Are fake blogs savvy marketing tools or the thin end of a wedge that will undermine the credibility of all blogs?
He points to Beta-7, a fake blog conceived, if that’s the right word, by the New York office of Portland, Ore.-based advertising agency Wieden & Kennedy. ”The blog was intended to create a buzz for Sega’s “ESPN NFL Football 2K4” game and draw attention away from Electronic Arts’ “Madden Football 2004″–the game that dominates the segment,” Nishi writes. “The Beta-7 blog and two others featured pictures of injuries suffered by gamers during blackouts, and bulletin-board messages were posted across the Internet about the adverse side effects of playing. Confidential company memos–purportedly acquired by another game tester–were posted that portrayed Sega as increasingly worried about the problems.” The whole thing was basically a scam: “Beta-7 ran for four months and ended with the September release of the game. The beginning and end of the campaign were scripted ahead of time, but everything in between was created on the fly and in response to how the audience reacted.”
Of course, we can get all snotty about this. But the bottom line is that the site attracted 2.2 million visitors, and sales improved over last year by 20 percent, selling about 360,000 games. It was certainly more successful than Dr Pepper/7 Up Inc.’s Raging Cow, a flavored-milk drink targeted at teens and young adults. Nishi writes that when legitimate bloggers discovered that company-sponsored shills were recruited to post comments to blogs, some bloggers responded by creating a Web site to boycott Raging Cow. “The boycott is going a year later.” Warner Bros also got sliced when editors of blogs traced suspiciously positive comments about a band Warner Bros.
To me the whole thing is silly and misleading. Blogging is a new medium and doesn’t need this kind of Trojan Horse pretence. But I guess there’s also an argument that if users are dumb enough — or wise but willing to be entertained — then it doesn’t really matter. Hell, what passes for news on TV these days is more often than not just dressed-up reality TV. I guess I’d hoped blogging would remain a raw, honest medium for a while longer, and that a keen and clear understanding of the blogger’s background and motives would be the first thing readers would look for.