And while I’m slapping some sense into TiVo…

TiVo, PayPerPost, really? You need to use astroturfing as marketing? WTF? Really? Really?

I read Davis Freeberg’s post at Seeking Alpha Thursday morning and my reaction was a potent mix of disbelief, disgust, and anger. So I held off on posting about this until I had time to get over my initial reaction. Now, most of a day later, my reaction is – a potent mix of disbelief, disgust, and anger. Of all the companies to use a organization like PayPerPost, I never would have guessed ‘TiVo’. TiVo, you have one of the most vociferous, legitimate grass-roots movements of any product or brand! People, like myself, blog about TiVo not because we’re paid to do it, but because we have a genuine passion for the company and the product!

PayPerPost is an astroturf factory. Only companies that can’t get that kind of genuine response use them to fake it. It is a repulsive marketing tactic, sending bloggers out to shill a product – not because they have any genuine feelings for the product, but because they’re being paid to do so. This kind of bullshit cheapens a brand – and it is, frankly, an insult to everyone who legitimately blogs about TiVo or participates in online TiVo forums. Now that this is out there, everything is tainted. Now anyone who blogs about TiVo could be legitimate, or they could be some jerk just doing it for the money.

Bloggers – you want to make some money off your blog – hey, that’s fine. I’d like to make money off my blogging too. My dream would be being able to be a full time tech blogger and pundit and not having to work a ‘day job’ – but I’ll take making some money to make the site and associated activities pay for themselves and not come out of my pocket. But you can do that through honest means, without selling your integrity – and the instant you shill PayPerPost, that’s just what you do. Join affiliate programs for websites you yourself use or support (if you wouldn’t use the site or product, then you shouldn’t be an affiliate, no matter what it pays – integrity again). Try Google Adsense or another ad program. Get someone to sponsor your site. But never, ever, sell your content. The second you do that, nothing you say is believable. Are they your thoughts and words – or are you some advertiser’s puppet with an arm elbow-deep in your arse? Your readers can never know – and once you lose your integrity, it is damn hard to get it back. Reputations are far easier to lose than to build up.

When bloggers like these shill for TiVo because they are paid to do so, it doesn’t matter if they really do use and enjoy TiVo. It is like some talking head on the news reciting crap from some talking points memo – do they really believe it or are they paid to act like it? If you take the coin, you’re tainted. And that taint colors the entire blogging community, because if some people are willing to sell out, who else may have sold out in secret? It doesn’t matter if people include a disclaimer, or a ‘bumper’ in their video. Yeah, PayPerPost has a Code of Ethics for bloggers, but people jump on these ‘opps’ to make money. Just read through their own forums.

TiVo, it seems like this ill-conceived scheme is designed to create video astroturf on YouTube. Why? There are other ways to incentivize people to make fools of themselves on camera and post it to YouTube – and you even use them! See your own ‘Hook Up’ campaign and the video submissions. Or Sling Media’s Stand-Up & Sling contest. There are ways to get people to willingly create viral marketing content without paying them to shill – and the people who willingly produce the videos for the slim chance of winning a unit, etc, are almost always those who have a genuine passion and interest in the product, not someone just looking to make a buck.

In case my opinion isn’t perfectly clear – I am disgusted with TiVo for using PayPerPost, and I’m against the whole concept of ‘paid blogging’. ‘Paid blogging’ is just a polite way of saying ‘shill’. There are other ways to make money from blogging. Don’t sell out. And shame on TiVo for astroturfing. Just like laying astroturf over grass will kill the grass, astroturfing over grass-roots will kill the genuine movement.

Here’s an idea – stop pathetically paying people to pretend to be your friends, and put the money towards covering rebate claims from your real customers.

