Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Today's Scandal in Montreal

A pro-cycling blog (À vélo citoyens) written by three people who met while bicycling. The three of them blog - and very well too - about the joys of cycling, about what's new, they put up short videos. It's a well thought out blog, regularly updated. One of the good ones.

They open a Facebook page linked to their blog which has over 1000 "friends".

Each of the three has his/her own Facebook page, with - in one case - 1300 "friends" (I really have to put quotes around that - friends? Really? C'mon!)

And then they got a scoop. Montreal was installing Bixi bikes, a system - much like the one in Paris - whereby you can "borrow" a bike at a designated spot and leave it at your destination. It's green, it's great, it's all damn wonderful. Well, Montreal merchants beg to differ, but that's a whole other thing.

The cost: $78 for a yearly pass, though you can get monthly or weekly passes.

It was a scoop indeed.

However (you knew this was coming didn't you?)

It turns out the whole blog/facebook thing was a hoax.

The Bixi (a contraction of bicycle and taxi) system itself is real, and is being inaugurated in Montreal today (unfortunately, they don't seem to have translated the Montreal Bixi webpage yet - but it might just be a temporary glitch).

But it turns out the blog and Facebook pages were set up by Morrow Communications who were mandated by the city of Montreal pump up interest in the whole Bixi thing.

Now, for the "scandal" :

Although Morrow and the city of Montreal say they did nothing wrong, some people (especially those, I suppose, who were fans of the blog) feel they've been cheated, that creating a blog that everyone believes is real in order to sell a concept is simply dishonest (doesn't take much to get people all het up in Montreal as y'all can see).

As I doubt I'll be using the bikes and had never heard of the blog until this morning, I don't much care one way or another.

But what about the ethics of it? Is it, in fact, wrong to do this? Does it make blogs in general less trustworthy? How about the blog in question - it was apparently a very good blog, does the fact that it's marketing change that?

I have no answers - what do you think??


Ian Lidster said...

I think it defiles the concept of blogs and what they should be. Now, how about killing that one instead of mine? That only seems fair.

citizen of the world said...

In the grand schme eof things it's not horrifyingly unethical. And yet, I never like the feeling of being duped. So, in general, I think it's wrong.

Gaelyn said...

If it's a good blog, great. But be honest and upfront about the marketing.

geewits said...

That's a tough one. I've read certain blogs that struck me as being off somehow. I can see how people may have latched onto blogging as a way to live out a fantasy life, but doing it commercially? I don't know. I live in a capitalistic country so it's hard to condemn it, but people DO hate to feel duped (like citizen said) so it was a bad idea after all. If the blog is good though and they keep it up, maybe people will continue to enjoy it?

Jazz said...

Ian - Poor dear. Unfortunately they're not on Blogger. I'd best be careful what I say, who knows what might happen.

Citizen - I think it's brilliant from a marketing point of view - apparently it's called guerrilla marketing - but I don't know how I'd see it had I been a follower of that blog.

Gaelyn - Yeah really. But then, would the marketing work I wonder? Would people actually read the blog, knowing it was simply publicity.

Geewits - Apparently this is not a first. And if they work... As the guy from the city of Montreal pointed out, had we put the blog on our website, no one would have looked at it. He has a point. I guess blogs, seeing as they reach so many people, were bound to eventually be co-opted by marketing companies.

furiousBall said...

yeah, that's stupid. i say we light their blog on fire

lime said...

i just displays one side of human nature. there can be a wonderful idea that connect people in so many great ways and others will find a way to exploit it. the folks who did so are jerks but blogging is still a wonderful thing.

Dumdad said...

No one likes being duped. The blog should have been upfront about what it was about. I expect many people will stop reading it. But the concept of bikes in the city is a good one like Velib here in Paris (although I have my own bike so don't use it).

rachel said...

Ooo I love questions like this!

Ethics is fun.

Okay let's see...

I think what it comes down to is this: were the 3 "bloggers" real or a construct of Morrow? If they were real, even as employees of Morrow, telling stories about biking, then there wasn't anything unethical about it. If on the other hand the three bloggers were complete constructs and their stories also complete fabrications, then yes, it was dishonest, and perhaps unethical.

The thing is, the blog was "pro-biking" and had been so from the beginning. The agenda was always there. I don't see how the blog had ever decieved anyone re: their agenda.

ticknart said...

"Does it make blogs in general less trustworthy?"

Blogs are, in general, created by individuals. There's no police force making sure anyone is being honest on their blogs. This "scandal" makes blogs just as trustworthy as they ever deserved to be.

