Word of mouth can’t be manufactured

Update:

Belkin has released a statement saying it was unaware such activities were taking place and that it is “extremely sorry.” The company said that Belkin “does not participate in, nor does it endorse, unethical practices like this. We know that people look to online user reviews for unbiased opinions from fellow users and instances like this challenge the implicit trust that is placed in this interaction.” The full note is at CrunchGear.

Original post:

A couple of days ago, an astute blogger poking around Amazon’s Mechanical Turk “crowd-sourcing” engine discovered that someone from Belkin — a company that makes computer and electronic peripherals like mice, USB hubs and so on — was paying people through Mechanical Turk to submit fake reviews to Amazon of Belkin products. The wording of the ad (which offered to pay the princely sum of 65 cents for each review) was very specific. It said:

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Pepsi & Twitter as early-warning device

Over the past year, Twitter has become a wildly-popular social network, allowing people to stay in touch not just with their friends but also with celebrities like MC Hammer and Shaquille O’Neal, who use the service to talk directly to their fans. For many companies, meanwhile, Twitter has effectively become a real-time market-survey tool. Comcast and Zappos, for example, have used it to track reactions to their products and have been able to respond to their customers much faster than they could in the past. Some companies, however, have found themselves at the center of a Twitter-storm — including Johnson & Johnson, which faced criticism from mothers both on the service and in the blogosphere at large, after an advertising campaign for the painkiller Motrin made what were seen (by some) as disparaging comments about moms who carry their kids in slings.

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Denton: Everyone into the bomb shelter

Listening to Gawker Media overlord Nick Denton’s predictions for the coming online-media apocalypse, I’m reminded of the story about the boy who cried wolf. That said, however, it’s worth remembering one thing about that story: In the end, there actually was a wolf. And as he describes in a post on his personal blog, complete with scary charts and graphs about projected advertising demand, Nick is convinced more than ever that there is a wolf at the door — and a pretty damn big one at that. How does a 40-per-cent drop in online-advertising revenue sound?

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Online ads: It’s called a flight to quality

There’s much sturm und drang about online advertising, and whether it’s in a big hole or a *really* big hole. Judging by the graphic of a giant smoking crater he used for his post, Peter Kafka at All Things D apparently falls into the latter camp, and he also quotes Nick “The Dark Lord” Denton as saying that anyone who doesn’t expect ad rates to fall 40 per cent is an idiot (although, to his credit, Peter does note that Denton is always saying things like that). But one of the reports that everyone is using for fodder, which comes from the Rubicon Project, isn’t that bleak at all.

If anything, in fact, the Rubicon report indicates that online advertising is still growing relatively strongly despite the turmoil in credit markets and the slump in stock prices, and could even benefit as advertisers look for more quantifiable results for their spending, which online ads provide. The report also says that while overall ad rates tracked by the network dropped 11 per cent in the quarter:

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MTV: Put your ad next to pirated content

It’s one thing to turn a blind eye — as some networks do — to the uploading of pirated content that occurs daily on YouTube, MySpace and other social networks and services. To use one potential metaphor, it’s like the approach that some countries take to prostitution or marijuana: They know it’s out there, but as long as it doesn’t cause any trouble then they’re okay with it. It’s quite another thing, however, to do what MTV is proposing to do, which is to actually place ads alongside the content that is being infringed. That’s like legalizing prostitution or marijuana use and taxing it.

According to an announcement today, MTV has teamed up with MySpace and a company called Auditude to do exactly that (I mean sell ads next to copyright-infringing videos, not legalize prostitution and marijuana use). Theoretically, that means the network — and MySpace — could benefit any time someone uploads a clip from The Colbert Report or South Park or a music video, based on the advertising that Auditude inserts into the clip. As the LA Times story notes, YouTube rolled out similar technology earlier this year, giving copyright holders the option of monetizing their content rather than removing it. And some are taking that offer.

As more than one person has noted, the approach that MTV Networks is taking seems a little ironic, given that its parent company Viacom is still suing Google for $1-billion in a long-running copyright infringement case. Will that kind of lawsuit go away, as more content providers try to monetize their content wherever it appears, rather than suing to have it taken down? I hope so. What if Auditude or YouTube offered its identification technology as an open API, so that video clips posted by people like me could include ads? I think that would be a great solution. Bring it on.