About MegaZone

MegaZone is the Editor of Gizmo Lovers and the chief contributor. He's been online since 1989 and active in several generations of 'social media' - mailing lists, USENet groups, web forums, and since 2003, blogging.    MegaZone has a presence on several social platforms: Google+ / Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / LiveJournal / Web.    You can also follow Gizmo Lovers on other sites: Blog / Google+ / Facebook / Twitter.
This entry was posted in Blogs, TiVo. Bookmark the permalink.
  • Oscar

    Well, there is nothing sanctimonious about the blogger community.
    Lots of misinformation, etc. Frankly, I have no problem with Tivo planting
    a few videos to potentially generate interest. All’s fair on the web.
    A blogger is nothing more than one person’s opinion…they often end up
    getting a bigger soapbox than is warranted.

  • Ben Drawbaugh

    If they really wanted to improve their blogger coverage, they’d improve their communications. I’ve been writing about TiVo for almost two years and still don’t have a contact over there that I can rely on.

  • Kevin

    Well, I think if they had required a disclaimer on these videos, it would be no different that hiring any other ad agency to promote your product. Having said that, it doesn’t look like payperpost enforces that.

    I’m not fond of this type of advertising, thats for sure.

    Hopefully Tivo will see the negative reaction and pull the plug on it.

  • Anne

    Oh, that’s pretty lame. I lack the confidence in its success if many of them are like the blog posts I saw. Hideous. Completely not informative.

  • Alex

    If they really wanted to improve their blogger coverage, they’d improve their communications. I’ve been writing about TiVo for almost two years and still don’t have a contact over there that I can rely on.

    Or, they could update their own blog which hasn’t been updated in a century…

  • Dave Zatz

    “they could update their own blog”

    Do we really need the competition? ;)

  • megazone

    Oscar – With blogging everyone gets a basic soapbox to start. If you want a bigger soapbox you have to earn it by providing content and having integrity. Or you can end up with a shrinking soapbox if you prove to be untrustworthy. No one just grants you a sustained audience because you put up a blog, it takes real work to provide content that brings people back. And if you do a good enough job, you get a bigger soapbox. The ‘market’ determines how big of a box is warranted. I dislike paid blogging because it lacks integrity and I feel it is deceptive. It is like running into someone on a plane and having a conversation where they mention how much they love their new Dodge Charger and they tell you how great it is and that you should really look into getting one – and then you find out they’re paid by Dodge to promote the Charger. I know I’d feel used and lied to, and would have a lower opinion of Dodge as a result – as well as the shill who was pretending to be a friendly stranger. (I really do love my Dodge Charger, and I’m not paid to say so. ;-) ) This kind of advertising isn’t new – liquor companies have hired attractive people to go to trendy bars and conspicuously consume their products, for example. But it is always dishonest, it is astroturfing – trying to pass off advertising as genuine feeling. It is repulsive.

    Ben – Amen! I’ll email the person in marketing I’ve worked with when I’ve done reviews and she’s pretty good at getting back to me. (Whom I won’t name lest people deluge her.) But that isn’t her job, and she’s often on the road. She’s very nice and helpful, but I still feel bad about bugging her whenever I need to check something. TiVo really needs a blog liaison – they just don’t seem to ‘get it’ when it comes to bloggers. I’ve been told that some of the executives really dislike the blogs and don’t see the point in trying to establish a relationship with us. Witness the disastrous attempt to have an official TiVo corporate blog as well as the failed ‘TiVo Ambassador’ contest/program.

    Sling Media really got it right when they hired Zatz. I can hit Dave any time and he’ll get right back to me most of the time. Even when he’s on the road he tries to be responsive to bloggers. Sling ‘gets it’ and actively courts bloggers to spread the word about their products. Dave will give a heads up on new announcements – unlike TiVo where we get them when the public does, well after the ‘mainstream press’ gets them. How many times have we seen new announcements posted online from USA Today, etc, well before any press release has gone out.

    I know not everyone in TiVo feels that way. Some of the people there really do get it, but it seems like they’re working in an environment where they’re discouraged, if not forbidden, from establishing relationships with bloggers. TiVo really needs a Zatz of their own to be a point of contact for bloggers, someone who can speak to bloggers directly and understands the differences for bloggers compared to mainstream media – someone who knows the audience. I used to think it would be an interesting job, but now I’ve been blogging about TiVo for so long I think it might be too awkward to work there – and I’d have to give up the blogging due to conflict of interest, and I just enjoy it too much.

