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Brazil: The Rent-a-Blog debate heats the blogosphere

The highly sensitive Brazilian blogosphere is fizzing after a famous brand of beverage decided to invest in blogs as the main vehicle to market its latest product. Nine prominent bloggers were cherry picked and received a fancy USB mini fridge with a new product to be tested – and obviously to be blogged about. Soon blogs [pt] and the twittorsphere [pt] were happily bubbling with comments about the innovative marketing strategy, until the story was picked up by BlueBus [pt], another no less prominent site with an impressive 13 years on the blogosphere, which introduced a new term to refer to the picked blogs: “blogs-de-aluguel” in Portuguese or “rent-a-blog”. Needless to say, this nickname didn't go down very well and the bloggers quickly got together to react and put up a “I am not a rent-a-blog blogger” [pt] manifesto:

Blog é página pessoal, é registro de tempo, é expressão, é alguém falando o que pensa/acha/acredita para quem quiser ler. Blogueiros não têm sindicato, salário, férias, mas fazem muita, muita hora extra. Blogueiro não é jornalista nem publicitário: poder ser tudo e nada, teenager ou mãe de família, cabeleireiro ou alto executivo. Cada um tem a audiência que merece, a credibilidade que conquistou.

A blog is a personal page, is a time logbook, is expression, is someone saying what they think/reckon/believe for those who want to read it. There aren't bloggers’ union, wages, holidays, but we do lots of overtime. A blogger is not a journalist or an advertising agent: they can be everything and nothing, teenager or mother, hairdresser or CEO. Each one has the audience they deserve, the credibility they have conquered.

For many bloggers, like Prix [pt], BlueBus staff just suffered a jealousy attack because all the nine bloggers chosen were much younger than them, both in age and in experience as bloggers:

Egos cutucados ou não, quem dirige o BB deve ter pensado, “Por que eu não ganhei um presentinho desse ? estou na internet desde desde, e quem ganha são esses moleques ?” […] Tudo ficou com cara de ser inveja por parte do BlueBus pelo que esses blogs tem produzido e pelo destaque conquistado.

Bruised egos or not, whoever runs the BB [BlueBus] must have thought: “Why wasn't it me who got this little gift? I've been on the Internet since the beginning, and those kids are the ones who get it?” […] It looks like it is BlueBus’ jealousy because of what these blogs have produced and the prominence they have achieved.

Rafael Ziggy [pt], one of the bloggers linked to by BlueBus as a “rent-a-blog”, demanded clarification. In answer to him, the site publisher, Julio Hungria [pt], explains the choice of words:

Rafael, a expressao nao tem sentido pejorativo. Se vc tiver uma sugestao melhor, estou aceitando. Mas em jornalismo (blog nao é um formato moderno de jornalismo?) nao aceitamos geladeiras ou quaisquer outros tipos de coisas que envolvam valor que nos comprometa com comentarios positivos sobre produtos ou pessoas. Nao desdenho com a expressao ‘blogs de aluguel’. Acho que o teu formato é legitimo. Pra mim seria uma forma normal de comunicaçao, uma midia a serviço de 1 cliente. No inicio chamavam de ‘blogs corporativos’ mas nao é isso – ‘corporativo’ supoe 1 blog de propriedade da empresa para veicular declaradamente assuntos de interesse dela (normalmente deveriam ser geridos por assessorias de imprensa)

Rafael, the expression doesn't have such a pejorative meaning. If you have a better suggestion, I'll accept it. But in journalism (isn't blog a modern form of journalism?) we don't accept fridges or anything else which would compromise our values with positive comments about products or people. I don't despise you with the expression “rent-a-blog”. I think your format is a legitimate one. To me it would be a normal form of communication, a medium serving 1 customer. In the beginning it was called ‘corporate blogs’ but this is not it – ‘corporate’ assumes a blog owned by a company to run openly topics of their interest (which usually should be handled by PR)

Cardoso [pt] thinks this explanation given by BlueBus was rather cynical. He publishes the picture below and answers to Julio Hungria:

Primeiro, Júlio, jornalista que se preza escreve em português correto. Passe a usar acentos como gente grande. Assim você parece mais jornaleiro. Sem sentido pejorativo. Segundo, eu lamento MUITO que a sua integridade e Credibilidade seja algo tão barato que possa ser comprometida por uma geladeira USB. Gostaria de te informar que ao mesmo tempo em que há sim, blogs que se vendem por qualquer merreca e falam que gostam de Passport, os blogs sérios são feitos por gente SÉRIA e de caráter, que não precisa “fugir da tentação” para não ceder ao pecado. E mesmo que cedêssemos, não sei se a geladeira USB é o preço médio de um jornalista, mas um blogueiro custa bem mais caro.

First, Julio, a self-respecting journalist writes in correct Portuguese. Start to use accents as a grown-up. Otherwise you look more like a paperboy. No pejorative overtone here. Second, I regret VERY MUCH that your integrity and credibility are something so cheap that they can be compromised by a USB fridge. I would like to inform you that at the same time that there are, indeed, blogs that are sold by any shit money to say they like Passport, serious blogs are kept by serious people who have character, who don't need to “resist the temptation” in order not to commit a sin. And even if we did commit one, I don't know if a USB fridge is the average price of a journalist, but a blogger is much more expensive.

Fail Bus – It doesn't need to be blue to be a disaster. But it helps.

