Not too long ago in advertising, a review in a nationally syndicated column was a huge break for a brand looking for some buzz.
But enter the era of the power blogger, and that’s all changed. Companies looking to score a hit online now turn to the hyper-targeted corners of the blogosphere to pitch new products.
Ironically, new rules from the Federal Trade Commission last year requiring brands and bloggers to disclose marketing relationships may only have brought the two camps closer together, as some brands looking to make a splash online now pursue extravagant creative partnerships with the blogosphere’s best and brightest.
A recent New York social media cum advertising event, however, looked to level this increasingly important playing field. Billed as “Swagapalooza,” the event’s young founder set out with a simple mission: Get 80 or so “influential” bloggers together in a room. March a short list of company start-up founders on stage to pitch new products and shill free "swag"—giveaway products designed to charm bloggers. And then...well, just see what happens.
In founder Alex Krupp’s mind, “Swagapalooza,” now in its second year, is a way of “democratizing” public relations. Despite plying bloggers at Thursday’s event with free goodies—plus an open bar—nothing was asked of attendees except to disclose how they received products if any swag was deemed worthy of a writeup.
Meanwhile, a cast of mostly young, nervous start-up types got five minutes in front of a room of Twitter-happy media-ites—one pitchman admitted before presenting that he was dying to crack into the “untouchable,” “Mommy blogger” crowd.
Swag for the taking at Thursday's event included WakeMate, a personal wristband that tracks sleep cycles, and bottles of “Bacon Hot Sauce,” because, as Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian announced in opening remarks, “the Internet loves bacon.”
But earnestly doling out free stuff didn’t exactly mean surefire success for some of the brands pitching at Swagapalooza.
“The interesting thing about Swagapalooza is that not every product gets good buzz,” said Krupp. “Which is the way it should be...the best ones will succeed.”
One of the more distinctive features of Swagapalooza was a streaming Tweet screen pitched beside presenters encouraging bloggers to hammer out feedback. While some in attendance were dutiful to the mission—“Sex and the Ivy” blogger Lena Chen tweeted to 1,989 followers that she was “watching the @BaconHotSauce presentation. Apparently it can go on anything. And it's fat free! Use "SWAG" for 20% off online”—other tweets hewed more toward presenters' good looks, or in one case, his lack of a belt.
The general sense of distraction was not completely superficial either—a polite young food blogger admitted at the end of the event that she would have liked to see more food-related products pitched (meat-flavored condiments notwithstanding.)
Challenges at Swagapalooza seemed to indicate how difficult it can be to harness the passion and influence of the blogosphere towards one brand amongst many, many others.
Troy Young, president of online advertising network VideoEgg, says that despite the heavy priority social networks like Twitter sometimes receive in advertising, social networks alone are not always a cure-all for brands looking for buzz.
“Marketers will always be confronted with the challenge of scarcity of attention,” Young said in a recent interview. "We've seen that all channels get clogged," he said, adding that strong content is still hugely important to his business.
For Krupp, who plans to host the next Swagapalooza in San Francisco early next year, future swag events will likely cater specifically to niche blogging communities. For now though, he's happy trying to find smaller brands a big break in the blogosphere.
“We are working on creating transparent and ethical ways to connect consumers with new products,” Krupp said. “I think it’s good for the world.”
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