Monday, March 9, 2009

Payola, pay per post, or the 1984 commercial? An inconsistency of moral outrage re product placement business practices

When we choose the words that we use to describe something, we know very well that the words we choose often affect how we look at the item being described.

Let's take the word "payola," used to describe a 1950s practice in which radio stations would be paid to play particular songs.

Writing in the Inquisitr, Steven Hodson noted that payola has returned, albeit with a different name.

[L]et’s fast forward to today and find that once again payola is once again rearing its ugly head, This time though it isn’t the record companies behind what is being termed as pay-for-play but rather web companies suggesting that this is the ideal outlet for up and coming artists.

Hodson specifically cites the example of Jango and its Artist Airplay service.

Earlier this week, Jango introduced a new program called Artist Airplay that offers a very straightforward proposition: the more you pay, the more you’ll get played on Jango’s Web radio stations.

But then Hodson notes that we're not just talking about radio here:

[O]ne should point out that this is no different than the pay-for-post idea that has been plaguing the tech blogosphere and prompted more than bitchmeme. Just as with the blogosphere this kind of buying of content is wrong....

More here.

And Hodson isn't the only one who is negative about the practice. Stowe Boyd talked about a poll launched by Sarah Evans.

POLL What do U think about concept of 3rd party charging a pay per post soc media structure 4 a biz? #payperpost

Notice that the term "pay per post" is used in the poll (and, for what it's worth, in the accompanying hashtag that one sees before taking the poll).

By the time Boyd collected the results, 57% of those surveyed chose the response "Yuck. I don't like this concept at all."

I haven't voted yet, but if I'm still able to, I'm going to choose one of the alternate options: "It's not a problem as long as there is full disclosure." However, at least as of the time that Boyd checked the results, this was not a popular choice, with only 13% of the votes.

The way that I see it (and as I've mentioned, under my superhero name, in comments to both the Hodson and Boyd posts), this type of product placement activity is rampant not only in the two industries mentioned, but in other industries.
  • If you go down to the Sunset Strip, the band that you see might be in the club because they paid for the privilege of being there.

  • If you then leave the club and go home to watch TV, you may notice that your favorite sitcom character is drinking a popular soft drink. Perhaps the soft drink company paid for the privilege.

  • Then there are the more obvious examples that, for some reason, don't cause moral outrage. Perhaps you leave the Sunset Strip and to to Vegas, the Silicon Valley, or Austin for your favorite trade show. When you arrive, you get a handy carrying bag with the logo of a company emblazoned on it.

  • Later that evening, you go to a party associated with the trade show, and people give you food and drink and you don't have to pay for it! Wonder how they did that?

  • After an exhausting night of eating and drinking stuff that you didn't pay for, you go back to your hotel room. Realizing the moral issues involved in watching certain sitcoms, you decide to watch the local news instead, and are treated to a fine, high-quality special report from the station that just might mention a product or two.

  • Thoroughly disgusted with the sleaziness of the world, you walk out the next morning and buy a newspaper. (For my younger readers, I should explain that "newspapers," which still exist in some places, were items that were printed on paper that somewhat approximated what you get with Google News.) You pay 25 cents for the paper, even though that 25 cents doesn't cover all of the costs of the paper. Then, as you read through the paper, you see all these non-news items talking about clothing sales at department stores. Why did the newspaper print junk like that?
I think you get the drift of how I feel about this. AS LONG AS THERE IS DISCLOSURE, there is no difference between a pay-per-post item in a blog, a sponsored song on a website, a freebie at a trade show, a special report in a news program, or any other variant of a "product placement" business model.

Now we can attach words to it, but if we're going to criticize "payola" or "pay per post" in one model, then we'd better be equally willing to criticize the television networks for all of the advertisements that they ran during the Super Bowl - including that evil and morally reprehensible advertisement with the woman smashing the big blue screen that ran during the 1984 Super Bowl.

Danged Apple Computer, trying to foist its views on us during a football game...
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