Forbes’s labeled and unlabeled ad blogs
When I accused Forbes’s Lewis DVorkin of selling out his blogging platform, his lieutenant Andrea Spiegel responded in the comments, saying that the new adblogs would be “clearly labeled and transparent to all.” She added:
Hopefully the criticism will wait until after we actually launch an AdVoice, when everyone can see it and judge for themselves.
Well, that day has come: the first AdVoice — SAP — has now launched, and it’s pretty much identical to all the other blogs on the Forbes platform, including DVorkin’s own. The differences are that SAP gets to include a banner ad for itself, and that there’s a little squib above that banner saying “Forbes AdVoice”.
That said, the branding is clear: the blog is clearly written by SAP, giving the SAP view on various topics. What’s still unclear, because the SAP blog is so new, is how links to the SAP blog from the rest of the Forbes.com site are going to work: will SAP posts be treated the same way as posts on other blogs, or will links to those posts be labeled as links to paid-for advertising content?
DVorkin himself hails the launch of the SAP blog with a post of his own, which talks about how marketers have become “respected content providers in an increasingly information-obsessed society.” He continues:
Everyone can be a creator or curator of content. What was yesterday’s audience is today’s cadre of potential experts who can report what they know or filter information for distribution to friends who trust their judgments.
Advertisers can do the same…
At Forbes, we’re beginning to open up our print and digital platforms so many more knowledgeable and credible content creators can provide information and perspective and connect with one another. In doing so, we will be totally transparent. All participants will be clearly identified, delineated and labeled.
I don’t actually find myself objecting very much to this, if only because the Forbes blogs didn’t have a good enough reputation in the first place that it matters much when they start getting mixed up with overt advertising.
But while I was on the site, I clicked around a little bit, and soon stumbled across this post. “The Best Rewards Credit Cards For Your Lifestyle” is the headline, but look closely at those hyperlinks. Common search-engine phrases like “rewards credit card”, “airline credit card”, “hotel credit card” and others are linked to just one site, cardhub.com. Altogether the post contains seven links, and all of them point to Cardhub.
Nowhere on the post is there any indication that the author of the post, Odysseas Papadimitriou, is the CEO of Cardhub. But he’s managed to convert an editorial blog — not an AdVoice blog — into a massive advertisement for his own company, complete with lots of highly valuable SEO links.
That’s not “knowledgeable and credible content creators can providing information and perspective and connecting with one another,” it’s advertising and marketing. And it emphatically is not “totally transparent,” nor is the marketer in question “clearly identified, delineated and labeled.”
Even if the AdVoice blogs are acceptable, then, Forbes.com as a whole seems to be very comfortable transgressing ethical lines with its blogs. I wouldn’t trust anything there to be what it seems.
Update: DVorkin responds in the the comments, saying that he “learned a lot from the post on credit cards”, where the byline has been quietly changed from Odysseas Papadimitriou to Card Hub. The SEO links remain, however, without any kind of nofollow tags.