I have heard people talk about sponsorship on blogs for a while, but I was recently motivated to speak on this issue. One, I have seen friends’ blogs mention sponsors. Two, I was asked on my ask.fm page, “The use of the word ‘sponsor’ to describe creators who give promotional copies in exchange for exposure on a blog is an awful, embarrassing trend. How can we stop it? (I mean, other than bringing in Sally Struthers herself to hand out review copies to people.)” Three, I have seen merchants lately require potential bloggers to place their logo on the main page of their blogs.
What is the difference between advertising and sponsorship? I think IEG’s Complete Guide to Sponsorship says it best when it says, “Sponsorship should not be confused with advertising. Advertising is considered a quantitative medium, whereas sponsorship is considered a qualitative medium. It promotes a company in association with the sponsee.”
I agree with this distinction. When events take place in Second Life, sponsors pay a significant amount of money that goes towards the cost of the sim(s). Even if you did not read a press release, you can usually tell who is a sponsor due to their presence throughout the event. Huge posters, bigger stores, and products that help reduce lag for the sim and avatar are just some of the ways. As a result, the public feel confident in the event, and gladly participate. In club sponsorships, clubs ask businesses to sponsor prizes for various events at the venue – this provides the business the chance to advertise to a different market for free, while club owners save money when it comes to providing prizes. In pageant contests, businesses, especially those specializing in apparel, may support a contestant by providing clothing and accessories for them to wear at the event. Depending on the event, this could provide huge exposure.
The controversy involving sponsorship arises when bloggers state that they have merchants who sponsor their blogs. What makes this different from the other examples?
The Merriam-Webster definition states that:
“ A person or organization that pays the cost of an activity or event (such as a radio or television program, sports event, concert, etc.) in return for the right to advertise during the activity or event.”
“An organization that gives money to an athlete for training, clothes, equipment, etc. in return for the right to use the athlete for advertising.”
Using these parameters, merchants could not be sponsors to a blog because no money is exchanged. Also, since many bloggers reserve the right to blog items as they see fit, the “sponsors” do not have control over them. If someone were to win a pageant contest, they would be expected to represent the organization in all aspects. It can be anything from not wearing competitor’s clothing for the duration of them holding the title, to them showing up to every event the organization sponsors.
On the other hand, according to Wikipedia,
“To sponsor something is to support an event, activity, person, or organization financially or through the provision of products or services.”
But wait – it says provision of products! So does that mean that if a business gives me items to blog, are they sponsoring me? Well, here’s a question for you. If no one sponsored your blog, would you still have a blog? A lot of the time in SL, if it wasn’t for people sponsoring major events, the cost alone would be too great for the event to take place. If it did, it would be at a significantly smaller scale, which may have an effect on the impact the event was supposed to have. Most bloggers use free platforms for their blogs (e.g. WordPress, Blogger), so they do not have that issue. Also, WordPress states the following: “While most affiliate links are allowed on WordPress.com, we do not allow banner image ads or third-party advertising networks like Google AdSense, OpenX, Lijit, BuySellAds, and Vibrant Media.”
Hmm…banner image ads…you mean like the ones that are on the main pages of some blogs that that are under the category of “sponsors?” Flickr cracked down on Second Life merchants using their platform to advertise their products; I would hate to see WordPress suddenly enforce their rules and leave a lot of people without their accounts. So to all the merchants who are asking bloggers to break the law to promote their products…it’s not necessary. If we blog your items and provide a link back to where they can purchase the item within the same post (yes I know some bloggers do not do this), why do you then need a logo on the front page as if you paid the blogger money to do so? A link to your inworld store or blog should suffice.
Next, usually when someone is a sponsor, it’s for a certain event that has a start and end date and time. Even if the event occurs every year, the event that takes place in 2010 will not be the same event in 2014, except in perhaps the name of the event. The way I like to look at it is, sponsorship has a definite time frame, and advertising has an indefinite time frame. Stores will always need a marketing aspect in their business; they don’t always need to sponsor.
Last, but not least, a significant amount of bloggers “represent” more than one brand within the same category. If Brand X, who sells skins, is sponsoring your blog, would you then agree to let Brand Y sponsor you, too? If Brand X was truly your sponsor, then you probably would not be allowed to do that. This includes special promotions and events. Again, since many bloggers state that they have final say of what they choose to blog, I don’t think this relationship is that of a sponsor.
In advertisements and promotions, the businesses care about the end product – sales made. How much did their sales increase when the store added a team of bloggers to their roster? How many bloggers are blogging on average per new release? If businesses do not see an increase in sales, and they see bloggers are not blogging, they may choose to swap out bloggers.
Why then has this trend grown to be so popular? I think it’s because there is the perception by too many people that bloggers are greedy people who want something for nothing, and if you aren’t like Blogger X who gets 10k hits a month on their blog, or Blogger Y who makes up to 3 posts a day on their popular blog, your services are not needed. Since this view exists, some bloggers have seemingly found a way to make themselves look better by having a well-known brand “sponsor” them. Like I stated before, when certain businesses sponsor events, the public gets a sense of security that if certain people are behind an event, then it must be a good event. So bloggers want that too. Also, there are merchants who are trying to get themselves known by aligning themselves with popular bloggers, in the hopes that it will boost their brand. Meanwhile, since everyone is looking for the next big way of marketing (hunts, discount events, sim-wide events, etc.), they see this occurring and want to get in on it , both merchants and bloggers alike.
Do I think merchants who provide me promotional copies of their items are sponsoring my blog, or are my sponsors? As much as I appreciate them for what they do and consider it an honor for them to choose me to promote them, no, I do not consider them as sponsors.
How do you feel about blog sponsorship /marketing in Second Life?