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Online motives are deceiving

The more I know about digital marketing and communications the more I realize how important motive is.

In the olden days (say 10 years ago), most everyone could cipher the motive behind an ad. Whether it was moving products off the shelf or building brands or both, the intended audience always understood the motive. It was selling. Back then we might call something a hard or soft sell but no one was in denial about its motive. Nor were we particularly upset about it. Consumers understood the reason they got TV for free and paid only nominal fees for newspapers and magazines was on account of the ads. We understood their motive. We accepted the deal.

New deal. And it already has many liens on it. Consumers are balking left and right. They are questioning motive in the communications they receive. And rightly so. Online, advertisers are abusing their privileges. And it isn’t just one or two culprits; we are all guilty to some degree. We influence (pay) bloggers to discuss (sell) products. We use Twitter to attract and herd consumers. We create Facebook pages for brands. We leak films on the Internet. Our new briefs are about starting conversations. Influencing popular culture. Creating fame.

The problem is that all of the above still has one primary purpose: selling. And yet that motive is now hidden, imbedded or disguised. People think they are having an online conversation when, in fact, they are being duped into a sale. People are frustrated because they are being manipulated if not lied to.

It is increasingly hard to tell the difference between the message and the messenger. Facebook and My Space were not supposed to be commercial. But with My Space selling music and Facebook touting brands social networks are starting to look a lot like Walmart. And bloggers, the epitome of personal opinion and fierce independence, are all but begging to be paid to write.

Here’s where it gets tricky. After all, laws aren’t being broken. In some respects it’s hard to blame content providers. Bloggers gotta eat. The more they commit to their blogs the more they need revenue from somewhere. And advertisers recognize the potential. In this light the question is not how collusion could happen but how could it not?

Lest I be accused of calling the kettle black I, too, have muddied the waters. Not only have I pimped my novel, The Happy Soul Industry (even now!) I have also used this forum to talk about my agency, in theory making it more attractive. In addition, I sent my novel to other bloggers, hoping for and getting reviews.

Whether that’s good or bad is not altogether knowable. Who’s to say? But I do think having and presenting a clear motive online (if not everywhere) is a significant step in the right direction.

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