicy.org, to provide some tools and guidance to maximize the likelihood people will adopt. It all starts with telling your audience what to expect from you, then adhering to it.

    If you feel strongly about it, I’d suggest bringing your guidance to boards.disclosurepolicy.org. The longer we keep good ideas like this dispersed, the longer it takes to arrive at guidance for everyone.

  6. OK hold your horses. Lots of companies pay PR firms to write, pitch and place stories in print and broadcast media. Lots of magazines are pretty upfront about the need to advertise before they’ll run a (fawning) profile on your company. In both cases, someone paid (directly or indirectly) to get the placement. Don’t forget, press releases are now 100 years old.

  7. Drew, this is not a New Media/Old Media issue. It has been around for 100 years, and there have been publishers operating on the wrong side of deception for 100 years. That people have been doing it for a long time doesn’t make it a good thing.

    VC Dan, I think you’ve got a tough sell making DisclosurePolicy the locus of this debate given PayPerPost’s vested interest in the outcome.

  8. Seth Godin calls these people manipulators and spoke about them in a recent blog.

    People are always going to try and game the system. It is going to come down to trust. Who do we trust in the marketplace? Who is out there building trust in an open and honest manner? It is the companies that are doing things in a transparent way and involving their audience in a conversation that are going to succeed.

  9. [...] Update: Scott Karp (as always) says exactly what I would if I could write as well as he does: “If you tell people in the fine print that you might deceive them, and then you go ahead and try to deceive them — well, that’s still deception….In a world of infinite media, the only asset anyone has left, whether blogger, search engine, or traditional media company, is TRUST. Deception destroys trust, and so it’s fundamentally bad for the media business.” [...]

  10. Can any of you who are so incredibly quick to criticize this please take my challenge? Go to my blog and click on the “reviews” category. All of my reviews are there — paid and unpaid. Tell me if you see a difference between those which are paid and those which are not paid.

    It is only deceptive if: a) I write something or about something I do not believe in; or b) I write something untrue for the sole purpose of being paid.

    I am not a reporter. I am a person who maintains a personal blog for the purpose of writing about life, things that interest me, and issues that make me think. I have a small community of people who think what I write is worth reading. I am telling those people about a product or service or topic that interests me and that I think might interest them.

    I have a policy which clearly defines my criteria for choosing posts to write about where I will be paid.

    I am waiting for someone to explain how I am being deceptive.

    You can argue that there are lots of people who aren’t like me. That is the whole reason for opening a conversation around this issue, in my opinion. Rather than being like the mob in the “The Music Man”, crying out that “Pool” is going to corrupt the town, why not engage in a reasonable dialogue about how bloggers can be word-of-mouth-marketers and NOT deceive their readers?

    By the way, I just bought 2 sets of Moo Cards. I bought them after seeing some A-listers’ cards — ones that they got free as part of a Flickr promotion. By the time I got there, the free promo was over. I bought them anyway because I thought they were cool and worked well as a unique tool for my drummer-son to use to get gigs.

    It was clear to me by the number of posts that went up about them that part of the promo was to blog about them when they received their freebies but it wasn’t always clearly stated on the blog posts about them. Did I feel deceived? No, because I thought they were cool and so did the majority of the folks who blogged about them, even though it could be argued that ‘payment’ was the receipt of freebies in exchange for some powerful word-of-mouth promos.

    Really, if we can wrap ourselves around some ways to identify ourselves as honest people who write the same whether paid or not similar to the Moo bloggers, I think we do everyone a favor, because being critical with no solution is no way to move the ball down the field.

    DnW

  11. [...] Michael Arrington and Scott Karp dissect the absurdity of PayPerPost’s latest effort to slap lipstick on its pig with a disclosure policy that equates advertising and “paid insertions.” That sounds like something you get on the Bunny Ranch. [...]

  12. You are being deceptive because you aren’t telling us which ads were paid for. It doesn’t matter if you’re honest in the review itself, if you aren’t telling the whole story, you aren’t giving the reader critical information they need.

  13. I like your thoughts – remember that payment occurs in many ways. If you get any free goods or services in addition to cash, it should be disclosed. Period.

    Here are some thoughts I had:
    http://www.centernetworks.com/payperpost-disclosure

  14. Mario,

    You’re incorrect. I see you didn’t actually LOOK, but offered a snap judgment instead. Every paid post is disclosed.

    DnW

  15. The New York Times is a deception. So are Reuters, Associated Press, and the rest of the centralized and infiltrated “news” organizations. Deal with it.

    Are you aware of how easily these organizations are played?
    http://www.mudvillegazette.com/milblogs/2006/10/27/#006854

    You can’t believe ANYTHING you read on the internet. Deal with it.

  16. [...] with del.icio.us   |   Email this entry   |   TrackBack URI   |   Digg it   |   Track with co.mments   |     |   Cosmos Click here forcopyright permissions! Copyright 2006 Mathew Ingram [...]

  17. [...] Scott Karp is annoyed. In the online world, he argues, advertisements should be clearly distinguished as such: The definitions should be clear and simple. It’s an “ad” if someone paid for it. If anyone looking at whatever the thing is — a blog post, video, text link, whatever — can’t tell it’s an ad, that’s deception. [...]

  18. [...] The walls between content creation and commerce are also falling away, as we’ve seen with everything from product placement to the uproar over PayPerPost. [...]

  19. Scott: the reality is that we ALL have a vested interest in driving a Disclosure Policy framework so audiences have a common method to understand the affiliations/disclosure practices of any blogger they find. The issue/solution mirrors data privacy and Privacy Policies — and the diversity of sites/audiences to be considered.

    Of course, the more critics refuse to try/share disclosure advice at DisclosurePolicy.org, the more this sounds like a blog-traffic-driving controversy rather than a real issue they want to help solve. It’s hard to claim a Disclosure Policy framework isn’t a helpful step towards blogosphere transparency.

    Check out DisclosurePolicy.org, use the DP Generator, edit it to match your practices, link to it from every page and then share your DP advice so others can learn from your perspective/experience.

  20. [...] There has been much fear and loathing in the blogosphere about PayPerPost and its fostering of deceptive marketing practices. ReviewMe avoids many of PayPerPost’s mistakes, in particular by requiring disclosure and not requiring that reviews be positive. I do think that leaving the method of disclosure up to the blogger falls short of what’s required to create a uniformly transparent ecosystem — I’d like to see ReviewMe provide a bit of code to place at the beginning of every review that would display a universal disclosure statement, e.g. Sponsored By ReviewMe, with a recognizable logo and link to further information. [...]

  21. [...] With the right disclosure in place, ReviewMe is less an issue of deceptive advertising and much more an issue of devaluing the reader experience. If most of my readers have no interest in reading paid reviews — and that certainly seems to be the case — then participating in ReviewMe certainly has little value relative to the value of maintaining my readership. When you get bought without disclosure, you’re corrupt. When you get bought with disclosure, you’re just annoying — but in a world of scarce attention, annoyance is a death sentence. [...]

  22. [...] In response to PayPerPost’s continuing lack of disclosure policy, I wrote, “if you can’t tell whether something is an ad, that’s deception.” It appears that the Federal Trade Commission agrees (via The Washington Post). The Federal Trade Commission yesterday said that companies engaging in word-of-mouth marketing, in which people are compensated to promote products to their peers, must disclose those relationships. [...]

  23. [...] corners of the blogosphere for violating the principles of the traditional Chinese Wall. I’ve written that it comes down to the issue of deception — paid content that’s not dislosed as paid [...]

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