How Forbes is Killing its Credibility: BrandVoice (Part 1)

Since starting Spend Matters in 2004, we’ve always welcomed unpaid guest contributions from just about any source with the requirement that the content must be engaging, relevant and not a form of self-promotion. Admittedly, over the years a dozen or so contributions have slipped through the cracks and violated one or more of these requirements, but for the most part, we’ve fared well.

My favorite recent example (which will go unnamed) resulted in a direct Twitter message from State of Flux’s Alan Day – ever the direct New Zealander – that a contribution was not up to our regular stuff! Yet on the opposite end of the blog contribution spectrum is a much more established brand: Forbes. Forbes BrandVoice, to be specific.

Over on HfS’s blog, Phil Fersht recently ran a story looking inside BrandVoice and how paid advertisers are piggybacking on Forbes’ supposed objectivity to pimp their wares and ideas. Mind you, these contributors are not buying the equivalent of a full page advertisement in a paper or magazine and providing copy with the disclaimer that the contribution is “paid advertising.” As Phil observes, “BrandVoice articles are not clearly portrayed as advertorials.”

As examples, Phil references a write-up “of SAP’s ‘Pioneering Walk in the Cloud’, or Oracle’s ‘Why Exadata Is Rocking the Tech Industry’.” He notes that “the only indication that these are sponsored columns is the ‘BrandVoice’ note at the top, if you happen to know what “BrandVoice” actually means. There is no sponsored content indication anywhere on the BrandVoice articles, not even a company logo at the top of the pieces.  Moreover, midway through last year, the column title was changed from AdVoice to BrandVoice, further blurring the lines between reality and fantasy.”

SAP and Oracle are paying up for this level of exposure and Forbes-provided credibility. Phil cites a “highly credible vendor marketer” who suggests that the ante to get into BrandVoice is $1M with trials of “more modest” programs starting at $50K to $100K per month.

In the next installment in this series, we’ll take a look at BrandVoice by the numbers.

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