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What I’ve Learned From The Great ABDPBT Product Placement Experiment Thusfar

What I’ve Learned From The Great ABDPBT Product Placement Experiment Thusfar

los angeles kids party decorations

Well, folks, the first experiment with product placement on ABDPBT is now up for your perusal on a carefully redesigned page (so as to not befoul my wonderfully lucrative BlogHer branded ads by promoting a far more generous another business alongside them). Please do read the write-up when you get a chance, and consider patronizing the Treehouse establishment, if it is any possibility for you geographically. Below, I’ve listed some of the things I’ve learned thusfar during the experiment, and some things to consider upon moving forward with this kind of venture. Enjoy!

  1. Be prepared to explain why and how a business would want to be promoted in social media.
    grocery play room

    One thing that comes up a lot when you talk to people about a branding opportunity with a blog is that they don’t really understand what you’re talking about or why anybody would want to do it. We internet addicts take for granted that blogs are great marketing tools, but for the population as a whole, bloggers are just weird people who get maligned in the media for eating too many Cheetos (<-- not a paid placement) and trying to take away journalists' jobs. You might have to walk them through what a placement can do for them, including the really basic stuff like coming up in a search engine, and having the placement be more convincing than if you were to buy some kind of ad placement in a yellow pages or something like that. You might have to explain to them that big businesses are courting mommy bloggers for this very reason -- do not assume that they already know this. Even if we don't think it's that big of a deal that Tide (<--- not a paid placement) sends so many people to BlogHer in the hopes of getting mentioned favorably by a blogger, the small business owner will be very interested in this fact. You can use that information to your advantage to talk about why they should partner with you, and it will be very convincing to them.

  2. Just because a product matches your blog, doesn’t mean the business will match.
    cupcake tree

    Not everybody we approached for this experiment wanted to sign on as a sponsor. In some cases, it was because they weren’t interested in dealing with social media. In others, it was because . . . well, let’s say you’re trying to get a sponsor for cupcakes, and you send them to your blog on a day when the title of your post contains the word “douchebag.” Let’s just say they might not be interested in partnering you at that point, particularly if they are owned by a fairly religious and conservative family. In cases like those, it doesn’t really matter that the product is a match, because the owners of the business don’t want their product associated with you. It’s tempting in those situations to think, “Oh, I should clean up my language,” but that’s the wrong move, in my opinion, because people come to my blog for a reason, and if I start changing that brand that I’ve created in order to please sponsors . . . I’m going to lose my audience. So, just accept that sometimes people will reject you for reasons that you cannot control and it’s not the end of the world.

  3. Working out a package deal for mentions might be more effective moving forward.
    Mini popping bubbles

    In the case of Mini’s birthday, the placement seems to have worked because it’s a single event at an establishment that I’ve patronized as a regular customer before, and would recommend to anybody looking for a place to have their kid’s party. I believe in their brand, and don’t feel bad promoting it, and the promotion can contain pictures and testimonials that are “natural.” The problem with product placement in blogs, though, is that, unlike on TV or in movies, where any time you see a brand it’s a paid placement, is that here, I’m supposed to tell you every single time I mention a brand name that I have a relationship with, and this is super awkward, as I was poking fun at above with my references to Cheetos and Tide.

    rocking out at a kids party

    Once you work on a placement, there is a feeling that you should not mention any product without getting paid for it, but that’s not a natural way to blog.

    I’m still working out how to address this, but what I’ve come up with thusfar is that what might be a way of dealing with this issue is to approach a brand that is likely to come up in your every day life often because it’s something you use all of the time (Diet Coke would be the best example for me). Now, I don’t mention Diet Coke all the time that I use it, but if I worked out a deal with Diet Coke for placement, what I’d tell them is, “You know, I’ll work in a named reference to Diet Coke, or put it in the background of a picture X amount of times over the course of say, six months.” Then, I could disclose to everyone that I have a product placement relationship with Diet Coke, ahead of time, and then go about my blogging way, and when you read the words Diet Coke or saw a can, you’d know this, but I wouldn’t have to keep writing Diet Coke (<--- paid placement) over and over again. Does that make sense? I'm sill puzzling this out, but I think that might work better.

  4. The ethics of product placement is complicated and kind of makes my head hurt.
    gift wrap

    When I started this, I thought the toughest part of this would be figuring out a way to weave in a sponsor to a blog post without it being super awkward. But now — minus the awkwardness that is de rigueur when you start out a post with a graphic disclosing a sponsorship relationship — I’m finding that the hardest part is figuring out what kinds of brands are really good matches and how much you can do before you start alienating your readership. My readership is potentially looking at these kinds of deals from several different angles, so this gives me some leeway, but I still struggle with how much is too much, and how many times can you partner with brands before people start thinking of you as just a shill with no credibility?

