I've collected a few (Hah! More like fewty-hundred!) thoughts, and they are going to come out this way, and then I am done too. For me, this is not the place where I have these discussions, but it seems nothing will flow until this is out of me. And we all want some more Boo Boo, don't we?
Somehow, the since the introduction of this post, and others that ran concurrently, the topic has become rather convoluted invoking cries of “Feminism!” “Popularity!” and "I love readers and comments!" and "Politics!", within them often discussing how the personal becomes political, and thoroughly invoking memories of high school. If you've noticed a bunch of visits where it looks like someone's been going "Oh, it's THAT post." and "Oh, that one." and "Let me make sure I got that right." and "I'll just leave this one open while I go make a cup of tea (and come back forty minutes later).", that's been me. One of the topics that has been touched on, then dropped in favour of other topics, in my opinion, calls to my mind some cheese that keeps slipping off the cracker. You see, for me, it starts with the simple “Are ads good or bad?”. Then, it turns into a manifesto. Because that's how I am.
Regarding advertising: Putting ads on blogs is selling bloggers cheap - all of them, but particularly mommy bloggers who combine to form the ultimate pyramid/warm marketing scheme. Blogging for clearly labelled sponsored sites is no different than writing for a magazine or newspaper - except that you're probably paid less. And you're not a journalist.
You see, it's such a small piece of the advertising budget for these companies - the blog ads on "small" blogs. They are paying far less than the ads are worth - or they wouldn't be doing it. If bloggers were setting their own prices instead of taking offers, that would be a whole other story. The very few who are solely supporting their families with it are the true entrepreneurs (def: a person who organizes and operates a business or businesses, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so - it's not merely any person who starts a business) - and even they apparently can't afford more than the bare minimum of health insurance. For most, taking these pittances, and then having to justify it to your readers? There's a reason it's called chump change.
But then, like anything, it starts small. How soon before ads in the sidebar aren't good enough for companies? When will we be trapped into watching an ad or clicking through one to get to the content of a blog - like we have to sit through ads and previews in a movie theatre? It's harder to turn away money once one has gotten used to it. Big business knows that. It's why teenagers will show up when they're called into work at Loblaws on a Saturday night even though they've got free passes to the Virgin Festival - they like the money, peanuts really, more than they like their freedom. We know ads pay more if they're clicked on than if there's merely a hit on the site. It's inevitable that the ads will soon demand more of those who accept them.
If a company can spend $20,000 for one full-page ad running once in the Toronto Star on a Saturday, (something so disposable as that!) they can pay more for ad space on a blog. But they won't, as long as people are happy with any money, because to them it feels like a bonus, not a right.
It's like if you already sport visible designer labels or obvious designer styles - either signature or knock-off, you are paying the company, along with the middlemen for the privilege of advertising that company. We all do to some extent - even after deciding whether or not we're going to follow current fashions or be true to our own style. We might recognize that it's a big joke on us that now skinny jeans and flats are in after $300 perfectly boot cut jeans with pointy-toed heels reigned for some time, and feel just fine about it. But, we can determine what we'll pay for any transaction: buying on sale, or at full price, and most importantly, to buy or not to buy them and where and when to wear them. Any way you call it, it's valuable advertising for the label, whose biggest care is that it's out there being seen. Why else do celebrities who can afford to buy receive such awesome swag? Only Chanel used to destroy its clothing rather than sell it at a discount (not so much any more). Because we look. We care. We know what things are worth even if we don't have them.
But, I would say to anyone, don't depend on sitemeters, the percentage of comments versus traffic stats, ad revenue or technorati-type sites to tell you what a blog is worth. Your blog is a part of you now, like it or not. It's a part of how we present ourselves, just as our personal fashion sense is. Factors in our self-worth, like it or not. It's not selling out - that's the fast, cheap and easy way of saying it - it is selling a piece of yourself. A piece of your mind, your time, your thoughts - and sometimes, very personal pieces at that.
