December 29th, 2006

Transparent Ads Are Better Than Fake “Conversations”

by

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.

Comments (19 Responses so far)

  1. — Scott Karp, Publishing 2.0 : Transparent Ads Are Better Than Fake “Conversations”

  2. mockery and looking utterly clue-less.” And he adds that, “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” …” Transparent Ads Are Better Than Fake “Conversations”

  3. Aanbevolen leesvoer Transparent Ads Are Better Than Fake “Conversations”OconDC: The Next Frontier: Web 2.010 POWERFUL Reasons WHY Articles Remain The Internets #1 Marketing StrategyYoutube + Coca Cola = WishcastUsing news releases to reach buyers by focusing on the phrases they use to search

  4. Cok eskiden Cluetrain Manifesto’sunu gormustum. Gectigimiz hafta su reklam haberini gordum. Gecen gun de sunu okudum. Simdi de bu yaziyi yazacagim. Eskiden agzi olan konusurdu simdi klavyesi olan yaziyor, bir de bu “markets are conversations” ya da Turkce’si “pazarlar sohbettir” kavrami bana ilgi cekici geliyor.

  5. Dec 29, 2006 Ads Are Better Than Conversations found: 04:09pm December 29, 2006 “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

  6. Pay Per Post And The Populism Pose – Or, Blue-Collar vs. White-Collar Capitalism Shelley Powers: Falling Out Mathew Ingram: PayPerPost: a Web 2.0 witch-hunt Mathew Ingram: Scoble says he’s biased — does it matter? Publishing 2.0: Transparent Ads Are Better Than Fake “Conversations” Robert Scoble: Scoble’s a shill … more details Valleywag: Robert Scoble: Shilling for Intel Buzzmachine: Pray per post Hypocrisy. Elitism. Us-people-who-get-it-versus-the-great-unwashed.

  7. The only thing worse than fake corporate conversations are fake corporate “communities.”

  8. I think the whole conversation metaphor has to do with listening and responding, rather than simply trying to dictate to the marketplace. But I agree with you that people have taken things to an uncomfortable place. Frankly, some of the leading bloggers who preach marketing transperancy are pulling the biggest positioning scam around, while people in direct marketing and SEO, to name just two, are still regarded as shysters because they truly are being open and honest about topics that make things happen, like selling and traffic.

  9. Brian, the problem is that “listening and responding” is a product issue, not a marketing issue. If the market tells you that your product sucks, then you should listen to the criticism and make it better rather than trying to shove your crappy product down the market’s throat. Instead, “conversation” was turned into a marketing tactic that is almost inherently dishonest.

    Rex — community, conversation, and social are my top three ICKY words for 2006.

  10. At least the poorly executed versions of this approach are easy to discern. False pretense concerning intention is less bad than false facts. One thing I will say in defense of social marketing or whatever is that PR agents who drop a line and say “hey, do you want to know about X? I thought you might” are much more tolerable than standard press releases. Press releases have probably always been b.s. right? That’s probably an older form of what you’re complaining about here. I agree that the scandal train is getting tiring though.

  11. Damn straight. To the entire post.

    “community, conversation, and social are my top three ICKY words for 2006.”

    That’s a shame because they are the *good* things at the heart of what the Web is built for, but they’ve been appropriated by marketers, politicians, entrepreneurs – anyone who wants to wield influence or sell something.

    Cluetrain was a book written for business folks to help them understand the Web. It worked all too well.

    No one has any idea who is selling what to whom any more.

  12. but they’ve been appropriated by marketers, politicians, entrepreneurs – anyone who wants to wield influence or sell something.

    Something we should have seen coming a mile away. Nick Carr was right that the web is ammoral — there’s nothing inherently good or bad about the Web — it all depends who is using it and for what purpose.

  13. Nice post, I think the point about new sheeps clothing is the gist of what worried me about all this, this was the early, stumbling steps of an industry determined to influence the influential in this emerging medium. The next iteration will be more subtle, and so on.

