The Cluetrain guys had their hearts in the right place when they said that markets are conversations, but, unfortunately, when corporations try to do the conversation thing, they typically end up making a mess and a mockery and looking utterly clue-less. You’ve got fake blogs, undisclosed paid blog posts, and bloggers who “lead conversations” receiving unsolicited free merchandise (courtesy of Edelman, AGAIN). It feels like we’ve reached the point where good old fashioned, in-your-face, BUY THIS advertising is starting to look a whole lot more authentic than all of the fake “authenticity” that the hyping of authenticity has engendered.

Sure, most ads are still annoying and still not well targeted, but at least they are honest in their own way. And, yes, many ads still try to manipulate people and present false images, but over the years most people have developed a pretty good BS detector, which allows them to filter commercial messages — but this BS detector only functions when you KNOW that you are seeing a commercial message. Thanks to the anti-advertising movement, we now have a whole new form of deceptive commercial messages to contend with. Rather than transforming the way corporations communicate in a positive way, the naively good intentions of the “conversationists” merely gave brands a new set of sheep’s clothing to don when sneaking into the consumer flock. Hardly an improvement.

If you want to sell me something, at least be honest about it. Don’t pretend that you want to “have a conversation” or be my “friend.” You’re the seller, I’m the buyer — when I understand the nature of the relationship, I can make my own judgment. But if you blog at me, slide up next to me with a drink in your hand and try to be my pal, when all you really want is for me to buy something, you’re being DECEPTIVE. Truth in advertising is important, but truth in INTENTIONS is critical.

Fake conversations have become a far greater pox on our media life than mass advertising ever was. When markets become conversations, transparency goes out the window. Ads are annoying. Fake conversations are deceptive. I’ll always opt for the former — and I think most people will, too.

So in 2007, remember, conversation is great with friends, family, and colleagues, but commercial messages are strictly business.