Paid Placement Without Full Disclosure Is Unethical

Bloated sow nursing piglets.
Jim Skyped me about his recent post about the Pay-per-post model that is starting to be ratcheted up by companies like Pay Per Post, Loudcloud and Creamaid:

Is pay-per-post [without disclosure] a “black hat” business model? Some would say that it is but they are among the purists in the blogosphere. The blogger capitalists that I speak to say that it is a great model that should be a money maker for bloggers all over and that companies should take advantage of the phenomena while they can.

Here’s my thoughts:
Paid placement without disclosure is always unethical. Rebuttal: But since when has ethics ever been important in a capitalist economy?
Some marketers and companies will always treat customers like livestock – like bloated sows to be milked for money and then tossed into the chipper shredder for further extraction. The Great and Powerful brand remained a one-way communications channel, an echo of top-down command-and-control organizations. You’ll buy our product and you’ll damn well like it.
Blogs were different because they were in a ‘real’ human voice and divorced from the sewage written by committee. Personality trumps brand in this case. A product’s quality and how it is talked about among ‘real’ people becomes more important than a product’s perception management. A blogger’s reputation and trust is built up over time via loyal readership, interlinkage and search engine ranking. Large companies that don’t understand blogs don’t have the patience to build trust or loyalty – loyalty to a person (who may leave the company) vs loyalty to a brand (that is eternal).
Bloggers like to pump up how transparent and self-correcting things are in the blogosphere. When paid placement without full disclosure is added to this mix – the system breaks down. The transparency becomes occlusion and the ‘real’ voice becomes another corporate mascot.
I think another question is the difference between editorial and advertising. I think magazines wrestle with this when you see a 4 page section laid out exactly like the rest of the magazine except for the word SPECIAL ADVERTISING SUPPLEMENT in tiny type at the bottom. Labeling content as advertising or paid placement does get us ‘off the hook’ so to speak.
On the other hand, I have no pity for companies that make shitty products or treat their employees like shit and then pay others to pump up their offerings instead of improving said shitty product. Then it all just becomes public relations and we’re back to square one.
Companies that facilitate paid placement on blogs and don’t require disclosure by the bloggers are doing a cute little dance that We know that we’re supposed to do this – but we don’t want to require it because then we might not have as many clients so we’re just going to recommend disclosure and not enforce it. They choose higher volume/income instead of respecting the blog format.
In other news, my new favorite ALT tag for images is ‘Bloated sow nursing piglets.’






10 responses to “Paid Placement Without Full Disclosure Is Unethical”

  1. Peter Avatar

    How do we know that this post wasn’t paid for by Pay-per-post?
    (meant as a rhetorical question, not an insult)

  2. Andy Wibbels Avatar

    That’s our brave new world of blogging. If there’s no ‘editor’ then disclosure isn’t required (not that having an editor these days means you have any amount of imperative to integrity). You can only take me at my word. Or talk to folks, clients, etc. to see if I am trustworthy.

  3. Carlos Reo-Dero Avatar

    Often ethical standards sounds like a goreign language as far as the corporate world is concerned, especially in a capitalist planet, not that our entire planet is capitalist. Is it not a matter of interpretation..? I guess the core questions is what are blogs made for when it comes to corporate..? Rephrase: What do corporations need Blogs for..? It is the same ole ancient saying, means justify the end.. right..? It is wrong. Once upon a time, disclosure was the core basis of any transaction, whether it be electronic or not.. and so it should remain as such even in a world like the one bloggers live. I honestly think we are wasting precious breath trying to beat some moralistic sense into the heads and hearts of corporates.. it will all go un-noticed, I shit you not. Rather, Trade Practices, legal issues and regulations must be triggered to add some pressure on these guys to do the right thing or else. However, are they breaking any law..?? Possibly.. and may even be in more trouble than they and we thought, and sooner or later the Pay by Post system will come to its demise.. Hold me to this.

  4. Pamela Slim Avatar

    I totally agree Andy, although in the case of your closing metaphor, it is the sow and her piglets that will be ashamed of being affiliated with the blog-for-hires.

