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Branding In Web 2.0: The Debate Rages On

Branding In Web 2.0: The Debate Rages On

Photo by aRaccoon at DeviantArt

Photo by aRaccoon at DeviantArt

Hey there, personal finance people–it’s been a while! Sorry about that, but things have gotten kind of crazy around here lately, so crazy in fact, that last night I had to bust open my husband’s bottle of Nexium and start mainlining it, because apparently being involved in blogger drama gives me GIRD. Anyway, I wrote a post about my experience at BlogHer earlier this week. Maybe you heard about it. It seems like many people have some ideas about what I should do with my ideas (I should stick them where the sun doesn’t shine), and thoughts on the experience I had at a sponsored party during the conference. But in the space of that post, and in the technological nightmare that it may or may not have spawned, it seems like personal relationships and politics are clouding the more substantial concern I addressed there, which was: how do we reconcile branding with a new medium that is based in large part about packaging and selling personal experience/personality? At what point does one’s responsibility to the brand they are representing end and their integrity as an individual begin?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, by the way. But I learned a long time ago that if you want something, you should find someone who has it and then try to copy or adapt what they did for your own purposes. Similarly, if you are presented with a situation that you’re not sure how to handle, then it follows you should find somebody who is already dealing with it, and figure out how they handle it. There will be good examples and bad examples. It is our job, if we are to be the first ones in this emerging marketplace/public relations arena, to figure out who out there is dealing with this in a good way, a way that we want to emulate.

In my mind, the only place we can turn for guidance in this kind of stuff to try to get some clues on how to handle it is (strangely and somewhat disturbingly enough) to the celebrity community. Celebrities have long had to balance their relationship with external brands and their own personal brand, and most of them employ PR companies to help with this balancing act. Celebrities balance a commodity that they own (their personal brands) with the commodities they represent (sponsors) every single day of their lives, in every aspect of their lives. Celebrities may get salaries from whatever business it is that made them famous (acting, singing, sports, what have you), but another, less-discussed source of funds for celebrities come from product endorsements/product placements in their daily lives. I am not talking about when they are (quite obviously) paid to appear on a commercial or as a spokesperson for a product. I am talking about pictures that you see, for example, in US Weekly, of Ben Affleck carrying a starbucks cup with the label facing outwards. Those are product placements, people. Nobody talks about it, and most people don’t want to believe it (I’m not sure why), but they are. I know this not only because um, DUH, that’s some valuable real estate that’s not being pixelated, so what are the odds that it’s not paid, but also because I have an acquaintance who is a member of the celebrity news industry–a relatively well known player–who confirms this. Do you know why anyone knows what Kitson is, other than a store that sells horrendously overpriced Paris Hiltonesque paraphernalia? It’s because bags were featured a ton in pictures that appeared in Us Weekly over the past few years. Before that, it was just a little store on Robertson in LA that couldn’t quite keep up with Lisa Kline; now it has two other locations and is building one in Japan. And, now that its relations with Us Weekly have soured, it appears that the magazine has started to pixelate Kitson’s bags in its photos. Hmmm.

These are the kinds of things that I think bloggers need to look at, dissect and analyze, and think about if they truly hope to turn this blogging thing they do into a source of income. In the interest of full disclosure, I will let you know that at present, the only source of income I have from this blog is direct ad placement. But I do wonder if this will change in the future: I do not necessarily see myself doing paid posts or paid product reviews (although I’ve learned to never say never), but I do wonder if I would be able to do a product placement. And I wonder what that would look like if I were to try it.

How do you feel about product placements in TV or movies? Do they bother you? Personally, I find them unobtrusive and, frankly, much preferable to a separate, traditional, “interruption” style advertisement. I think that when you have a traditional style of advertising–when paid placement is clearly marked as something separate from the creative, unpaid content–there is a false sense of security: like, if we know that it is advertising, then it won’t have an effect on us. But is this really true? Do I consciously go buy a Starbucks because I see a celebrity drinking it? Probably not. But it certainly will enter my consciousness that way, and isn’t that how subliminal advertising is supposed to work? What makes this any different, other than with a lesser extent of celebrity?

I think that online communities have a huge amount of power when it comes to influencing what people buy. Scratch that, I know they do: back in the day, when I would read about something on a message board, I’d almost always go out and buy it afterwards, almost without thinking. This is a little scary, and even if the person wasn’t being compensated for their promotion of the product, does it ultimately matter?

Which is a roundabout way of asking: what would product placement look like in a blog? Would it be me telling you that I happened to drink coffee at Starbucks today? Would I feature a picture of myself drinking a diet coke, but not endorse the idea that you should go out and buy it? Would it be like Survivor, where I’d have to come up with excuses to go and hang out in the Folgers/Charmins coffee hut? I dunno. Remember back in the day they would blank out the labels on sitcoms, so you couldn’t see the brand of food/drink/whatnot they were consuming? Should I be doing that? Should I tell you that I prefer one diet cola beverage, but be elusive about telling you which one it is? What do you guys think?

Comments (2)

  1. Jul 31, 2009

    Quentin Tarantino only shows his characters eating defunct 70s cereals to avoid product placement. (Also I’m sure it’s because 70s cereals just seem cooler somehow, too.)

  2. Laura
    Aug 15, 2010

    Anna,
    I would love to have the chance to discuss these ideas with you because I find them absolutely fascinating (alas, totally wishful thinking as I am stuck in the middle of the country). I love how you approach social media almost from an anthropologist’s viewpoint. I think an in depth study of the mommy blogosphere would make for some fascinating graduate work. Do you know if anyone has ever attempted such a thing? Also, what field of study do you think this type of analysis would fall under — marketing, communication, journalism, sociology? These are the questions that keep me up at night. What say you?

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