It's on the internet, for cricket Christ's sake, everything should be taken with a swig of lemon juice.

Jocelyn said...

I agree with Ian. Using social networking tools for marketing peeves me. I hate it even when I get a "new follower" on Twitter--and it's some store/marketer. BOOOOO.

The biking idea is so awesome, too, that it is a shame to have a marred thusly.

Btw, in regards to your funny question about my Groom wearing boxers and gardening gloves often...well, he actually only does when he's disposing of rat corpses in the middle of the night...but I like to pretend it's a regular part of bedroom play.

Where he's, um, the gardener. 'Cause that's zzzzzzzzexy.

Maddy said...

As Lime says, the good idea and the exploitative jerks, they're always there.

Suldog said...

My personal belief is that if you are hired to do something on your blog, you should at least put a disclaimer on the specific post stating as much. You can certainly say something akin to, "I really, truly enjoy this product/service, so why not take the bucks, too?" but there should be something.

Ricë said...

there's a word for when you make up stuff and write about it. it's called "fiction," and it's wonderful stuff when you know what it is. but i'm a stickler for this, having been trained in journalism, albeit briefly: truth is truth, and fiction is fiction. anything that blurs the lines between those is what, boys and girls? lies. "creative non-fiction"? huh. and lying for the purpose of making money? whoa.(and that's called "advertising," but at least we usually recognize it, given the chance.)

what if morrow had hired three bikers months ago, told them to go out, ride, have adventures, and write about those. then, when the time came to unveil the new bike system, the bloggers would say, "our boss came in this morning with the coolest news. . . "

if they'd done their job well, they would have had the same number of fans and "friends," and their opinion about this (most excellent) bike project would have been valued.

and honesty would have spread over the land. amen.

Jazz said...

Furball - Go dude!

Lime - yeah it is.

DD - Yeah, it's pretty much like the Vélib thing. Hopefully it'll work out. I'll no doubt have another post on the concept itself.

Rachel - The bloggers were indeed complete constructs of the marketing firm. The information on the blog however was good, very factual, lots of interesting information.

Ticknart - This is true.

JOcelyn - It'll be interesting to see if it works out. As for the gardening -I can see how that would have possibilities.

Maddy - They are

Suludog - As I noted to Rachel, these people didn't even exist. They were complete constructs.

Jazz said...

Ricë - Amen indeed...

Guillaume said...

I am glad Patrick Lagacé found out that one. That was a really cheeky publicity campaign. Maybe not illegal, but utterly unethical.

xup said...

In the world of PR, this is definitely unethical. Like journalists, PR professionals have a code of ethics and this is one of the things that's a no-no. It's called "astroturfing" and it's done in all sorts of ways - anytime a corporation creates a fake grassroots-type organization to dupe/win over customers. Not only is it incredibly deceitful, but it makes it very difficult for real grassroots organizations to gain support and financing. And it is grassroots organizations who effect the most change in our society. I hope these scumbags get drummed out of CPRS (if they're even members)

Jazz said...

Guillaume - Lagacé finds 'em all.

XUP - While looking around (after I wrote this) I found the term astroturfing (for all you not in the know its the opposite of grassroots - totally fake). And I swear I thougt, I'll bet XUP knows this term. Girl is there anything you don't know? I'm seriously impressed.

xup said...

I did my second degree in PR, so I know this one legitimately.

Jazz said...

XUP - and usually you don't come by your information legitimately? How exactly, then, do you come about it, dear?

Michelle Sullivan said...

I'm a Montreal PR consultant with a strong interest in social media. I'm a blogger, podcaster .. name it, if it's social media, I've probably dabbled in it at least a bit, out of personal and professional interest.

What Morrow did is called Astroturfing (fake grass vs grassroots)

Personally, I'm against it and don't do it. For me, it betrays the spirit of blogging.

The code of conduct of the SQPRP (the association for PR practitioners in Quebec) is against dishonesty and misrepresentation.

Morrow is an ad agency, not a PR adgency, so they aren't held to the code of conduct of the SQPRP - I don't know much about the code of ethics of marketing associations, but I suspect they wouldn't be for it either.

The time has come for PR and marketing associations to address astroturfing directly. I think consumers deserve to know the rules of the game, the same way they do when they watch a TV ad. You know the guy telling you to buy product XYZ is an actor, paid by the company. The rules are understood.

Fake blogs take us into new territory.

Are they kosher? I certainly don't think so.