People involved with the payoffs are extremely reluctant to discuss them, but four contributing writers to prominent publications including Mashable, Inc, Business Insider, and Entrepreneur told me they have personally accepted payments in exchange for weaving promotional references to brands into their work on those sites. Two of the writers acknowledged they have taken part in the scheme for years, on behalf of many brands.
One of them, a contributor to Fast Company and other outlets who asked not to be identified by name, described how he had inserted references to a well-known startup that offers email marketing software into multiple online articles, in Fast Company and elsewhere, on behalf of a marketing agency he declined to name. To make the references seem natural, he said, he often links to case studies and how-to guides published by the startup on its own site. Other times, he’ll just praise a certain aspect of the company’s business to support a point in an otherwise unrelated story. (As of press time, Fast Company had not responded to a request for comment.)
This is hardly surprising to anyone who has spent a decent amount of time on the web. I can confirm, however, that I’ve never partaken in anything like this, and the occasional request of this nature goes straight into my spam folder.
I’d consider it, but all I’ve ever gotten were idiot articles about sports promoting god knows what for 2 digits.
The whole advertorial/”native advertising” scheme has been going on for a while now. And while there’s been a fair amount of coverage (E.g. Jim Sterling’s “Casinos and SEO Juice” a few months back: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bARSNVobUk), the cynic in me suspects those examples are only the tip of the iceberg. “Native advertising” seems to be similar to things like CGI, usability, in that it’s only noticeable when it’s done badly.
By way of personal anecdote, I used to get fairly regular inquiries from potential hosting customers in the US, who were specifically looking for hosting on servers physically located in Canada. For a while, I couldn’t figure out why (it’s almost always more expensive than US-based options, even without with the exchange rate)… until finally, I was contacted by someone who was shameless enough to admit that it solely because Canada doesn’t have any equivalent to the US “endorsement disclosure” laws for bloggers.
Amazon Australia had a dismal launch yesterday. A couple of later there there was an avalanche of “news” extolling the virtues of Amazon and all the bargains there.
“[TechCrunch editor-at-large John Biggs] estimates that he receives two or three similar [bribe] offers each month, and he doesnâ€™t take them seriously.”
Which is as far as I got in reading this article. TechCrunch is in bed with so many companies and startups it doesn’t need any off-the-street marketer to bribe their way into their articles.
“Organic press is far more effective”
Organic garbage, more like it. Next.
These kinds of articles raise my suspicion level the most:
* “What I use”. It often sounds like these are the personal devices of the writer, but often they are “loaners/give-away/demo-models” supplied by the manufacturers. As long as there is a disclaimer at the top of the article and with every product as a reminder I am okay with this
* “Best in category”. Often the devices came first and the category is created around them. Other models are, often intentionally, left out
* Product placement
* How to do “AI”, where “AI” then becomes synonymous with 1 specific product or where it is linked to a conference to learn more
* Product X is horrible (written by somebody that works on a competing product)
* Company Y is horrible (written by somebody that works for a competing manufacturer)
* Or product X/Company Y is great (written by an employee or by a sponsored researcher)
In general it is good for a consumer to apply this 1 journalistic principle: What is the reason that the writer of this piece wrote the piece?
I have no evidence to back this up, but I suspect that the same thing is happening on network TV news in the US (NBC, ABC, CBS).
I started getting suspicious when they would have a story about a drug study (needless to say, teased with exaggerated headline) with only marginally interesting results. It was jarring, especially considering the many important stories in the world that get no coverage at all.
It only makes sense if they are paid “infomercial” pieces. And the crass way the network executives admit to their greediness does nothing to argue otherwise. (The hand-wringing of books like “Who Killed CBS?” in the 1980s seems quaint now.)
So Thom, are you willing to share with us which brands/companies tried to get into bed with you? (assuming the soliticors reveal that in their first emails…)