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Corporate sponsorship for a wine blog?

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I was talking with my friend, Jo Diaz, the other day. (She writes the Juicy Tales by Jo Diaz wine blog.) Jo is a visionary when it comes to blogging, social media and that fabled nexus where the wine industry meets the Internet. Jo, who runs the Diaz Communications P.R. firm with her husband, Jose, has thought more deeply about the future of blogs than anyone I know. During our conversation, she told me she now thinks that the way for a blog to make money is to attract corporate sponsorships.

Her reasoning is that, if a blog attracts enough eyeballs, corporations will want to be associated with it. They’ll pay the blogger money in order to have a presence, or, as Jo put it, “Give something popularity, and some company somewhere wants that face behind the name to further lend credibility to their product.”

People are cynical when a corporation runs its own blog (or Twitters) extolling its products, but apparently they’re willing to trust a third party endorser. This is the essence of corporate sponsorship. It’s similar to a celebrity with a high likeability factor, like John Madden endorsing Ace Hardware, or Ashton Kutcher pitching a digital camera. There’s an interesting article about this phenomenon on a blog, BlogCampaigning, in which corporate sponsorship of a blogger is defined as “great content, great conversation,” as opposed to “sponsored posts” written by that corporation, which are perceived as not so great. By coincidence, last Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle reported how celebrity blogger Perez Hilton is attracting movie studio endorsements that pay him to blog and Tweet about their films. And the young blogger Jon Ray recently told his readers, in a post entitled My new blog…with corporate sponsorship, that a college lifestyle magazine, Study Breaks, “has offered to actually give me a paycheck for writing…”; their hope is that his cheeky, hip personality will lure young readers to the site.

This may work in the entertainment industry, but it’s not clear to me that it can succeed in wine. For one thing, why would a non-wine industry corporation sponsor a wine blogger? And if the blogger is sponsored by a wine company, then people might not believe he was being objective. This potential conflict-of-interest was expressed last week in the British drinks trade magazine, Harpers Wine & Spirit. In it, the authors correctly note that the wine industry must target “the technology savvy ‘Generation Y’” if it hopes to “secure its long term future.” But they introduce this important caveat: “However, the younger generation is likely to be cynical about companies targeting them with products via networking sites…these type of consumers were wary of recommendations by wine writers believing they are not ‘impartial’ and some how connected to the wine trade.”

Do you recall the news from a few week ago, when Jackson Family Wines announced that social media job opening for Murphy-Goode? (I blogged about it.) Well, Jo Diaz told me the entire wine P.R., marketing and advertising community is going to be watching that development with the greatest interest. Will it work? And how will the results be measured? If there’s a new model out there that can succeed for both the winery and the blogger, you can bet Jess Jackson has the resources to find it. (And congratulations to him for Rachel Alexandra’s stunning Preakness win.)

  1. This makes me ask: What is the difference is between advertising and sponsorship? I am familiar with individuals being “sponsored” (they then get called spokespeople, usually, a la Bobby Flay for Columbia Crest, Tyler Florence for Rancho Zabaco); and we’ve all seen “sponsored by ____” on TV shows (usually indicating substantial advertising when on commercial programs; just mentions on PBS-type shows). But I have no sense of how corporate sponsorhip, wine or not-wine related) would appear on a blog. Do you?

  2. Tish, I think it’s an evolving definition — like everything else in this online era.

  3. Hi Steve -

    I think a way that there are plenty of ways that a non-win industry corporation could sponsor a wine blog. I don’t know much about wine or the wine industry, but I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that people that like wine enough to read wine blogs a.) have enough disposable income to spend on wine and other luxuries and b.) also like cheese. In the case of a.), other luxury goods makers could easily sponsor a post about wine (for example: a car company). For b.), a cheese company could sponsor a post about which ones go best with cheese without the blogger even mentioning specific brands of cheese.

    Just as traditional publications strive to ensure that their editorial content isn’t influenced by their editorial content, new media outlets (ahem, blogs) should strive for the same. I would see no problem reading a wine blog that was occasionally sponsored by a particular brand of wine, as long as that blogger was fair in their treatment and reviews of that wine.