So, how does your self-worth feel about being targeted this way: "We know who our women are, where they live, what they like - and what they buy."
What about "It’s more than just radio. (WE) put your brand inside our programming, organically – on-air, on-line, and in-person." How about "We are leaders, trendsetters, and broadcasters who have deep experience in producing mass appeal content that delivers audience and generates revenue."?
Or "These targeted efforts will bring your brand closer to the female audience than ever before."
How do they do it? "We do it with powerful personalities with a sense of humor, big time guests, real world content, interactive talk about issues that women care about, and an approach that creates community: the best possible environment for female-targeted brands."
Wait...issues that women care about? " Women want “useful information,” something “lighter and more entertaining” than political talk shows, something “geared toward women,” and talk shows that discuss “topics that are of interest to me.”
More than just identifying problems, women expect us to present meaningful solutions for their biggest concerns: making ends meet, health care, education, raising children, and job security.
Although current events and issues are the most important topics to 90% of the survey respondents, women also want a steady diet of entertainment, health and fitness, and relationships – delivered with lots of fun and laughter."
How did I end up adding a dollop of feminism to this stew?
One dictionary definition of feminism is about social, political and economic equality - with men. Yet, here are other women...Gloria Steinem, for crying out loud - and your next door neighbour, and other marketing specialists packaging up female (which is very very clearly specified) readers and delivering them to the advertisers - who will likely be a source of "meaningful solutions", and who are likely companies run by men. But, delivered with fun and laughter, inside the programming...organically, you know.
From the FAQ:
"Q. What is the origin of the name GreenStone Media?
A. Pulitzer prize-winning author Alice Walker (The Color Purple 1983) wrote an inspirational short story called, "Finding The Greenstone," where the green stone stays lit only as long as the owner is true to his or her authentic self. It's about honesty, fairness and ethics. Our goal at GreenStone Media is to embody those qualities in everything we do on the air and off."
But it's a different story, what is being promised to the advertisers.
See, the problem I'm having with the trends in advertising to mothers came from a place that advertises to mothers. One company, of the periodic email variety proposes to offer "solutions". When I took issue with one of their "solutions" being merely advertising, and contacted them directly about it, I was directed in a kind and friendly manner to Trendwatching, this article on curated consumption in particular, as one of the inspirations for the business. Then I was invited to be a reviewer/spotter, with no remuneration except for the odd product, which I declined.
What curated consumption is, in short, goes like this:
"On the other hand, that same avalanche of choice, the abundance of high quality mass class goods, the mind boggling number of variations, brands, flavors, and God knows what, is driving those very same, often time-starved consumers into the arms of a new breed of 'curators' and editors, who pre-select for them what to buy, what to experience, what to what to wear, what to read, what to drink and so on. (Curator n. He or she who manages or oversees a museum collection or a library.)
So make way for the emerging trend of CURATED CONSUMPTION: millions of consumers following and obeying the new curators of style, of taste, of eruditeness, in an ever growing number of B2C industries (Martha and home decorating was really just the beginning ;-). And it's not just one way: in this uber-connected world, the new curators enjoy unprecedented access to broadcasting and publishing channels to reach their audience, from their own blogs to niche TV channels."
Why is this working? Because it's "Customer-Made".
CUSTOMER-MADE: “The phenomenon of corporations creating goods, services and experiences in close cooperation with experienced and creative consumers, tapping into their intellectual capital, and in exchange giving them a direct say in (and rewarding them for) what actually gets produced, manufactured, developed, designed, serviced, or processed.”
And why does customer-made work?
"Consider any or all of the following:
Status: people love to be seen, love to show off their creative skills and thinking.
Bespoke lifestyle: something consumers have been personally involved in should guarantee goods, services and experiences that are tailored to their needs.
Cold hard cash: getting a well deserved reward or even a profit cut for helping a company develop The Next Big Thing is irresistible.
