The BlogAds founder, like any entrepreneur ahead of his or her time, drew a lot of needling when he launched the service connecting advertisers and bloggers in 2002. Four year – and thousands of BlogAds later – explain his business proposition to anyone. He spoke to PRWeek.com about milestones in the blog movement, the power of gossip blogs, and whether he envisions an environment where every blogger is also pod- and videocasting.
Q: What was the prevailing opinion about BlogAds and the concept of selling ads on blogs was at that time?
A: It was an overwhelming silence, and overwhelming, “So what?” The perception in 2002 was that blogs were infantile, narcissistic, navel-gazing things written by teenagers. Even though in 2001, after 9-11, there were a whole bunch of adults getting excited about it and realizing it was a really vibrant place for exchanging information. That [reality] just hadn’t been absorbed by anybody. So it was, “Why the heck would you put ads on places like that?” Of course, four years later, with MySpace and Facebook having hundreds of millions of dollars of evaluations and lots of ads, that [idea has] shifted incredibly.
Q: At what time did it hit you that the blogging medium had become something with staying power, both as a news medium and something that could be supported by ads?
A: I have friends I had known as journalists [who] were blogging… one or two hours a night and sharing their site statistics with me. This was in 2001. They were pouring a lot of emotion into it, but it certainly wasn’t an effort to make money or to get huge audiences. But these guys had 10,000 - 30,000 serious readers. And there were online publications that were killing themselves to get those audiences. If an individual can [attract more traffic] in an hour a day, this is a tremendously more emotive, connective, and interesting environment. That was what impressed me.
The first time people started realizing there was something going on was when Trent Lott, senate majority leader, made some vaguely racist comments in December of 2002 endorsing the good ole days of segregation [in a speech lauding Strom Thurmond], and bloggers unearthed that. After that, Lott is no longer in power. That was the moment where it became apparent that bloggers would go where traditional reporters would not go, and they would do things with the speed that traditional media cannot [replicate]. It’s not just that bloggers don’t have editors; it’s that they can band together in packs. Traditional media is all about competing; god forbid, you link to your competition or collaborate with them. Blogs have realized that there’s strength in numbers. They’re tiny, but if they get together, they realized they could do something. That was the point where people woke up, at least in politics.
The real benchmark for me was early in ’04, when we had a [House of Representatives] candidate named [Ben] Chandler in Kentucky. He spent $2,000 in BlogAds, and he ended up garnering $80,000 in donations. All of a sudden, a lot of politicos said, “Oh god, a 40-to-1 return.” In theory, political advertisers are perfectly happy to spend a dollar and get a 10 cent contribution because they know, over the life of a campaign, they’re going to make their money back.
Q: Was advertising the core component that drove the environment, or, in an alternate universe, would we still have this fertile community without advertising?
A: I don’t think ads are indispensable. The spirit and passion is there, and people would be doing it whether they had money or not. But people could not be funding their Web sites… DailyKos.com has 10 servers. You just can’t fund that by stealing money out of your kid’s piggybank. The kind of classic citizen blogging would certainly be going on. But if you’re running a blog that’s going head-to-head against traditional media, it really takes money and time, so advertising is an essential piece of that development.
Q: Have political blogs started attracting non-campaign and ideological ads? And what niche of blogs surprised you by its growth?
A: Political blogs have an incredible demographic: 80% male, median age 45, and median income $85,000. The most incredible thing is the engagement. The median reader is reading 10 hours a week. They are also very disaffected from traditional media. These folks don’t believe what they’re reading in another media. So [companies] like Audi have great success in engaging with that audience – not with a political message, but with a message that is designed to be engaging and entertaining. Budget Rent-a-Car did another successful campaign last week with a similar message. You’ve also got an awful lot of policy-orientated [ads], but, if you look at the New York Times, those big one-page ads are very often not selling toothbrushes, but are selling “BP being friendly to the environment” and “Chevron: We’re green,” and GM, “We’re ethanol-friendly.” The blogosphere is becoming the Times Square for those types of ads.
Other areas have surprised me. I am not a reader of People Magazine and never would have imaged the gossip blogosphere would have been as incredibly powerful as it is. A guy like PerezHilton.com who only started blogging a couple of months ago, is now doing like 10 million-15 million page impressions a month. Go Fug Yourself, a woman in LA and a woman in New York, are blogging together about disastrous celebrity outfit choices. These folks have become real pop culture tastemakers. Ask any 25 year-old woman in your office what [she] reads, and she’ll tell you either Perez or Go Fug Yourself. If you want to engage with that audience, this is the place you want to do it. We’re seeing MTV and fashion companies wake up to that.
Q: Do you envision that, in five years’ time, we’ll be talking about a completely different-looking space where everything is multimedia?
A: There is this whole thing about a lot of bloggers doing podcasts and videocasts, therefore, “Isn’t it all one and the same?” The stage we’re in is kind of like how it was in the 1500s. You had a printing press, but it wasn’t clear what you were going to do with it. Maybe you would do books, magazines, or newspapers.
I believe the textual, comment-heavy blogosphere will steam ahead. There will be equally big podcasting spheres; you will have equally big [videocasting] spheres. There will be some that do all three, but I believe these are specialized skill sets. Not every blogger can look good and be funny in a vlog. Likewise, not everyone can do podcasts. You’re going to see specialization. Look at Rocketboom: they’re not wasting a lot of time with blogging. DailyKos.com is not wasting a lot of time with video blogging. The beauty of blogs is you can sit there and scan a lot of material in ten minutes. The difference with the podcast and video media, is you have to sit there and listen to it for five minutes. As opposed to news with a blog, you can read or scan 10,000 words and a lot of information. The real info junkies are going to be reading blogs.