Change is in the air

As someone who is on the other side of the debate, Roberto Cassano [pt] sees blogs and social media as advertising opportunities, and says that receiving testing products is a sign that the blogger's social role as opinion makers is being well met. The problem is to label the whole of the blogosphere as “rent-a-blog” and “release lines” when a few make inappropriate use of the opportunities they get:

Mas isso só acontece porque estamos no meio de um processo, em um mercado imaturo ainda, que tem muito a crescer. As mídias geradas por usuários e as redes sociais são o fantástico e inevitável caminho da propaganda. Não fosse não teria eu mesmo migrado para uma empresa especializada nisso, e não distribuiria produtos a blogueiros (sim, eu faço isso) na esperança de que blogueiros gostem dos produtos que enviamos e resolvam falar bem deles. Ou que falem mal. Ou que não falem nada.

But this only happens because we are in the midst of a process, in a still immature market, which has much growing to do. The user generated medias and social networks are fantastic and an inevitable means for advertising. If this wasn't true I would not have migrated to a company specialized in this, and would not give away products to bloggers (yes, I do this) in the hope that bloggers will enjoy the products we send and decide to talk nicely about them. Or talk badly. Or just not say anything.

Michel Lent [pt] gives his two cents worth saying that the way the Brazilian blogging community usually reacts to any kind of criticism is very exaggerated and agrees that we are the witnesses of the end of an era:

Não se trata de uma guerra jornalistas x blogueiros. Ainda mais neste caso, onde o estopim parece ter sido o BlueBus, na minha opinião, o primeiro blog influente do Brasil. Se trata de um novo momento da comunicação onde os papéis antigos estão sendo revistos e os novos, inventados. Acho que o protesto deve ser feito sim, mas não em forma de agressão bruta e sim em forma de argumentação. Acredito que a única forma de amadurecer é através do debate.

This is not a journalists versus bloggers war. Even more in this case, where the gasket seems to have been blown by BlueBus which is, in my opinion, the first influential blog in Brazil. This is a new communication era where the old roles are being reviewed and the new ones invented. I think the protest should be made, but not in an aggressive and brutal way but as an argument. I believe that the only way to mature is through discussion.

The “monetization” debate is never out of fashion on the Brazilian blogosphere, with heated opinions both for and against the fact that bloggers may use blogs to make some money or even a living out of writing. However, this is a debate that deserves a post of its own. More to follow soon.

11 comments

  • Very interesting post, Paula. I’ve always wondered what the rest of the world thinks about that subject. I know that, as a blogger, I’ve gotten lots of wonderful offers (including some with monetary value) but only take up those which I believe in, and never for money.

    Something to think about!

  • Thank you Jillian! Wait for the next post on the subject – this was a rather light one – to see what has been discussed in Brazil!

  • […] Comment on Brazil: The Rent-a-Blog debate heats the blogosphere by …Thank you Jillian! Wait for the next post on the subject – this was a rather light one – to see what has been discussed in Brazil! […]

  • Very interesting post, and useful, too: I can’t normally be bothered to pay much attention to the “street fighting man” atmosphere of Tupi DIY opinion-makers. Life’s too short.

    The general topic of “advertorial” and undisclosed conflicts of interest are certainly a topic of much discussion here, and not just in the area of “flogging” (blogs that “flog” products without disclosing they are paid to do so, though here in Brazil the term tends to be used to designage “foto blogs”) among the pyjamas media.

    Luis Nassif’s series on Veja magazine addresses the same phenomenon, for example. The local term for it is jabá or jabaculê, am I right?

    Stealth marketing seems to proliferate here like maria-sem-vergonha. How many of the major newsweeklies here have run how many gushinig cover stories on the iPhone and “the genius of Steve Jobs” in what period of time, for example? The answer would astonish you.

    The disastrous Edelman Worldwide “I love Wal-Mart” stealth marketing campaign comes to mind as a comparable case of outing undisclosed conflicts of interest.

    Speaking of which, whatever happened to Murilo of the MiniC?

  • […] an issue that even some notable practitioners of the black art — such as Global Voices Online — seems to have started paying lip service to, I note. –July […]

  • […] Global Voices Online points out a manifesto recently published by a group of Tupi DYI publishers to denounce undisclosed conflicts of interest and stealth marketing among the Lusophone bloggerati of the Southern Cone. […]

  • […] Powerade. As a part of its i9 marketing strategy in blogs & social media, Coca Cola handpicked 9 prominent bloggers, custom made their homepage and gifted them a fancy USB mini fridge with the new product to be […]

  • I’m one of the nine who received a fridge, and I’m giving it to one of my readers. They deserve it more than I do.

    But I must quote Julio Hungria: “in journalism (isn’t blog a modern form of journalism?) we don’t accept fridges or anything else which would compromise our values with positive comments about products or people.”

    I think that goes to show that he doesn’t understand what a blog really is. In blogs, we simply would never make positive comments about something, unless we truly thought that the product was indeed good.

    We don’t accept anything that could compromise our values, because our values are not so easily compromised. In fact, both good journalists and bloggers always do that, they just state their opinion, and it never would change because he got something like an airplane ticket, a small fridge and not even for an advertising campaign on banners in his site or blog.

    Speaking on behalf of the serious and commited bloggers, our opinions are simply not for sale, and that explains why we are gathering more and more readers each day.

  • […] an article from the Global Voices blog, I realize that this lack of understanding may be a result of cultural differences regarding the […]

  • […] As Paula reports: The highly sensitive Brazilian blogosphere is fizzing after a famous brand of beverage decided to invest in blogs as the main vehicle to market its latest product. […]

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