Employment: in an almost ironic twist, CUSTOMER-MADE is turning out to be a great vehicle for finding employment, as it helps companies recruit their next in-house designer, guerrilla advertising agency or brilliant strategist.
Fun and involvement: there's pleasure and satisfaction to be derived from making and creating, especially if co-creating with brands one loves, likes or at least feels empathy for?"
So, it's not so much that we're being targeted as a market to be sold to and sold by the same market. That's kind of rotten, but it's the status quo. The cold hard marketing world is loving the warm fuzzy mommy blogging world. It's really quite amazing how complacent some are in that we are being encouraged to sell to each other - like with "Garage Marketing".
"What happens when you open up media platforms to bloggers, amateur critics, self-educated experts, passionate commenters, and independent reviewers? You get insightful, surprising and highly original content, not to mention entirely new products and services from GARAGE INFLUENTIALS: amateurs-turned-professionals posting their reviews, criticisms, software, solutions and God knows what else on the web, ready for reading or downloading."
Just as there are companies that conduct studies on how to teach children (OUR CHILDREN!)"pester power" because it is a phenomenal marketing tool, "hot and warm marketing" is also a fantastic way for companies to use individuals to save on legwork, and money - so there are companies studying the power of bloggers to sell, sell, sell - either actively, passively, or as hosts.
A well-known blogger reaches "all three markets", hot, warm and cold, but especially, the warm one.
"Many of us, including me, enjoy warm marketing. We
like to write articles and send out newsletters that position
us as experts. We might speak or be quoted in the media.
We are often in networking groups. We enjoy helping
people see us as experts and get to know us and our
expertise better. Have I used the word expert? Warm
marketers like to be known as experts. We frequently have
many contacts and enjoy marketing to groups. However,
we may have a reluctance to turn those contacts into clients."
By merely hosting ads, a blogger might be removing that mental reluctance to sell to "friends".
I had an argument with my cousin not too long ago. She invited me to purchase a long-distance plan from her, and also to attend meetings for the company so that I might become a part of the business too. I declined, on the grounds that if the business relationship went sour, I'd possibly lose a friendship too. A few hurtful emails went back and forth, wherein I even questioned her interest in my and my pregnancy and my daughter, as it coincided with her attempting to make money from me. But sadly, I also knew to expect this from my cousin. I know her. I've never quite trusted her since.
Wouldn't it be great if you could trust that your fellow blogger isn't trying to sell you something? It's easy to say, "I make money from ads." It's not easy for them to tell the person giving them the money, once it's coming in, where they'll draw the line when it comes to content. And so, if not now, soon it may not be clear to readers when and what is being sold.
Remember that joke? I'll spare you, and just give you the punchline:
"we've already determined you'll sell your soul, now we're just bargaining over the price".
keri smith makes this point beautifully.
This line, from another blog, Utopian Hell, puts it well "If I were to place ads and take payment for them, the transaction is then between me and the advertiser. I am still selling a product, but in this case I’m selling the eyes of my readers to the advertiser. It gives me a profoundly creepy sensation to realize that my eyes are being sold over and over again, but that is modern advertising. It is my belief that your eyes are not mine to sell, and I won’t." I also borrowed the title of this post from that post.
It's not about popularity, or politics - it's about power: hers, mine, yours, theirs. It's about being aware of the target on your uterus. It's an ugly underbelly. It's because we are always being told what to wear, what to buy, and now we're not just being told directly - we're being sold to, and sold by, in hidden ways by "influentials" - people we want to like us. Wouldn't you want Gloria Steinem to like you? Don't you want other bloggers to like you? What a motivation!
And, because these companies, and the ad world behind them, are so interested in "viral" and "organic" marketing - it means that we have to think, really think, through and between the lines, whether or not we are being sold something - or being sold.
But why do I think that maybe blogging should be separate from this?
