Adverteerders nog niet klaar voor weblogs?
Gawker Media, one of the biggest brands in Web log publishing, launched a saucy urban travel blog called Gridskipper on Jan. 31. On that day, the logo of the site’s sole sponsor, Cendant Corp.‘s Cheaptickets, could be found in ads on each page. But by Feb. 3, the company had removed its banners and boxes, leaving empty spaces on some pages.
In the intervening days, Gridskipper covered editorial topics such as eating psychedelic mushrooms in Amsterdam’s Van Gogh museum and the pricing policies of an escort service in Prague. Cheaptickets declined to comment, but Nick Denton, Gawker’s founder, says he thinks the site was “too naughty” for its sponsor.
At their best, blogs are an advertiser’s dream: the diary-style Web sites that feature running commentary and reactions are tightly targeted niche markets where avant-garde enthusiasts regularly return to read, post and send in tips. Well-placed blog ads can boost a company’s image as cutting-edge. Plus, they’re inexpensive: $350 a week, for instance, for premium positioning on Mr. Denton’s high-profile inside-Washington blog, Wonkette, which got 2.2 million “page views” last month, a measure of how many times a single visitor looks at one Web site page.
But many companies are wary of putting their brand on such a new and unpredictable medium. Most blogs are written by a lone author. They are typically unedited and include spirited responses from readers who can post comments at will. Some marketers fear blogs will criticize their products or ad campaigns. And, like all new blog readers, companies are just learning how to track what’s being said on blogs and which ones might make a good fit for their ads.
As a result, advertising on blogs is still in the early stages. Although advertising on Web sites was a $9.6 billion business in the U.S. last year, according to Interactive Advertising Bureau there is little data to date on blog ad-spending. Blogads.com, a service that matches bloggers and advertisers, says its business has grown from 28 ads in September 2002 to 1,685 ads last month.
The vast majority of the 8 million or so blogs currently in existence have few if any ads. Many are run by hobbyists or armchair commentators, some of whom sign up to carry tiny text ads from a large pool of advertisers through a service from Google Inc. The ads generate revenue only when a visitor clicks on the ad. Most bloggers, like Ronni Bennett, a former television producer who lives in New York’s Greenwich Village and writes about aging on timegoesby.net, can’t even offset the cost of her Internet access. Her site gets between 1,200 and 1,500 page views a day, bringing in all of $50 since December 2004.
For bigger advertisers, finding the right blog is critical, which is where Blogads.com comes in. Blogs that have been in existence for at least six months and have a dedicated readership can join Blogads.com’s database, which currently lists about 750 sites. Advertisers use Blogads.com to find blogs with suitable content (technology, media, fashion) or political slant. They can purchase ads through Blogads.com by the week or the month. Prices range from $10 to $3,000 for better-known blogs. Marketers can chose which sites to advertise on and bloggers can accept or reject the ads.
Henry Copeland, Blogads.com’s founder, works with marketers to create successful blog ads, which he says should be different from regular Web ads. “We just kind of shudder when we hear from an advertiser, ‘Wow, I hear blogs are cool and cheap, and I want to be on a blog,’ ” he says.
Instead, he advises advertisers to think like bloggers, and remember they are joining an ongoing conversation, incorporate links to other sites and use a voice that fits the blog’s general tone. Above all, he says, they should stop hitting readers over the head with giant logos. One good example he points to is an ad that Knopf, a publishing division of Bertelsmann AG’s Random House, designed for Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami’s most recent book. Rather than linking to a site that sells the book, Knopf’s ad joins in the spirit of blogging by quoting and linking to other blogs that discuss the book, such as MetaFilter.
For advertisers dizzied by choices on Blogads.com, the few established blog networks stand out as relatively safe harbors. Mr. Denton’s Gawker Media was founded in 2002, and now publishes 11 blogs including Gawker (gossip and pop culture), Gizmodo (gadgets), and Jalopnik (cars). Another network is Weblogs Inc., which now operates 76 blogs, including its own high-traffic gadget and car titles, Engadget and Autoblog. Weblogs has taken in $925,000 in advertising revenue over the last four months.
“For now, we prefer blog networks with known publishers,” says John Cate, vice president and national media director for Carat Interactive, an international online-ad agency.
Some big advertisers have run successful blog campaigns. Sony Corp. is currently the sole sponsor of a geek-chic technology blog from Gawker Media called Lifehacker. A spokeswoman calls it “an initial pilot program” representing “a minimal investment for Sony Electronics.”
Gawker’s Jalopnik launched last year with Volkswagen AG’s Audi as the sole sponsor. Linking up the two was relatively low-risk because the Audi message jibed with the site’s audience—cool, car-obsessed and Internet-savvy. “Audi is a dream advertiser. We like the cars. We can get enthusiastic about coming up with creative campaigns,” says Gawker’s Mr. Denton.
Jalopnik is “a natural medium for us to reach Audi prospects,” says Jim Taubitz, Audi’s online marketing manager. He says the ads performed as well as those placed on traditional Web sites; Audi ended its first run on Jalopnik in January, but is back for a weeks-long campaign for the launch of its new A4.
Jalopnik has written positively of Audi, but that wasn’t in the contract. Just as with most reputable newspapers and magazines, Gawker and Weblogs say buying advertising on their blogs doesn’t buy good publicity. In the blog world in general, though, there isn’t any widespread ethical guarantee that bloggers won’t be influenced by advertisers.
Blogs’ reader commentary can take unpredictable turns—which is why it takes a thick-skinned company to experiment in this medium. On Weblogs’ Autoblog and Engadget blogs, some ads are followed by a link that says, “Comment on this automobile,” or “Comment on this product/service.” On Engadget, 24 readers did just that, offering praise, suggestions and criticism about the ad and the products for Griffin Technology, a Nashville, Tenn., maker of Apple accessories.
Some of the comments were negative, but according to Weblogs founder Jason Calacanis, customer-friendly companies need not be timid. “If you’re hiding from your customers, you don’t like their feedback, you treat your customers terribly, blogs are the worst place to be,” he says, adding, “PR people and hype-based marketers are not doing well in the blogosphere.”
For now, many big companies are sitting on the sidelines. “We’re in a wait-and-see mode,” says Stuart Bogaty, senior partner and managing director of mOne Worldwide, a digital ad agency that is part of WPP Group. He thinks that companies will remain skittish until agencies can better monitor and control what individual bloggers are saying about them. On the other hand, that might undercut their renegade appeal. “If we were able to convince a blogger to do that,” he notes, “it would reduce the value of his blog in general.”
Many Advertisers Find Blogging Frontier Is Still Too Wild (door: [email@example.com]Jessica Mintz[/email]).