Media: Left meets Right in online ad revolution

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Left-wing blogger Russell Brown and the Right's David Farrar were must-read advocates for Labour and National before the election.

Now they have common cause at the cutting edge of the media sector fronting an advertising campaign that breaks down the line between advertising and editorial content.

These leading lights in the online world have become "Powershop Pioneers", endorsing Meridian Energy's new electricity-buying website.

Ads featuring the two men - as well as Alistair Thompson of the press release website Scoop - are running on websites that put readers, who discuss their Powershop experience, into a draw.

It's an odd call for these media opinion makers.

Radio has blurred advertorial lines for years. But this campaign indicates online media and opinion websites have liberal interpretations on where paid content begins and ends.

From the Left, blogger and media commentator Russell Brown of Hard News and Media 7 and Alistair Thompson are dressed up as Che Guevara - the controversial Latin American revolutionary leader.

From the Right, David Farrar of Kiwiblog is dressed up as Uncle Sam. All three invite people to "join me in Powershop Pioneers" and "blog about your experience and be in to win $1000 free power for winter".

Powershop - a new venture that allows people to buy electricity over the net for their homes - sounds like an interesting concept. But the ad campaign is an amalgam of advertising sponsorship and endorsement.

Brown, Thompson and Farrar are comfortable with the commercial arrangements that highlight the different standards between bloggers and mainstream media. One view is that advertisers and media both lose out when there is no dividing line.

Imagine if Guyon Espiner endorsed Telecom and invited viewers to write into tvnz.co.nz with their experiences with the new 3G mobile.

The PR company that handled the project - Sputnik - said that the Powershop campaign stood on the credibility of the three men. Presumably that applies vice-versa.

VIVE LE REVOLUCION?

Thompson - who came from a background as a mainstream journalist - acknowledged that pressure on ad revenue played a part in the press release website Scoop taking part. David Farrar said advertising revenue for Kiwiblog was tiny.

"I go to a restaurant and I may find a good book or a good movie. I endorse it. A small minority of things involved freebies," he said.

His comments on Powershop had not been universally positive. "Blog readers are pretty discerning," Farrar said.

Russell Brown - who runs the taxpayer funded Media7 programme on TVNZ 7 - said Powershop was part of a conversational campaign.

"The promotion is part of an attempt to break out of the way internet advertising is done by the agencies at the moment - there's no engagement and the same ads on every website and it doesn't really work.

"So one way of making the ads our network carries distinctive is to have our photoshopped likenesses on them."

"How many TV news and current affairs shows and updates are heavily branded by banks and other major advertisers?" Brown asked.

Well, sponsorship is one thing - a taxpayer funded TV news presenter fronting an advertising campaign for Meridian Energy dressed as Che Guevara is surely another.

STEAMY IRONY

Ad agency Colenso BBDO has been getting admiring and aghast glances for its ad campaign for the D.Vice sex shops.

Colenso had a tiny budget for the billboard campaign which will drift into print this week, but it has been getting a good reaction.

One of the ads features a man in a bus, another a woman in church which led to a complaint to the Advertising Standards Complaints Board.

Wellington Catholic Archbishop John Dew was reported as saying it was "unnecessary and distasteful" to associate a church with a sex shop device.

The third - pictured here and arguably the most subtle - features a woman doing the ironing. Colenso BBDO executive creative director Nick Worthington said that the campaign was only focused on a handful of sites near the stores and fitted the company's wish to get its business' sex toys out into the open.

Colenso is a big agency for such a tiny account, raising the question whether the account is designed to provide entries for advertising awards. He said that the campaign was devised by Colenso's "Bacon Factory" gathering - which operates on Wednesday nights and allows its creative staff to operate on small budgets.

Worthington said that the appeal of the ads was that the theme was not apparent on first glance.

USED CONDOMS

Television networks seem relaxed about broadcasting images of excrement and the inside of toilet bowls.

I have mentioned the overwhelmingly heavily-weighted campaign from the Alcohol Advisory Council (Alac) - especially a commercial that features a drunkard punching a woman before waking collapsed in front of a vomit-and-blood-splattered toilet.

I have also mentioned the TV campaign for a toilet cleaner which features a stained toilet bowl.

On Monday TV One's Close Up ran an editorial item about prostitutes in Papatoetoe and decided tea time was the right time to show dirty toilet tissues and discarded used condoms. You'd think some of that stuff could be held off until after the late news.

THE INSIDE STORY

How do food companies - like pasta firms - feel having their ads run next to those vomit-and-stained toilet bowls?

Martin Gillman from the media buyer ad agency Total Media said that company has raised the issues several times.

He personally hates the Alac ad with the vomit-splattered toilet.

"These shock ads can be valuable in their own right because they get noticed but they can be a turn-off for viewers which has an impact on ads that follow.

"We have suggested in the past that the networks should show them at the end of the ad break," Gillman said.

"The networks try to accommodate our wish to be kept apart.

"But they are on a high rotate, so that can become difficult."

KEEN TO SHOCK

Ad placement inside news and current affairs is an old issue because the advertisers cannot control the content.

Some advertisers avoided the genre because they cannot foresee the content as they can with, say, a comedy show.

However, brands gain from association with the news and current affairs which provide stable audience numbers.

- NZ Herald

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