  5. Pat Gundry Avatar

    Oh, Andy, that sow is not bloated, she’s engorged.
    She has not overindulged in food or drink, she’s not overweight. She’s just doing the mommy thing.
    Had to tell you.
    Raised on a farm, have to defend the mommy pigs from defamation of character.
    And, she has no book fat either.

  6. Margaret Saizan Avatar

    I’m staying away from pay-per-post at the moment because of the controversy. It’s not that I agree that it’s a black hat business model – I mean c’mon radio announcers have been pitching products over the air waves for eons – does that make radio advertising a black hat business model??? And what about the old, tried and true web affililate model? Webbies have been monetizing their sites by recommending products for some time. It’s just that until the dust settles on this bit, I don’t think it would be a good PR move for me at this time.
    But here’s the deal. I wouldn’t feature any product or service at my blogs that I didn’t personally believe in and/or wholeheartedly endorse either because I’ve tried the product,/service, believe in its value, or in the integrity of its creator- regardless of whether my motivations were to pass a good thing forward OR for compensation.
    At its core the real issue then is less about the business model,and more about the blogger’s integrity and values. And it doesn’t just boil down to disclosure of the sponsorship conditions – even if someone discloses that they are getting paid to post, if they over-hype or say things that aren’t factual, for example if they’ve never even tried the product they are pitching – then to me, that’s as equally out of integrity.
    On another note, friend Jennifer Louden, clearly post her business policy at her website and in her ezine. See, below….
    Recommendation Policy:
    I write this newsletter as a deep expression of my values and learning. I also often make recommendations of books, services, and ideas that I find of exceptional quality and interest to my audience. Sometimes I earn commissions on these recommendations, like Amazon, more often I don’t. In every case, I only make a recommendation if I believe the offer is well worth your investment. If you are ever disappointed in one of my recommendations, please let me know.
    I really love the authenticity and transparency behind this policy. Bloggers wanting to monetize their blogs without sacrificing their values could adopt a similar policy and post it clearly – In that manner, pay-for-post, or any other form of sponsorship not only can work, but it can be an expanded expression of the blogger’s values, passion and integrity.
    Thanks for letting me weigh in!
    Margaret Saizan
    Big Vision Media

  7. Andy Wibbels Avatar

    I amend my bloated sow with milk-engorged. Thanks, Pat!
    I mean c’mon radio announcers have been pitching products over the air waves for eons – does that make radio advertising a black hat business model?
    With the implication that everything they say is a direct product of a marketing program and department. Ergo the usual payola scams.

  8. Des Walsh Avatar

    An old song of the cautionary tale variety comes to mind – one of several versions:
    One evening in October when I was far from sober,
    To keep my feet from wandering I tried.
    My poor legs were all aflutter so I lay down in the gutter,
    And a pig came up and lay down by my side.
    We sang, “Never mind the weather just as long as we’re together,”
    Till a lady passing by was heard to say,
    “All his self-respect he loses when such company he chooses,”
    And the pig got up and slowly walked away.
    Or the version I heard in younger days: You can tell a man that boozes/By the company he chooses/ And the pig got up and slowly walked away.
    Not that there’s anything wrong with pigs……

  9. Christine Loff Avatar

    I couldn’t agree more! Everything in our lives is getting polluted with advertising and the hunt for the “all-mighty-buck”. If bloggers are going to promote products, I think it is ethical to disclose you are recommending products for profit. If you really use the product and really would recommend it, that is authentic; but you should also point out you like it so well, you are selling it or promoting it. As for stuff you don’t use, well…
    As for ethics, eventually the chickens do come home to roost–look at Enron. What you put out, is what you get back.

  10. Richard Quick, Esq. Avatar

    HONESTY id the key to effective marketing (and blogging).
    Once you can fake that, the rest is easy.
    The ultimate in product placement is the current KFC “First Ad in Space” promotion where they’re beaming their logo onto the moon. I posted the image and story, for your convenience and edification, at FRANWORST.COM.
    For the cynics: no, that was not just a plug for the KFC promotional parody at FRANWORST.COM. God knows my bandwith is about to pop its buttons as it is at FRANWORST.COM
    See you on the veranda!

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