  4. I think the way to look at this guys is Murphy-Goode, but from a slightly different perspective.

    They are getting incredible earned media out of a $60K investment — that’s the game, not necessarily having somebody blog and tweet for the next 6 months.

    However, in doing so, they are requiring that somebody pick up their life and move, not practical for a lot of people.

    What if, instead of paying $60K to one blogger for for 6 months, they paid 6 bloggers 10K to do so for a year, where they could blog and tweet from the confines of their home.

    In doing so, the blogger blogs transparently and ethically, good and bad about Murphy-Goode and their wine.

    That’s what the future of endorsement looks like — content marketing with an ethical compass.

    It’s essentially brand ambassadorship on steroids.

    Jeff

  5. Good Grape, I guess they had their reasons for 1 blogger, not 6. Anyhow, it is a very important move and “the whole world is watching,” as we used to say.

  6. Parker, I agree. As I replied to Tish, this area is very rapidly evolving and we’re all looking into a glass darkly. Or something like that.

  7. “For one thing, why would a non-wine industry corporation sponsor a wine blogger?”

    A fair question. Why does Breitling watches sponsor Ming Tsai’s video podcast about food?

  8. Dale Cruse answers the question with an instructive question. The reason the Wine Spectator adopted a “lifestyle” approach to wine journalism was to widen the potential pool of advertisers. It is not enough to have good economic demographics. Publications also need to have a topical focus that fits the potential advertiser.

    That is why it will be a long time before folks like Breitling sponsor wine blogs. And that is also why I am suspicious of sponsored blogs. The idea initially behind blogs is their total independence.

    An online blog with sponsorship is a magazine. It is professional. Now, Steve is a professional but he is writing here without sponsorship. Alder Yarrow makes a point in his blog today that he is not a professional. I might argue that point, but the minute that the blogosphere goes professional, it is simply another service for fee.

    I have no problem with that either. My little part of the wine biz is a service for fee–and thankfully I get enough fees to make a living tasting wine.

    But, bloggers, beware what you wish for. Yarrow says “no deadlines, no quotas to fill”. When someone is paying you to reach a set number of eyeballs on a schedule with minimum number of words, your world will change. For guys like Steve and me and others of us who comment here, we are already in that boat with out day jobs. When you get paid to blog, that becomes your day job.

  9. Most sponsorships happen when two separate brands have values or there is a customer base which aligns. Breitling watches sponsors Ming Tsai likely because there is demographic data showing the age, gender, and income of viewers for his podcast. These are likely people that Breitling knows would also be interested in their watches based on their current lifestyle.

    That and besides, watches and food go together perfectly, how else would you know it’s time to eat?

  10. When I did a Millennials story in January, I quoted a blogger who has a Jackson sponsorship while teaching and giving wine and cheese seminars. JFW started a Millennial portfolio of wines in ’06 though I don’t know where that is going. Taking on a full-time in-house blogger is another stone in the pond. It worked for Australia and the guy who gets to live on an island for a year. What I am curious about is how they will deal with negative comments by the blogger. No matter what the business is, things happen that are not good PR.

    As to sponsorships (ads), why not? Assuming that the pay per view model is still a long way off and the inheritance has dwindled, what is the alternative?

  11. Kathy asks “why not? What is the alternative.”

    The alternative is to not take advertising. There are publications that do not, and there are publications that do. If you want to be a blogger and to take advertising, two things happen immediately.

    The first is that oneis then in some way beholden to the advertisers. That is fine if one accepts that fact and fallacy if one does not.

    The second is that the type of advertising taken does matter. If a blogger takes adds from K-J and then reviews K-J wines or simply does stories about them, questions are going to be raised and some of the conclusions drawn, whether fair or not, or not going to be pretty.

    It seems to me that if the blogosphere is ever going to amount to much more than a discussion board, it is going to have to become professional. Alder Yarrow may not think he is professional, but anybody who attends professional trade tastings, takes notes and makes hundreds of evaluations the way he does is acting like a professional, not an amateur. I have no problem with that. The more the better, but beware what you wish for. There are consequences, both good and perhaps not so good, for bloggists who become professional.

    And lest one think that this very smart and entertaining blog is not professional, just remember that there is no way Steve could know all he knows without devoting his life to it.

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