    However ethics pure and simple do come into it – to me the practical diffs between A list bloggers and journalists is very small, looking at what they are doing.

  14. Totally right, Scott. Dealing with some of these fake conversational-marketing gimmicks is like thinking you’re doing really well with a hot girl and then finding out she’s a professional. The really stupid part is that it actually winds up doing the opposite of what the marketer in question originally intended.

  15. Instead, “conversation” was turned into a marketing tactic that is almost inherently dishonest.

    Agreed, but again I’m reminded of the utopianism that fuels most Internet-related marketing philososophy. Most people can’t hold a decent conversation at a cocktail party because they are simply waiting for their turn to speak, and yet somehow this medium transforms us into higher beings? Think about it… most “conversation” in real space is self-aggrandizing drivel. Add in a proft motive and things get uglier.

    The web makes Yogi Berra look like an interactive marketing guru:

    “It was impossible to get a conversation going; everybody was talking too much.”

  16. [...] Quote of the day from Scott Karp: “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.” [...]

  17. Along with Nick Carr, shout-outs need to go to Shelley Powers, Dave Rogers and Seth Finkelstein who’ve been making related points to this for a while now, and in a few corners getting knocked for it.

    I look for disclaimers such as David Weinberger’s more and more, to discern who to trust.

    The problem is, that there is no standard for such statements for readers and aggregators to locate and consume them. As it stands right now, there is no way to distinguish advertisements, from marketing campaigns, from real honest to goodness community of interest discussion.

  18. [...] Scott Karp sums up everything that needs to be said about the incessant attempts of corporations to buy “conversations”: 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. [...]

  19. [...] Scott Karp sums up my feelings beautifully; 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. [...]

  20. Scott, on the one hand, I agree with just about everything you say. On the other, I don’t. Which has me puzzled. I think it comes down to these two points:

    1. Metadata is crucial. If I know you’re trying to sell me something, I can have an honest conversation with you, but I can’t if I don’t.

    2. But the metadata is rarely as simple as sticking on a badge announcing your affiliation. I think there’s a cloud of possible types of market conversations, and companies now are exploring that cloud, sometimes well and sometimes clumsily. The cloud includes honest-to-goodness customer-to-customer conversations (on or off the Net), unconstrained employee blogging (which is, of course, always constrained by the person not wanting to get fired), straightforward sales chats with demo-ers at a trade show, frustrating “conversations” with customer support reps who refuse to vary from the script, fake conversations with paid representatives of despicable companies who lie about who they are, etc. Some of these are reprehensible, some are useful, some are fun, some are a mix.

    In short, I don’t think it’s as binary as I think your posting makes it seem, although I do agree that there are lots of examples of businesses corrupting conversations and eroding trust through opaqueness and outright lying.

  21. Dave’s made a great point–there are indeed a number of different kinds of market conversations. This year we’ve seen some seriously bad ones, but that comes from the marketers and corporations trying to spin or control the conversation in some manner. They’re just not happy with knowing the types and kinds of water-cooler or diner-counter conversations that go on about their products.

    and yes, People have very good B.S. detectors, but media pros don’t seem to. I’d like to point out the sad and embarassing hoo-ha that was made by some very high level media critics over LonelyGirl15, and the ad execs who are still talking about how wonderful the whole thing was? Wonderful? It was a group of self-promoting young adults manipulating middle-aged media critics by pretending to be a single vulnerable adolescent–and if a company did that sort of thing, it would be considered “stealth marketing” and thus Very Bad. The best thing to come out of that was the Foremskis putting the time in and sniffing out what many of us knew but just didn’t have the time (not nec. the lack of means) to investigate, even if we knew it was b.s.

    The concern, however, shouldn’t be over whether or not companies are going to engage in fake conversations, but whether or not we are educating a new generation sufficiently so that they can better spot the b.s.

