Tuesday, 2 January 2007

The Gift Giving Game: Big Media, Advertisers, Bloggers and the Marketing Machine

I just bumped into post number 30 on the whole Microsoft giving away free laptops to bloggers debate. Something is bugging me about this discussion. To me, there is a gift giving game going on but it ain't just about Microsoft giving free computers to bloggers.

Let's be clear. No one is objective, and similarly everyone in the product marketing food chain is affected in one way or another.

We all know media's revenues come from advertising and while most editors will talk a great game about holding their integrity when it comes to content, most will also tell you that the past number of years has seen advertisers become more and more powerful when it comes to affecting their editorial control. There was a great example in McLeans magazine a couple issues ago with a journalist who had written a story on how people are dressing their kids like tarts. When asked why there hadn't been more focus on this issue, she indicated that the major stores that carry the clothing that she was criticizing are also major advertisers for the media outlets that would carry such stories.

Similarly, media companies schmooze advertisers with gifts all the time. Ever been on the media-buying floor of an advertising agency around Christmas time? Sure it might not be a $2200 laptop, but I have seen DVD players, major sporting events tickets, concert tickets, golf balls, gift certificates, you name it (and I have got the Google blanket and Google mug to prove it).

And what about consulting gigs? Advertisers and their agencies often pay experts in the biz (many of whom had media influence either as content providers or contacts within that realm) for their ‘knowledge’ and ‘opinions’ as consultants. I mean if you potentially have the opportunity to get a well paying contract down the line for an advertiser, would that not somehow influence how you wrote a review?

Then of course there are the myriad of personal relationships, and business back scratching that come with doing business in a free market economy and playing golf at the same golf clubs.

I am not saying that disclosure isn't important. I just think however, that all the hoopla about Microsoft's free laptop is just the tip of a very large and very deep marketing ice burg and to suggest that this is somehow something especially ethically problematic seems a bit naïve.

What is comes down to is what is always comes down to: Integrity and trust. There are those that have it, and those that don’t. The audience isn’t stupid. We know what’s going on and sooner or later those that are doing it for the wrong reasons get caught. As for the others? A laptop or two won’t affect them. Besides, they are probably the one’s that gave it away to charity anyhow.


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