In Susan Mitchell's Icons, Saints & Divas, Erica Jong states:
"I always thought that writers could change the world and I believed in the power of the written word. But I never thought anybody would read Fear of Flying. I believed I was writing it for the desk drawer. I couldn't have written as clearly if I hadn't told myself that nobody would read it. At that point I was a poet who had published two volumes of poetry. Why would I think it would become a best-seller? I thought it would have sold a couple of thousand copies. I wrote it because I had to and yet I did feel these tiny pricklings in my fingers -- you know, that it was possible, that it might go well out there, but I wouldn't consciously let myself believe it."
Don't we all feel a little like this when we write a really good blog post? Doesn't it diminish it, even just a little bit, to have to look past an ad to get to it - to be even the tiniest distracted by an ad?
She also said "Of course, not every book is going to be the amanuensis to the Zeitgeist. In a writer's life there might be certain books that stand out and reach an audience, and other books that don't. Or certain books that reach a scholarly audience and other books that misfire completely. That goes with the territory of writing for a whole lifetime. What I find so upsetting about our culture is that we demand that everybody hit a home run every time. Art can't happen that way, that's terribly commercial. Artists can't create focus groups and find out what people want to hear like a politician or a television producer. Even if you could you wouldn't want to. It's not what you ought to be doing. You should not be giving people what they want, you should be giving people what they don't yet know they want. You should be plugged into the times, in a kind of mystical way, almost, and then you put into words the incoherent longings of your time. If you're lucky. Then, people discover what it was that they needed to hear. But it can't be done the other way around. An artist or writer is a specimen human being who just goes about the world hoping to be a bundle of nerve endings that take in everything and transform it into a voice. You may do that a couple of times in your lifetime, you may do it in certain passages of a book, and never again. But you're not motivated by that, you're motivated by the need to do it."
Isn't this a lot like blogging? A lot of bloggers want to be "writers" - certainly not journalists. And if a blogger is fancying herself a future or current writer, isn't there a huge difference between someone who is motivated by the need to write, versus someone who is motivated by the need to produce because they are required to, whether it's in order to increase revenue or maintain traffic? Do you get the same feeling when you read Rebecca Eckler's writing as when you read Ann Marie MacDonald? But they're both writers! But it shows, I checked. Just looking at Blogger profiles, none list Eckler as a favourite book. Eight list Knocked Up as their favourite read. Seven list Anne Marie MacDonald as a favourite in books, four list Ann Marie MacDonald, and forty list "Fall on Your Knees" there. And two list "Fall on You Knees". I don't think I need to check further misspellings to find further evidence of the sentiment - and that's just Blogger profiles, not really checking further because I got bored and went to get a handful of pretzels.
Also in Icons, Saints and Divas, Phyllis Chesler states in reference to Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, and then carries it further, "You have to judge the woman by her work, and you have to judge the work by what it does in the world. If you don't like her or her political philosophy, that doesn't matter - look at her work. That's very important for women to know. Instead of saying "do I like her, is she my friend?", look at her work and its effects. It's important as feminists for us to also see how the feminist leadership treats women. I want to know how interpersonally challenged they are as human beings."
And so, when I look at businesses, especially those run by women, who are encouraging mothers to market to other mothers, I look at what the effects might be, foremost, the hidden price of cheapening the value of our time and our words, when mothers sell themselves and their buying power and influence for too little. When members of the feminist leadership are the ones promising us to the advertisers, instead of telling the advertisers - if you want to reach this huge demographic we've tapped you'll have to pay for it and pay BIG? It doesn't say that. The words used aren't holding us up to them - they're packaging us. It's there, in gray and white - make no mistake. But it's not on the front pages - it's buried.
Phyllis Chesler later says "Why are women so hard on each other? We want women to be perfect, but women cannot be all things to all people. If you're doing great works, it's less possible, less likely."
And so I question, when blogging is influenced by either revenue or for potential traffic, whether the freedom to do great work, to write because of the pure need to do so is present. Blogging might or might not be great work - but, because we all lived well enough before blogging, and some of us might not blog forever - I would argue that enough of us do it because the need is present. It's optional, but it's an option that is well-excercised, isn't it? We are hard on each other because we expect a lot of ourselves, and want others to have the same consciousness, I propose.