  22. My yes-I-agree-but-no-I-don’t reaction to Scott’s posting is similar to David’s, and I was also puzzled enough to spend some time untangling my impressions.

    I’m uncomfortable with the “when corporations try to do the conversation thing” preface. All the scams I’ve fallen for are, in their little hearts, first authored and perpetrated by sneaky people. They may connive with others, they may use the resources a company offers to distribute and promulgate, but there’s a guiding intelligence behind each effort. The most painful times I’ve been pwned have all been because I trusted someone who was selling me something. It didn’t help I knew I was being sold to, I still got rolled. From the “buy a professional freezer and we’ll deliver great food to your doorstep” pitch to the “get buying club discounts on name brands” opportunity to our family’s real dollars-and-sense use of a Costco membership, I’ve been disappointed many times, after I believed what I learned from people I trusted. The trust grew after multiple conversations, after double-checking with friends and references, and was all the more painful for the time it took to build. In each case, I’ve learned how to be smarter, learned what I missed, and got better at the game.

    Truth in intentions is good, but sometimes the intentions aren’t bent. Enthusiasm and good listening skills combined with a flawed understanding of a product and a lack of imagination at seeing long-term or unintended consequences can make a salesperson dangerous to a customer unschooled in a particular product.

    I know my personal weaknesses as a “buyer.” If I’m attracted to something someone is selling, because I need it or imagine I do, I’ll take a peek, have a listen, possibly engage in a conversation. While unabashed mass media advertising is certainly easier to screen out than conversational personal-information-bubble-penetration gambits, I’ll still poke at the interesting ones, and take my chances with the scams. I’m convinced, rightly or wrongly, that I get a lot more raw data from conversation than I do from ads. It’s easier to break a code or a understand a protocol the more ciphertext you have, the more data you can capture.

    Maybe I’ve grown more cynical than some as I become an old fart, but I’m not at all surprised or outraged our deepening experience with the net as a medium for peddling has produced some geese that quack like ducks. Scott’s writing stands in as a surrogate to help us imagine what he could be paid to do. David’s does the same. That they’re passive publications makes them all the more interesting, as their passivity helps reinforce their trustworthiness. Maybe they’re just better peddlers?

    rick

  23. All the analysis above comes from the marketer (or at the marketer) point of view. This is about conversation, right? Two way? Putting aside deceptive marketing practices (‘cuz there are plenty, no news there) what benefits might we as consumers get from talking to or with marketers? Especially in cases where we love a particular brand or product?

    As a consumer, I think it’s exciting that the marketing world has changed (is changing) into something that wants my input, and may reward me for it. Four years ago my cousin and I started making video “ads” about our lives for PBR and for PUMA, projects which led to free beer (PBR) and paid market research in Europe (PUMA). All because we as consumers said “we dig your stuff and we’re going to show the world how.” Transparency? We marked everything we did with our name and posted what we were doing on our blog.

    As a result of our early success we’ve become students of CGM and WOM and social media and brand communities etc…I do think that as more and more consumers wake up to the reality that they can have an influence on product design and marketing (ideally not seperate fields) more and more we’ll see that brand communities are where the action happens.

    Yes, ultimately the marketer aims to make sales. But as consumers does it have to be an us vs. them mentality? Or can we (should we) choose to buy from marketers that will work with us, supporting our ideas and creativity?

  24. [...] It goes on and on like that. I nearly fell out of my chair laughing, and I must say that it was quite refreshing. I say that being generally a strong proponent of comments — some of my best blogging experiences have been engaging in intense debates in comments. The other day I posted a rant against fake corporate conversations, and I invoked The Cluetrain Manifesto — and to my surprise, two of the four Cluetrain authors, David Weinberger and Rick Levine showed up in my comments with extremely thought responses. And they weren’t alone — the post elicited a range of thoughtful responses, which together were MUCH more interesting than the original post. I have often had the experience that the comments section of a post is for more valuable than the original post. [...]

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