This blog not for rent (though a USB mini fridge would be cool)

USBFridgeWith a potential reach of 67,510,400 Internet users in Brazil, companies and brands have a huge potential market to reach with their products. Eighty-five percent of Brazilian internet users visit social networking sites (click here for full study), with Member Communities accounting for almost one in every 4 online minutes in Brazil alone. (Member Communities include both social networking and blogging websites.) With a growing communications toolkit at their disposal, brands need to think about a mix of traditional and new media to achieve sales goals. While digital media is hot right now, not every tool is right for every campaign. Sometimes a simple video or commercial might be better than a video, and a blog, and an Orkut app, or whatever. So while thinking about what a company should do in social media, a company also needs to pay close attention to what they shouldn’t do.

aluguelWhile researching social media campaigns in Brazil, a particular brand campaign from July 2008 came up over and over again. On July 3, 2008, Coca Cola, Brazil “launched the drink i9 – Hidrotonico, the Brazilian version of Powerade. As a part of the i9 marketing strategy in blogs and social media, Coca Cola handpicked 9 prominent bloggers, custom made their homepage and gifted them a fancy USB mini fridge (above) with the new product to be tested – a reason to blog about.” While companies have been offering gifts to PR firms, journalists, and bloggers for years, this campaign had a backfire effect. BlueBus, a Brazilian blog, picked up the story and cried foul, with a belief that CocaCola was trying to buy bloggers. They even created a term, “blogs-de-aluguel” or “rent-a-blog” to refer to what they felt was an unethical practice. In response to BlueBus, bloggers created an “I am not a rent-a-blog blogger” manifesto (accompanying badge at left), which reads:

A blog is a personal page, is a time logbook, is expression, is someone saying what they think/reckon/believe for those who want to read it. There aren’t bloggers’ union, wages, holidays, but we do lots of overtime. A blogger is not a journalist or an advertising agent: they can be everything and nothing, teenager or mother, hairdresser or CEO. Each one has the audience they deserve, the credibility they have conquered.

Some of the bloggers felt that BlueBus was jealous because they were not chosen to participate in the campaign. Others simply felt that it’s OK to receive a small honorarium to write about a product. U.S. marketer and blogger Chris Brogan addressed the issue in a blog post and stated that the issue could have been less controversial by the simple tactic of disclosure. In other words, the bloggers should have been upfront about receiving a freebie from Coke. Brogan takes the issue a step further with a list of “Considerations for Bloggers and for Marketers.” A few include
•    Always be outright and up front. Don’t be OVERLY apologetic or explanatory, but explain it. Disclose whenever you feel you should.
•    Be ready for fallout. Not every blogger has the same motives, nor do they always understand the tactful way to do things. Should there be an issue, it will probably hit hard and fast. Be ready and listening.
•    Be clear about what happens at the end of the project, so that expectations are fully met on all sides.

The second bullet is the most relevant here. A company needs to be cautious to avoid fallout by carefully thinking through their strategy. So what was the result? Did the blogger incident impact Coke’s sales on this new product? Or did it hurt their reputation? While I was unable to find sales statistics for Hidrotonico, it is apparent that Coke’s reputation was indeed sullied by the event. If you search for the product online, most results relate to the rent-a-blog issues. In fact it’s hard to find the product Website during search. So anybody looking for information about the product is most likely going to read first about the controversy from last year.

In terms of how this relates to social media branding in Brazil, Paula Góes states on her Global Voices blog, “The “monetization” debate is never out of fashion on the Brazilian blogosphere, with heated opinions both for and against the fact that bloggers may use blogs to make some money or even a living out of writing.” Additionally, what we can deduce from this case study is that Coca Cola put enough stock in the power of social media to engage the bloggers, so social media is being viewed as a viable and important marketing tactic. Companies are realizing the value of engagement and conversation, which is a cornerstone of social media marketing in general. As another example, while it had elements of traditional media and social media, Doritos has engaged consumers in Brazil with a social media contest. It is likely that more companies, Brazilian and otherwise, will continue to use new tactics to promote their brands.

What this means for brands engaging in social media in Brazil is that they need to be extra cautious about offering payment or premiums for bloggers. There is strong chance of blowback because there is now a precedent set by the i9 Hidrotonico case. Therefore, I would advise a company to implement a disclosure clause similar to that laid out by Chris Brogan, above. This way both parties (company and blogger) will know the expectations and rules of engagement. Though I couldn’t find any stats to suggest that Coke sales suffered because of the blowback from this campaign, this case study provides a cautionary tale for other brands that may be interested in pitching bloggers to promote their products. From my perspective, I think that as long as a blogger is upfront about receiving an item and provides a fair assessment, it is OK for the blogger to receive a product from a company for review. Additionally, the company needs to realize that the bloggers’ assessment may not be favorable, but it should at least be balanced.

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2 Responses to This blog not for rent (though a USB mini fridge would be cool)

  1. This is a big topic you take on here when it comes to paying for posts or engaging bloggers through things like gifts and freebies. Despite the size of the topic, you do an excellent job of looking at the issue through the lens of Brazilians usage of the web. Your examples are well chosen and the links you include support your post as well. (4)

  2. Alex Greenbaum says:

    You should win “blog title of the week,” if there is such a thing.

    I think sour grapes was (likely) the reason behind BlueBus’s reaction to the Coca Cola campaign, but they make a good point. We should hold bloggers to the same standards that we hold traditional media. Unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

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