Erica Jong said, in reference to Fear of Flying "But people read the book and said, "This is the way I feel" and handed it to their friends." "I think the reason it sold was people said, "Look at this, you've got to read this." they saw their own thoughts on paper for the first time, about sexuality and many other things. It was as if somebody had sliced open their heads and put the contents on the page, with great irreverence and humour, and it was fun to read. It was a very readable book, a sad book, a funny book, an entertaining book and page turner."
"What I always hear from readers is, "You validated me and you made me know I'm not alone, I'm not a freak, I'm not the only one who has felt that way."
Isn't that the appeal of blogging? That through it we find fellow mothers, mothers with deep and shallow thoughts and share pain and pleasure - and similar consciousness? But would Fear of Flying have been the same if it had an ad on every page? And what about this...what if in every post by a blogger you're encouraged to click on links, sometimes the same one just worded differently, sometimes references to other bloggers with income from ads, in a huge round of "more hits, maybe some click-throughs, more money"? What if that person commented a little more often, made the rounds in a sense, perhaps out of pure niceness, but perhaps with the thought in the back of her mind to keep those clicks coming in? Because they are profiting from "popularity", and "politicking" is the way to earn? What if someone's writing style changed, perhaps almost imperceptibly, since accepting ads? Is that an appealing thought? What if there was an explanation for it?
Some things just need to be free of ads. And some fine bloggers really ought to, and deserve to be unsullied by commercial interests in their personal space.
Sure, I read blogs with ads. I don't look, I don't click. I don't like. But I think it's like buying a magazine instead of a book - sometimes the little bit of writing in there is worth the annoying "continued on page 234" because Guess really needed and paid for seven pages to show sixteen year olds in provocative poses. I don't write a letter to every article writer I read, I paid the price of admission, then I close it up and go away. It's not like blogging - it doesn't often feel like I am reading a friend's writing. And I like that personal part of blogging. I think that's worth more. And that's what the companies behind the ads are counting on. That's what people who earn from their blogs count on.
As noted here,"Ron Williams, CEO of alternative news publisher Dragonfly Media, said, “We’ve reached a saturation point with commercial message among people who resent the intrusion of commercialism into almost every aspect of their lives. We’ve starting to see blowback and resentment.”
Yes, yes. See this post?
Later in the article, Stowe Boyd, president of Corante's Weblog network, was referred to as such: Boyd was less sanguine about the volatile mix of content and commerce. He made no predictions about the future of paid-blogging programs but said, “The trouble with opening up Pandora’s box is that it’s impossible to get all the plagues back inside.”
One of the wonderful things about blogging is that there are mores, but really no rules. No hard and fast code of ethics. Which leaves it open to pollution, depending on where each individual blogger draws a line and depending on what each blogger chooses to think. Are we being deliberately targeted? I think so. “When you have a conversation with a friend or trusted associate, you shouldn’t have to wonder in the back of your mind, ‘Has he been paid to say that?’” Boyd said. “You’re automatically diluting and squandering your trust by putting your editorial content up for bid.”
The compound problem is being told your worth when people solicit you for your work, is not knowing it for yourself beforehand. Blogging is such fantastic source for community, esteem, entertainment and discourse - but one of the best parts is that it can be free from ads, apart from perhaps your host.
And one of the other best parts is that some people still blog like nobody's reading them. The worst part is that while relatively few have made it a career, a few have made themselves careerists in blogging.
Which is why at the Motherlode conference with a panel of some fine fellow bloggers, I'll be speaking my part, "A Blog of One's Own", wherein I'll try to stick to my original topic: that blogging is a new folk art - one that perfectly combines a mother's traditional role as the storyteller in the family while allowing a space to "breathe air that hasn't been breathed a thousand times before by her family".
Sadly, that air has become polluted by the commercial world in the year since I proposed my topic.