Behind Bloodcopy on Gawker

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When a HBO marketing effort launched on Gawker last week and it looked like content, there was a pretty public scuffle at the hallowed line between advertising and editorial in publishing. The Bloodcopy campaign, which mixes blog posts from a world of marketing fiction where vampires live among us in with the blog network's editorial coverage, caused some journalists to call foul, including a Gawker editor and a business trade site that mistakenly reported the campaign premise as real news.

On the other side of the controversy though, Gawker vice president of sales and marketing Chris Batty says the Bloodcopy program for the second season of HBO's "True Blood," is an example of a marketing campaign that doesn't simply repurpose TV and print assets online, but is wholly of the web.

"Really, I think most [online advertising] is legacy from other media," Batty says. "When marketers think about advertising, that's what comes to their mind and that's what they want to see on the web, regardless of the fact that that's not really what the web is about for consumers. In our environment, people come to read blog posts.... That's where the marketer, and, in this case, the marketer in partnership with an agency in partnership with Gawker, needs to think about how to fill that space intelligently because that's not something that marketers are doing on a very regular basis—they're not filling appropriate containers with appropriate content. They're repurposing television and print for the web."

"What's crazy is that [a client] gives [an agency] $1 million to produce a whole bunch of really great creative and then doesn't plug it in to any audiences by way of publishers like Gawker."

Last year, to introduce HBO's new series about vampires "True Blood," Campfire created Bloodcopy, a blog written from the show's world where vampires are real. This year, the agency took that existing concept of blog posts from a fake vampire universe to Gawker Media, which, as part of paid media deal, "acquired" Bloodcopy and publishes its posts alongside its regular content for the duration of the campaign. What's more, at the bottom of Gawker's homepage is a link to Bloodcopy among the network's mainstays like Gizmodo and Jezebel. And this all happened at first without any advertising disclaimer. Though, after some initial protest, the blog now includes a short disclaimer.

Jeremiah Rosen, Partner at Campfire, calls this marketing tactic "hacking reality."

"We're giving the story to Gawker to tell," Rosen says. "At Campfire, we don't buy media. We're not in the business of working with publishers. Usually we're writing the stories, moderating characters. What would they say in their Twitter feed? All that stuff we usually do. Here, we kind of subcontracted that to the experts who write that kind of content and were trading on Gawker prestige."

Campfire, the agency cofounded by two Blair Witch Project creators and responsible for Audi "Art of the Heist," creates assets for the campaign and then hands them off to Gawker to produce into six blog posts per day. In comparison, last year when Campfire produced the posts internally, Bloodcopy published one post per day.

"One post per day is working at advertising communications pace not at internet communication pace," Batty says. "We're doing six posts per day, which is still small potatoes compared to Gizmodo's 60 posts per day. That's the frequency and volume of information our readers are looking for in order to be engaged and entertained. And that's a gap that marketers have to close to be able to keep up with the speed of the experience of the web. And that's taxing because there are a lot of people want to put their imprimatur on these posts and approvals and so forth, and some of that stuff is frankly going to have to change in the advertising paradigm. The days of automotive marketers having nine months to ready a message before they go into market is gone. They're going to have to shorten that communication cycle dramatically to be competitive; otherwise they're going to be perennially stale."

As for the future of such partnerships, Batty says this kind of program can only result from the right marketer partnering with and the right creative agency. As for media companies, the negative reaction to the Bloodcopy campaign from the editorial side, might be a good sign that some people aren't ready for this new breed of advertising.

"I don't think that there are many media companies that think this [content partnership] really matters," Batty says. "I think it matters to newspaper companies, but I don't think they can see that because they've already made assumptions about what advertising is and what content is that they're seemingly unwilling to reevaluate while they go out business. They just sit on their hands instead of tackle any of the difficult decisions. ...But just because things have been a certain way doesn't mean that that's the way they ought to be. I think the market is the judge."
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