|The Gawker/Sony deal between a leading blog and a global marketer marks a new milestone for the commercialization of blogs.
The deal, which also includes placements on Gizmodo, Gawker's earlier gadget title, will cost Sony in the range of $25,000 a month, according to a source close to the deal. The sponsorship runs for about three months.
Sony did not return calls by press time.
A rare status buy
The announcement puts blog advertising, an area that is still far from common practice, in the spending range of what large marketers typically fork over for an online media effort. "It could easily be a line item on my buy for a number of sites," said Dan Buczaczer, vice president and director of SMG Reverb, a word-of-mouth marketing division that is a unit of Publicis Groupe's Starcom MediaVest Group. But because Gawker sites are considered the cream of the blog world and Sony is a blue-chip marketer, the pact assumes a rare status.
Admittedly the media spending is a pocket change for Sony Electronics, which ponies up millions for online marketing. But "instead of blogs being where I'm going to spend my leftover money because they are so cheap, they [Sony] are approaching dollar levels we would spend on other sites," Mr. Buczaczer said.
Although several famous blogs like Dailykos.com and Instapundit pull in up to $20,000 a month from their many advertisers, and marketing on blogs in general is starting to appear on media buyers' radar, such deals are far from mainstream. Still, media pros are buzzing about whether the Sony-Gawker pricing begins to define buys on high-profile blogs going forward.
Gawker gets high marks
For one thing, although Nick Denton, Gawker's publisher, gets five stars for the professionalism and appeal of the publishing business, especially for Gawker.com, Wonkette.com and Defamer.com, two of Mr. Denton's latest blog launches were flops. Kinja.com, which was about weird stuff on the Web, and Kitaku.com, which was for an audience of video-game freaks, didn't get the traffic figures that were expected, Mr. Denton said.
If LifeHacker doesn't win the vistors Sony needs to see, then the inventory on the popular and well-trafficked Gizmodo (which features tech discussions for geeks), with about 1.3 million visitors a month, might make up for it.
"The question is will LifeHacker shows some of the growth patterns you saw with Gizmodo in the early days?" Mr. Buczaczer said.
But because Gawker is so well-trusted, "What Sony is paying for is reducing their odds that they look idiotic and increasing their odds that they hit a home run," said Henry Copeland, founder of Blogads.com, a leading ad network for blog advertising.
And Gawker blog readers, even if there's only a million who flock to a site, are considered "prime influencers" in the niche they frequent. "They are connectors -- people who are into technology and are influencing people about the technology they are into," said Brad Bowers, co-founder of BlackInc. Ventures, an agency that provides outsourced business development and revenue generation to small- and mid-size Internet companies.
When he approached Sony for his client Gawker, he told executives, "The people on blogs are talking about your products and are early adopters." With the deal Sony comes across as a company that's forward-thinking and learning how blogging works, he added.
Not everyone is convinced that traditional online ads are suitable for blogs. "They can cheapen and compromise a blog," said John Cate, vice president and national media director in the San Francisco office of Carat Interactive, part of Aegis Group. At this stage, he favors encouraging his client to "counter-blog" if the information on a blog goes against his marketer. But, he admitted, "if it's a good piece of content and the audience is there, then it's worthy of advertising."
Sony's ads on LifeHacker and Gizmodo will include standard-size leaderboards, medium rectangles and skyscrapers. LifeHacker's editorial scope comprises software downloads, spam filters, spyware and e-mail applications among other topics. "If you have a buddy who tells you everything that's cool online, LifeHacker would be that buddy," Mr. Denton said. Gina Trapani will edit the site. She is a blogger known for Scribbling.net, a personal journal that also discusses technology.
Another Gawker site, Gridskipper, is also debuting today. Designed to be a "decadent travel guide," according to the tagline, it is sponsored by Cheaptickets.com.
Gawker Media, which now has 11 online titles, has attracted a number of well-known brands including Nike, General Electric Co., AT&T, Walt Disney Co., Viacom and Hewlett Packard. Not all advertisers are appropriate for blogs, Mr. Denton points out.
"It hasn't hit the mainstream yet," he said. "We probably wouldn't take an ad from McDonald's."