Reading Stefanie Olsen’s summary of this evening’s sessions from the Conversational Marketing Summit (another great example of why living in Seattle can be a PITA when the center of the web 2.0 is 700 miles away and staying here can mean missing out on interesting events) reminded me of how blind the world can be to the reality of the world around them. The tone of piece and likely the same for many readers is that there is still this chinese wall between editorial and marketing. As Seth Godin noted in his book All Marketers are Liars (one of my favorite godin books even if overlooked in the canon of godin books) people love to tell themselves stories about their idealized view of the world even when deep down they know the truth is often much more crass. And with the rise of huge financial incentives for publishers of online content to conform to contextual ad-targeting technologies and payouts – the line has already been covered up much the way batters cover the line at the back of the batter’s box.
The notion of content as a non-commercial, purely for spreading the soul of the creator is a fantasy and myth that has lived for centuries. DaVinci and Michelangelo did works for hire. Their masterpieces were all commissioned works – that means they were done for commercial purposes. Dickens was paid by the word and boy did he get his money’s worth as any high school lit student will tell you. Newspaper have lived for sensational head lines because that sold newspapers – and in the old days (see Deadwood) the publisher and editor were one and the same person. Having worked at Disney I can tell you that many folks view Disney animation as the infomercial department. Each animated movie a 2 hour commercial for the rest of the Disney merchandising empire.
It sounds crass but you know what? It isn’t.
People like brands, they like commercialism when it means something to them. It’s why people pay to where Nike logos – that’s because Nike stands for athletic performance. And when content and editorial reinforces that brand it works for them.
Now let’s fast forward to the world of web. What has happened particularly when it comes to content is this tiny little thing called Google Adsense. See what Google Adsense does is match banner ads based on keywords on a webpage. So now folks who write for websites or blogs have a financial incentive to write for the ads. In some cases this has lead to spam sites (the very ones that inspired Jason Calacanis to create his latest venture Mahalo) and in other lots of sites and blogs dedicated to high-paying & popular keywords (see travel, finance, etc.). The people who publish those sites definitely have one eye on their Adsense earnings whenever they write (do a search for top paying adsense keywords and you will see exactly what I mean). So in a world where contextual advertising rules the day, then that world will likely have a very blurry line between marketing and editorial.