I'm not saying Marqui
, a Canadian firm forking over for paid mentions on certain weblogs, is a big fat liar. I'm not saying adverbloggers working for Marqui
are a bunch of two-bit whores. I'm not saying either of those things because they are probably not exactly true. My relationship with you, dear reader, is based on trust and transparency. If other websites were so trustworthy and transparent, the internet would be made of billions of Casper the Friendly Ghosts.
I've been keeping an eye on Marqui
recently because... well, frankly the firm's adverblogging scheme simultaneously amuses and irritates me. It amuses me because, despite the thick fog of marketing hype veiling its site, it is nothing more than an inexpertly-executed astroturfing
campaign. It irritates me because all bloggers--paid for or not--now have their credibility under the microscope. One bad apple ruining the bunch, and all that.
Today I discovered that the situation is actually worse than I originally thought.
Never having thoroughly scrutinized Marqui's FAQ and Terms and Conditions documents, I took a closer look. I had originally thought that all Marqui is paying bloggers for is a polite mention once weekly as well as related fees for qualified sales leads. It appears that Marqui is, in fact, buying the endorsement of bloggers.
Marqui's Terms and Conditions
[Dec. 10, 2004] state:
"...Marqui’s agreement to pay you to blog about Marqui and Marqui's services."
See, I thought a mere mention would be enough. I was wrong. Bloggers must blog about
the product. That entails at minimum a purely factual statement of some kind. Which is technically "news." So bloggers are getting paid to make news
"It is our desire that acceptance of this agreement reflects your basic confidence in the product and that it serves as an endorsement on your part of the Marqui product."
Woah. So, bloggers taking Marqui's money agree that they endorse the company's product? Call me crazy, but that sounds like someone's opinion is being bought.
"However, Marqui places no limits on the content of your blog or the wording of the weekly mentions of our company or service offering, other than the limitations stated in this agreement."
Right. So "We don't limit what you can say, except where we limit what you can say." What constitutes a "limitation" is not expressly indicated, although some statements certainly appear to be "suggesting" how a blogger might want to blog about Marqui.
"Marqui will provide artwork to you for the Marqui mark you will display on your site...We reserve the right to send you new artwork or links and you agree to incorporate them in your blog in a timely manner."
Bloggers are obligated to run Marqui-related graphics on their sites. And they are obligated to update them as regularly as Marqui sees fit. Not only does that fly in the face of weekly mentions, it also seems a lot like... oh, I don't know... a banner ad campaign.
"We also will be providing you with standard messages and increasingly useful news and information on Marqui's success stories."
...and? If this officially-sanctioned messaging is optional, the document doesn't explicitly say so.
"We wish to receive feedback based on the traffic we see from your site and to accomplish that we may use special tags that better identify the sources of traffic."
Oh, so they want to track your site visitors, too. You know, like a banner-ad campaign.
"While Marqui wishes to give you the freedom to make any comments, positive or negative about our service, we retain the right to terminate this agreement if you include any material which is pornographic, abusive, hateful, obscene, threatening, or defamatory or which encourages illegal activities or racism or promotes software or services which deliver unsolicited email."
Fair enough. Except that we already know that no comments are allowed that would demonstrate non-confidence in the product. Because that's the basis of this entire agreement (as shown earlier in this entry).
"We look forward to a long and prosperous relationship with you, as well as to reading your blog each day. It is an honor to have your confidence and to help you dedicate more time and energy to your blogging through our sponsorship."
Translation: We'll be checking up on you daily, so you'd better make us some money. Good thing you love us, because we're the ones keeping your career alive.
Marqui's "Blogosphere FAQ
" [Dec. 10, 2004] states:
"We're paying bloggers to blog for three months. Period. We hope they'll honor their commitments, because we're going to honor ours."
Actually, Marqui is paying bloggers to blog about Marqui, not simply to "blog." In fact, they have more than one commitment as evidenced above. Period.
"We put no limits on what these paid bloggers can say about Marqui..."
Uhhh... yes you do. Look at your own contract. I have to assume this was a mistake, otherwise this would be an untrue statement. And the relationship here is about trust and transparency.
I could go on, but suffice it to say I find Marqui's framing of its adverblogging scheme to be somewhat disingenuous, if not inaccurate. Cut down to the bone, the program pays bloggers to--at minimum--endorse Marqui and its services, by way of blog postings, and trackable dynamic graphical advertisements. How many bloggers can stand up and shout with unfettered pride "My opinion is for sale!"?
The bloggers in Marqui's pocket, of course. And so begins the further decline of public confidence...