    Alex – Update it or take it down. Really, at this point it is an embarrassment.

    Dave – It wouldn’t be competition, there is still plenty of TiVo (and non-TiVo) news a corporate blog wouldn’t touch. But *some* voice would be good.

  • Michael Maggard

    Tivo’s busted.

    Not just over this, their whole marketing thing is just plain broken. Hell, their marketing staff should qualify for some sort of incompetent-protection-program where they’re shipped of to Eastern Europe, given fake identities, and encourage to try and make a go of it. (They’re likely nearly unemployable locally.)

    The inane parties. The abandoned blog experiment (the fella who used to run it disavows any responsibility now, as does apparently everyone else at Tivo HQ, including anybody with authority to just take the mess offline.) The godawful TiVo Shannon (I’m sure she’s a lovely person, but it’s like tuning into local public access cable programming…)

    It’s like college freshman are running their marketing. “Hey, let’s try this! No, now lets go with that!” “My Dad’s got a barn, you handle the lights, we’ll do a promo!” “Social networking is hot!” “Videos are viral!” etc.

    Correction: It feels like college freshman with Attention Deficient Disorder.

    Tivo had a great product. But they’re blowing through money, management, and everyone’s patience trying to move it to another level. Their horribly (bizarrely) inept marketing has gotta be a large part of the problems.

    Please, whoever is in charge of Tivo today–clean house. The folks stuck there just aren’t delivering and there have got to be better alternatives.

  • HDTiVo

    I make reference to the quotes below.

    I don’t feel insulted as a blogger or whatever the heck I am in my effort to write about the truth of what is happening at TiVo. This incident is one confirmation of what I say about the company, and it is one that has highlighted things that need to be understood better by more people.

    That TiVo did this does not surprise me one bit.

    Starting with the CEO, the organization doesn’t have much credibility and not communicating is simply a part of that. They hide because they have nothing useful to say and if they exposed themselves more, more people would realize it. The acts of secrecy and control are both an outgrowth and a cause of failure.

    A few months ago a TiVo employee reached out to me regarding some form of relationship the nature of which I am not clear. It included an invitation to express my views and have them passed along in some way. The person is perfectly nice and decent and I welcome the correspondance, but I can’t say today that I am clear what it is about.

    One danger of such a relationship could be cooption; the need to say nice things in public because I’d want to keep the relationship intact and potentially expand it further into TiVo. This is not an actual issue at this point, but makes it hard for me to pursue the relationship.

    On the other hand, having no contacts disadvantages me by having to observe and analyze everything from a far. But I have managed to succeed at that regardless.

    I am proud that I have no business ties, nor personal or professional debts to the company or its people. That allows me to completely say what I believe. The only thing that influences me sometimes is the thought that I might be sued for saying something, especially if I should make a mistake, but even if it is true and they just decide to stick it to me. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that.

    On the other hand, exposing the problems TiVo has can be healthy for the company; the reverse of TiVo’s insular dysfunctionality. Unfortunately the Company is so closed minded and wrong headed that little of that benefit (from any source – not me per se) gets through.

    Of course, Dave was not serious. :)

    And in reference to your later article, Dave going to work for Sling is vastly different from you going to work for TiVo. The two companies are at opposite poles – For people like you, Sling can be worked for and TiVo cannot without a complete overhaul of the organization, including the CEO.

    This kind of bullshit cheapens a brand – and it is, frankly, an insult to everyone who legitimately blogs about TiVo or participates in online TiVo forums.

    I’ve been told that some of the executives really dislike the blogs and don’t see the point in trying to establish a relationship with us. Witness the disastrous attempt …

    Dave – It wouldn’t be competition

  • HDTiVo

    I’ve had this headline running in my head for days:

    You Can’t Be Twenty on Sugar Mountain

    It’s like college freshman are running their marketing.

    Tivo had a great product. But they’re blowing through money, management, and everyone’s patience trying to move it to another level.

    Please, whoever is in charge of Tivo today–clean house