Newsweek reports that marketing firm The Stonebrick Group is sending free sample products to a list of "Silicon Valley 100" influential bloggers. Joi Ito is among the list of members ("connectors") who thinks that receiving such products will not hurt his objectivity, but it is interesting that Stonebrick specifically avoided established journalists.
Hoffman says he avoided adding career bloggers or journalists to the
list. “Those people have a different standard and shouldn’t be keeping
free products,” he says (journalists are typically required to return
products they sample for review). But many Valley execs who maintain
well-read blogs are in the group, such as entrepreneurs Ross Mayfield,
Brad Templeton, Joi Ito and Zaw Thet. Ito, for one, says he will
enthusiastically write about the products he likes on his popular blog,
but adds, “I would disclose that I received the product for free. I
think this is very different from being paid to review a product with
some unspoken assumption that you would write something good.”
It will be interesting to see if blog readers agree. Will bloggers continue to be viewed much like trusted "friends," who happen to get to comment on some freebies? Or will readers begin to see these blog entries as paid endorsements? And if so, will credibility drop to the level of Suzanne Sommers and her Thighmaster? At minimum, we are beginning to see bloggers turn into celebrities. (Although I am having a discussion with Joi on his blog as to whether being on the list constitutes celebrity.) These endorsements will effectively have the credibility or lack of credibility of any celebrity endorsement (in other words, high or low, depending on the reputation of the person.) Traditional media has long had to grapple with the separation of advertising and editorial. At times, those lines have become blurred. Now they are further blurring in the blogosphere as well.