Crayon Plays In Shades Of Grey

I’m not one to typically cause controversy or raise trouble. I’ve got enough to worry about in my life and don’t need to bring on the extra burdens associated with raising eyebrows in a close knit advertising community such as the bait ball we call New York’s digital media practice.

However, I do believe as a blogger (albeit a n00b), that it’s my duty to bring my semi-interesting perspectives on our industry to light with the 3 or 4 of you (hi mom!) that read my tiny space on the internet.

With that said, I’d like to focus on a topic near and dear to my heart: social media. In many ways the rise of conversational marketing has caused for many sleepless nights in my life. From the Rootlevel scope work I commissioned in 1998 around community oriented calendaring, to how we created modem trees at Simplewire specifically for inbound and outbound alerting on user whereabouts from applications. This in addition to having the good fortunes of teaming up with Erik Rabasca to oversee a WOM panel moderated by Ed Keller while at PHD.

Point being, I’m not someone to step on a soap box and deliver epiphanic statements worthy of book titles. I actually enjoy the incubated surroundings of friends while discussing emerging media’s topic d’jour and though admittedly won’t shy away from an opinion when prompted with questions, I don’t seek to umbrella my opinions on anyone who doesn’t want to hear them.

What’s the point of my rambling? Simple: in my mind, what I’m about to say could be considered career arson. Had it been Marketing Arson, I could’ve written a book about it. 🙂

So on with it!

One of my friends left MySpace to head up sales for the company formally known as Pay Per Post. Pay Per Post, if you weren’t aware of them, pays bloggers to write about brands. This has not been without significant controversy. With blog posts labeling them as everything from a “virus” to “officially absurd” to the very direct Jason Calcanis declaring them “stupid and evil”, you kind of get the feeling that maybe bloggers take the idea of radical transparency to heart. In a reputation economy, can any brand afford to hide behind the equivalent of radio payola?

Obviously not, and this in turn has somewhat strained my relationship with my friend.

What does this have to do with the subject of this post?

Everything and nothing.

Some of you may have heard of Crayon. Many of you may have heard of Death of the 30 Second Spot by Joseph Jaffe. Both are attached at the hip as Crayon is the marketing company founded by Jaffe. In addition to Joseph Jaffe, Crayon consists of a myriad of thought leaders, each with their own unique internet following via their personal blogs.

Recently Crayon brought on a new client, ooVoo. ooVoo is a web based video conferencing service – I assume similar to iChat. I admitedly have not used ooVoo, but to be honest don’t have a need to since I own a mac with said iChat. I’m a proponent of video based chatting services, and can’t really find fault in the value proposition to ooVoo’s prospective clients. Additionally, as the CEO of ooVoo recently vlogged via Youtube, he sees a unique agency/client synergy between Crayon and ooVoo given Crayon’s understanding of the conversation.

Nothing seems out of sync. I agree with ooVoo’s assessment of Crayon. They know how to spark conversations.

Yet imagine my surprise when I started observing everything from Scott Monty tweets to Youtube videos delivered by Jaffe himself endorsing ooVoo to personal blog posts by another influential crayonista all promoting the use of ooVoo. I asked myself, are they truly passionate about ooVoo? Would they be promoting ooVoo if they weren’t being paid to do so?

Influencing the influencers is a cornerstone tactic when attempting to build amplified word-of-mouth conversations around a certain brand or product. In fact for those that never quite knew the history of Twitter – its origins in social phenomena were birthed at one of the granddaddy’s of hipster influence – SXSW. The difference however, was that nobody at SXSW was being paid by Twitter to endorse it – it just sort of happened.

So in an industry filled with sensitivity. Where huge PR companies get raked through the coals for even the slightest hint of inauthenticity, how can Crayon defend itself? Or better yet, how can Crayon’s employees defend themselves? Well…

  • They are consumers.
  • Consumers have a right to endorse products they like.
  • They are transparent in all of their communications regarding their ooVoo relationship.

Greg Verdino has a quote on Jaffe Juice that I thought was relevant to spark thought around this topic:

“When we talk about blogging, we’re not just talking from the perspective of being marketing professionals, but as actual bloggers. We’ve rolled up our sleeves and found what it takes to successfully engage in the blogosphere.”

I don’t disagree with Greg. They know this space intimately well and they’ve followed the blogging rules of engagement set by WOMMA; the three tenets being:

  • Honesty of Relationship: You say who you’re speaking for
  • Honesty of Opinion: You say what you believe
  • Honesty of Identity: You never obscure your identity

But even with the honesty and transparency of informing those that they have a working relationship with ooVoo, the question begs to be asked: even when doing nothing to violate WOMMA’s code of ethics, is what Crayon doing ethical? Is this any different than Pay Per Post?

To conclude, I want to make something very clear. I have a lot of respect for Joseph, his colleagues and his company. So again, I write this post to raise thought and discussion around this topic, not to point accusations at Crayon.

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