    I recall a time last year where some of the Eleven Moms were being skewered for accepting Visa Gift Cards as payment for some kind of promotion they’d done for Walmart. I thought, at the time, that the criticism was unfair, because it should be up to the business owner to decide how they are going to receive payment, and why is it any of our concern? But then recently, I saw a compensated placement (ironically, it was on the blog of one of the more vocal critics of the Eleven Moms) for a washer dryer set, and I immediately thought, “So, your price is a new washer and dryer?” And if I’m making that kind of a judgment, then I have to assume other people are, too. I don’t think it’s something that strictly goes by dollar amount, either . . . because if you are endorsing a product that you just received as a gift, I think it reads differently than if you start getting paid to endorse a product that you’ve always used and would have always recommended to your friends. But then, why would a company pay you to do this, if you’re doing it for free? And does this mean you should just not ever talk about any brand unless they pay you, lest you scare off potential advertisers?

    There’s definitely a reason that display advertising is easier and more widely used, even though it’s not as effective as a content campaign. Do you see what I’m saying? I’m getting a headache just thinking about all of this. But I’d love to hear what you guys think of it, so please let me know in the comments.

Comments (6)

  1. Apr 19, 2010

    It gives me a headache too. I don’t know the answer.

    I think that for me, a big part of it is (a) whether I already like the blog, and (b) whether it’s a product I would like. This one doesn’t bother me a bit…in fact, I have been looking forward to reading about it, because my youngest kid is five months younger than yours and this is a place I would totally go to if I wasn’t 2,000 miles away. If you were shilling for someone that was totally out of character for you, I’d maybe feel differently.

    I will say, though, that my thoughts on this have come a long way in the past couple of years. I read magazines (Real Simple, In Style) that are full of product placements, so I’m more used to it now. In fact, the NY Times had an article this morning about a People Magazine offshoot that is pretty much all product placements. I think that, increasingly, people just understand that this is how it works nowadays.

    When television first started, shows were sponsored and it was WAY more overt. This isn’t really all that new.

  2. Apr 19, 2010

    It’s a balancing act, but you’re never going to be able to please everyone in your audience. Some people will balk at any promotional content. Some will have a sliding scale of where their boundary lies. Some won’t care one way or the other.
    I think the key is to do it in a way that feels authentic TO YOU. Most of your readers will then give you the benefit of the doubt because they trust that you are the biggest watchdog of your brand there is. I can always tell when a blog starts to just go off the rails with promotion just because it’s being offered–the voice starts to change, and things start to feel weird. Stay true to yourself first (a la the cupcake point above) and I think most of your readers will go with it.
    And also, looks like the party was a big hit! No cake melting heat this time either 🙂

  3. Apr 19, 2010

    Kerry, that reminds me of an idea I had for a post a while back, I wanted to go and see if I could dig up any kind of study done on the history of product placement in TV and movies. Because I remember a time when there would be products on TV and people would cover up the brand, this was standard for things like milk cartons and whatever. I remember noticing it as a child and thinking it was weird on shows like Who’s The Boss?, etc.

    Then, at some point, everything started becoming branded and you might hear some jokes made about it, I remember specifically an issue of Mad Magazine spoofing a placement of Pepsi in the movie The Goonies (god, I am SUCK A NERD). So clearly it wasn’t a common practice at that point, it was just starting. And now, it’s just assumed that it’s standard. Did movies or TV go through a period where they had to disclose like bloggers do? And if not, why not? And also, who is going to know if you’re disclosing or not? I cannot stop mentioning brands in my blog according to whether or not I have a relationship with them or not, it’s just not going to work.

    It kind of makes me want to not do placements, but the thing is, I think that this is where people are going to want to put their advertising money in the future, if you could get to a point where people just expected it and you didn’t have to point it out to them every damn time.

  4. Apr 19, 2010

    You know, it’s interesting, because the only part of this whole thing that feels inauthentic to me is when I have to say, “Hey, this is compensated.” Because I would totally promote these people anyway, and believe in the product, and think it’s something most of my readers would be interested in, but when I have to say with glaring lights “this is a paid placement,” THAT’s when I feel like an ass. I really wish there was a way to do it where you just assumed that any time a brand was mentioned it *could* be a placement, or it might not be, but it didn’t matter, because I was only going to promote stuff that I actually buy myself.

    But it seems like it’s asking a lot.

    And yeah, it will be hard to not just go to the Treehouse again next year, and the year after that, and the year after that. So much easier, and Mini LOVED it.

  5. We heart the Treehouse too 😉

  6. Susan Tiner
    May 3, 2010

    The Treehouse piece is great! I agree with Ginger that your readers will trust you to make good decisions about placement. I see what you mean about it being uncomfortable to announce the paid placement, but agree with others that this is already pretty well accepted and so it’s probably not as glaring to readers as you think. At some point you have to trust that your readers aren’t second guessing your judgment, that they know you’re trying to make it work well for everyone.

    It would be great if you could dig up the history of placement in TV and movies.

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