Weblogs ads allow consumer to critique

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Grumpy consumers anxious to give advertisers a piece of their mind in a public forum are very happy with Weblogs Inc. these days.

The blog network, which owns and operates 75 sites, has gone live with ads that allow its users to post comments regarding marketers' messages and wares. It calls them "Focus Ads," and they're running on its Autoblog and tech site Engadget. Among the marketers that have opted for the tender mercies of such public online focus groups, said a Weblogs executive, are Suzuki, Subaru, Hewlett-Packard, Michelin, Griffin Technologies and ABS computers.

"The idea is to make advertising work better," said Shawn Gold, Weblogs president-publisher. "One of the reasons blogs work is that they create transparency in media. ... If that makes sense, then transparency in advertising also makes sense."

Of course, this transparency can mean marketers-and everyone else-can see comments like "Suzuki is old and busted, like Paris' [Hilton] SideKick."

But some marketers remain unfazed.

"Anything constructive, we are game for," said David Harris, the e-business and data marketing manager for American Suzuki Motor Corp.

Focus Ads also allow marketers themselves to weigh in on user comments, which Suzuki executives have done.

Mr. Gold, who said he edits out certain outre comments, said no advertisers had pulled out from Weblogs Inc. because of negative consumer response.

Marketers can either have consumers make such comments "in front of you, or live with the reality that everyone is doing it behind your back," said Pete Blackshaw, chief marketing officer of market research firm IntelliSeek. "The reality is there are tens of millions of conversations brands have no clue about."

Mr. Blackshaw cited some IntelliSeek research that found that consumers who give marketers feedback tend to be "much more viral and influential" than consumers who do not opt into such communications.

"It seems a little painful at first," Mr. Gold said. But, he added, the logic is "the advertiser gains more insight to create a better product or adjust their messaging."

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