Blogs turn subversive into a big ad draw

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Events evolve fast in Internet time (which clocked an entire industry springing up in a decade). But in the blogosphere-the area of the Internet involving Web narratives or blogs-events speed by like Internet time on steroids.

Just six months ago, blogs were a remote sub-category of online inventory, so edgy and subversive that advertisers weren't sure how to approach them. Now blogs have become so ingrained in the mainstream mentality that top-traffic blogs are not only turning a handsome profit through advertising, they are raising rates at will and routinely turning away advertisers to discourage demand.

"These people who started out as amateurs are getting the same type of scale as large professional publishers," said Henry Copeland, founder of blog network site Blogads.com. Mr. Copeland should know. His business, which sells and places ads across blog categories, such as politics, technology or sports, has grown from 150 blog clients a year ago to 500 today.

The biggest boost for blogs, particularly the political sites like Andrewsullivan.com, Wonkette.com, Dailykos.com and Instapundit, has been the presidential contest.

political plays

"The most aggressive advertising has been hogged by the political campaigns and they are pretty mainstream," said Peter Blackshaw, chief marketing officer at consumer research firm Intelliseek. "Traditional marketers are learning a lot on the political campaigns' nickel. And I think after the election, we'll see a lot more mainstream advertisers on blogs."

"The pipeline is full of potential deals for movies, computer games, TV shows, music, high and low-tech and beverage makers," Mr. Copeland said.

Bloggers have drawn attention through their coverage of the race during which they've broken news, been handed press credentials to cover both the Democratic and Republican conventions and have kept the spotlight on stories like CBS's fake National Guard records. The resulting publicity has won them notoriety, if not credibility with the public, particularly the sort of news-junkie 'Net surfer that likes to be the guy at the water cooler "who's got to know tomorrow's news," according to Mr. Copeland.

"When the debates were going on, the TV guys had to shut up, but the bloggers' traffic went through the roof-people had to see what the bloggers were saying," Mr. Copeland added.

John Kerry began the advertising landslide when he placed an ad in November 2003 on 25 political blogs in the Blogads network. The Dean campaign followed, then The New Republic. In January 2004, Blogads did as much business as in all of the previous year. In succeeding months, Mr. Copeland has done 10 to 15 times as much business as in January. The ads range in price from $10 to $2,250 a week, with a 20% cut to Blogads. Most are standard 150 by 200 pixels with space for 200 characters of text. The political blog ads are priced at the high end.

Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, who blogs at Dailykos.com, is one of the consistent top earners. Profitable since the spring, pulling in more than $20,000 a month, he's raised the rate for his premium position from $150 per month to about $9,000. "I've got more money coming in right now than I really need," he said.

Even big-name blogger Andrew Sullivan, former editor of the New Republic, started accepting ads two weeks ago, and is so optimistic that he plans to move his blog from a donation to an advertising model. "If we continue at this rate, I'll get paid more from my blog than any of my mainstream media contracts," he said in an e-mail interview.

mainstream marketers

Blog publisher Gawker Media bragged in early October that it had landed Volkswagen's Audi, the first blue-chip marketer advertising on a blog, and created an auto site with original content to open up inventory for the automaker. But Blogads clients routinely feature brands like Dell Computer, The Guardian newspaper and Random House, Mr. Copeland pointed out.

Even the most run-of-the-mill brand can do well next to edgy content, media buyers observe. For instance, Network Solutions, a provider of domain names, is receiving clickthroughs of up to 11% on technology, political, photography and sports blogs. "We made the assumption that if a person goes to one type of blog, they might go to another," said Brian Walton, client services associate at Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett USA, which purchased online media for Network Solutions.

Because blogs are so targeted, placements aren't cheaper. Plus, there is lower traffic on a blog, but if you get a sale or two, "that's very good ROI," Mr. Walton said.

For some marketers, snarky content is a problem. "Blogs, because they are very authentic and very free-wheeling, make it a little bit dangerous for some brands because you don't have a clear sense of what's going to be there," said Jeff Lanctot, VP-media at interactive agency Avenue A/ Razorfish, which handled the much-touted Nike Art of Speed ad on Gawker.

Because of that, automakers and consumer package-goods manufacturers trying to appeal to mass audience should probably stay off blogs, media buyers said.

But even fans can be turned off.

Mr. Zuniga of Daily Kos lost advertisers in April when he responded to a reader's comment about American civilian contractors strung up in Falluja, Iraq, by saying, "I feel nothing over the death of mercenaries. Screw them."

audience stays put

His audience stayed put, though, and eventually advertisers-most of which are political campaigns-returned. "What attracts advertisers is my audience," said Mr. Moulitsas, whose blog got 350,000 unique visitors in September. "I learned to say to advertisers, 'Assume I'm going to say something so controversial that you're not even going to believe it.'"

Far from kowtowing to advertisers, bloggers-declaring a rare affinity with the mainstream media-say they maintain the same sort of Chinese Wall between advertisers and content that newspapers do. "I assume that whoever places an ad knows blogs are no more controversial or edgy than any alternative weekly," said Duncan Black, known as Atrios, who blogs at Eschaton.com. "I don't want to make a political statement with my ads."

Joshua Micah Marshall, who puts out blog TalkingPointsmemo.com, found himself fending off complaints from readers when he accepted an ad for the book "How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must)" by conservative pundit Ann Coulter. Defending his ad policy on a posting on his site, he wrote: "When I began accepting [paid] ads ... I decided that I would not reject ads based on political content."

Sounds quite mainstream. Blogs are beginning to look like any other publishing platform.

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