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PayPerPost Pushes Ethics Envelope With Ad Dollars for Positive Write-ups

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- Over the course of one month, Lynn Terry watched her PayPal account balloon to nearly $500 for simply blogging.
PayPerPost.com systematically enables marketers to pay consumers for writing positive comments about products in blogs. | ALSO: Comment on this article in the 'Your Opinion' box below.
PayPerPost.com systematically enables marketers to pay consumers for writing positive comments about products in blogs. | ALSO: Comment on this article in the 'Your Opinion' box below.

Product shilling
"It's the easiest money I've ever made," Ms. Terry said. But to earn it, she couldn't just write about her life as a single mother of two living in Tennessee. She had to essentially shill for advertisers, from Epson inkjet printers to the software product Camtasia.

In that month, Ms. Terry took 55 "opps" (opportunities) for an average of $8 each via the website PayPerPost.com, defined by its 30-year-old founder and CEO, Ted Murphy, as the "consumer-generated advertising network." By Ms. Terry's math, if she expanded to five active blogs and took the maximum three opps per day, her monthly take would jump to nearly $3,600, or $43,200 a year. "That's a full-time income," she added enthusiastically.

Granted, a full-time income isn't uncommon in the blogosphere, where plenty of bloggers aggregate eyeballs with daily musings on everything from politics to pets to how to make a living.

Content as advertising
But advertisers have until now taken a hands-off approach to blog content, buying mostly banner ads clearly distinguishable as advertising. What makes the PayPerPost's model different is the integration of the "ad" into the content of the blogs in a systematic, automated way.

A rundown of current opps includes one for BeerLiquors.com, which is offering bloggers $4 to write a minimum of 300 words on a "suck and blow" gelatin shot encased in a patented plastic tube that it says can "coddle those who are uncomfortable with the taste of alcohol." The blog has to link to its site, where a 12-pack can be ordered for $27.60.

It's not hard to imagine what a blogger, who might also be a MADD member with a few kids in college, would say. But a "Postie" (PayPerPost's term for its 6,000 bloggers) can't criticize the product, in this case. The tone required by the opp is neutral.

$3 million in venture capital
Mr. Murphy's outfit, based in Orlando, Fla., makes its money by paying an $5 fee per opp placed on the site, or a listing fee; the site makes 25% for every opp a blogger takes. Mr. Murphy declined to disclose revenues but said: "We are doing great," before laughing heartily. The company has raised $3 million in venture-capital funds.

Certainly PayPerPost is paving new ground, but the question is whether it is distinctly different from P&G paying a novelist to include references to its Cover Girl products or Coca-Cola paying "American Idol" to get Paula Abdul to sip from a Coke-branded cup during a show. Of course, it's done by everyday people. And then there's the thorny issue of disclosure.

"This could undermine the entire social fabric of social networks," said Patrick Rooney, president of Expand Communications, a word-of-mouth-marketing firm in Chicago, whose clients include Sony Ericsson and Sergeant's Pet Care Products. "While people are reading blogs, will they begin to question the truth about what is written?" Mr. Rooney plans to advise his clients against using PayPerPost. "Paying for reviews will certainly come back to bite you in the butt because it will get out that you did."

'Funny issue'
"It's kind of a funny issue," Ms. Terry said, before admitting she does not disclose every post and often will cloak her affiliate links. "You get a higher conversion rate," she said. "It just confuses people who are not familiar with it." (Some PayPerPost bloggers are using the abbreviation PPP to tip off readers.)

"We are betting on the ethics and morals of the bloggers themselves," Mr. Murphy said. "If someone really hates a product, to make $5, will they say something positive? It really comes down to the blogger being honest with its audience."

Sensitive to the criticism on disclosure, though, he's developed DisclosurePolicy.org to give bloggers an easy tool to integrate a disclosure policy into their blogs. A blue graphic or "badge" with a check box and the words "I disclose" can be downloaded that links to a disclosure policy generated easily on the site, such as: "This blog is a sponsored blog created or supported by a company, organization or group of organizations."

Ironically, to get the 6,000 bloggers on PayPerPost to use it, Mr. Murphy plans on paying $10 to each to adopt it.
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