The shape of money

The Federal Trade Commission is in the midst of hearings about advertising and marketing practices amd pitfalls in an online, interactive, globally-wired world. The hearings, titled “Protecting Consumers in the Next Tech-ade,” are being webcast for those who can’t fly to Washington, and the FTC has created a blog to “explore new technologies and their impact on products and business practices, with emphasis on the implications such developments will have for the consumer over the next ten years.”

I stumbled upon the FTC site this morning, and it seems like a fact-finding exercise to lay the groundword for future regulatory or legislative action. Even the quick scan I was able to do this morning disclosed some fascinating discussions taking place on the blog, such as “A Debate on New Marketing Techniques” between Professor Joseph Turow of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication, and Dave Morgan, founder and Chairman of TACODA Systems, a firm that specializes in behavioral targeting of advertisements.

At one point in this blog debate, Turow writes critically of efforts by marketers to disguise their message and move their advertising out of traditional channels in a guerilla campaign to push products. He cites an Advertising Age article that touched on a practice called “seeding” (the quotes within the segment below are from Ad Age):

“This can mean ‘hiring actors, or shills’ — apparently ordinary people who reflect the target audience — in clandestine campaigns that ‘may consist of seeding chat rooms, blogs and forums with paid-for messages.’ Even real space isn’t safe: such hired messengers might be seen … ‘hanging out in a Starbucks with the product conspicuously displayed, awaiting the unwitting passerby to start a dialogue.’ Procter & Gamble’s Tremor program, for example, solicits teens to talk up products to friends online and off — without asking them to disclose that they are being compensated.”

Morgan, the online advertising systems vendor, does not directly address Turow’s issues, so “debate” is a bit of a misnomer (dare we say a misleading advertisement!). But both writers are talking about the same phenomena — the proliferation of advertising media, the fragmentation of audiences, the ease of channel-changing and commercial avoidance, all of which force advertisers to change their tactics to get attention. Morgan simply sees the upside of these trends as consumer choice when he writes:

“As ad avoidance increases, advertisers and marketers must change their models and their approaches. They can no longer ‘push’ ads to consumers; they now need ads that consumers will ‘pull.’ Consumer marketers now need to create ads that consumers deem relevant, so their first instinct won’t be to avoid them This means engaging in a true value exchange with consumers. This means creating new ways to deliver relevant ads so that they reach consumers when they might want them. This means actually developing relationships with consumers. This is new and it is not easy, particularly for traditional companies, but it is starting to happen, particularly on the Internet.”

Anyhow, there’s more of a similar caliber on the blog, and I didn’t even have an easy way to screen the webcasts, which continue through tomorrow. So all I can do is bookmark the FTC site and try to mine it for ideas for future blog entries.

Wordsmiths like me tend to imagine that media is about news or some such elevated hoo-hah. But privately we understand that the shape and contour of what we see and hear is influenced by the flow of advertising dollars. At this time of change in the money flows the FTC is to be commended for looking ahead at where all this may be headed. I’ve started a new topic, Advertising, and will have more to say in the days ahead.

Speaking of marketing no-nos: Mediapost reports that the Word of Mouth Marketing Association has censured the public relations firm Edelman for creating fake blogs or flogs to tout in this instance Walmart. Here’s a snippet:

“In a statement posted with little fanfare on its Web site last week, WOMMA said it had “determined that the company has breached the WOMMA Ethics Code–a code that Edelman helped write.”

Good for WOMMA. And Edelman, please, not again. Subterfuge is ultimately self-defeating.

The Sojo with the Mojo: Kevin Sites, the Yahoo’s globe-trotting “solo journalist” will speak at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism Thursday evening, The event is free. The announcement notes that:

“Sites helped pioneer solo journalism, working completely alone, traveling, and reporting without a crew. As a solo journalist (SoJo), Sites carries a backpack of portable digital technology to shoot, write, edit, and transmit multimedia reports.”