Friday, December 28, 2007

Blogging and Marketing in Japan and the U.S.

In a New York Times article published yesterday, blogging is touted as a “low-cost, high return marketing tool” for small businesses and certain guidelines like transparency and frequent updates are laid out.

Wal Mart and its PR firm Edelman came under fire in October when it was revealed that two bloggers writing positively about Wal Mart stores across the U.S. were actually hired to promote the company.

An article in Free Internet Press compares America’s “abrasive self-promotion” with Japan’s “conformist culture” which the article claims is apparent in the blogosphere. The article refers to Junko Kenetsuna, who reviews restaurants in her blog, “I had my lunch”:

In all the blog entries she has composed at home and in cybercafes over the years, Kenetsuna has never written a discouraging word - not a single critical reference to bad food, lousy service or rip-off prices, she said. Such harshness, in her view, would be improper and offensive.

"If I think the food stinks, I don't write it," said Kenetsuna, 43, who makes a living writing advertising copy for a weekly newspaper for female office workers in Tokyo.
"There is a part of me that feels sorry for the restaurant, if it were to lose business because of what I write," she said. "I don't want to influence the diners."

Although politeness is generally considered ethical, isn’t honest criticism more important for customer reviews? Is self-censoring negativity about another company more or less transparent than self-promoting oneself under a guise?

There’s a similar dilemma posed by blogs hosting advertisements. Japanese venture capitalist Joichi Ito recently began an online marketing tool in which bloggers choose the advertisements that appear on their sites. According to Business Week:
[AdButterfly] aims to put marketers directly in touch with bloggers. Like Google's (GOOG) AdSense and other similar services, AdButterfly relies on complex algorithms that automatically place ads on relevant Web sites run by bloggers who sign up. Marketers can also manually search for blogs whose subject matter is a good fit with the brand or products they're advertising.

AdButterfly, unlike AdSense and other rivals, gives bloggers the final say on the ads that appear and also allows blog owners to comment next to the advertisement. Ito believes this to be more “authentic” than “sly behind-the-scenes marketing techniques.” But the article also warns against filtering ads:
There are, of course, drawbacks to advertising on blogs, which don't have the long reach of mass media. And analysts worry that AdButterfly muddies the divide between paid-for endorsements and grassroots buzz. Not all bloggers are likely to come clean when there's a conflict of interest. "This model is both unique and murky," says Pete Blackshaw, executive vice-president of market researcher Nielsen Online Strategic Services. "My guess is that a set of informal rules will emerge."

Business Week says that despite the potential threat of bloggers running advertisements for companies they dislike just so they can criticize them, this has not yet happened on AdButterfly. This may be due to the “conformist culture” or the fact that the service is only used by about 2,000 Japanese bloggers as of yet.

With the growing trend of merging marketing with blogging, what role will cultural differences play? Japanese and English are the two most-used languages in the blogosphere and users of the two languages appear to have different marketing approaches.

Will Americans, who are supposedly more self-promotional and less averse to offending, abuse Japanese advertising tools? What sort of guidelines for online marketing might help bridge the alleged cultural divide?

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