Mon, Dec 25, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Companies get flak for `flogging'


The curtain has been pulled on a deceptive new advertising tactic in which companies camouflage ads as product praise in online postings masquerading as independent blogs.

Several companies have been exposed for launching fake blogs -- known as "flogs" -- in a practice that coincides with an increase in the number of real bloggers secretly paid to endorse products.

Blogs, a term derived from "Web logs," are rampant on the Internet and are considered online journals in which people post personal opinions, musings, rants and more.

Online firm Technorati reported on Thursday it was tracking more than 63 suspicious blogs.

Wily marketers have infiltrated the blogging world, paying for favorable commentary on products.

However posting product commentary without alerting readers that bloggers were compensated for their opinions is unethical and potentially illegal, according to US Federal Trade Commission rules.

Sony Computer Entertainment America, a subsidiary of Japan-based Sony, admitted last week that it created a bogus blog baptized "All I want for Christmas is a PlayStation Portable."

The blog was passed off as the work of an amateur musician named "Charlie," who enthusiastically praised the PlayStation.

In a short message on the Charlie blog, Sony apologized for being "a little too clever."

Wal-Mart, came under fire in October for a blog portrayed as an online journal kept by a typical US couple, named Laura and Jim, as they traveled across the US in a motor home. The couple's blog praised Wal-Mart for letting them park their hulking recreational vehicle overnight in store parking lots and told of encountering Wal-Mart workers nationwide that praised their jobs and their employer.

Business Week magazine revealed that the couple's cross-country trip was sponsored by Wal-Mart -- a fact unmentioned in the online postings.

Fake "independent" blogs by companies or secretly manipulated by advertisers break US law by misleading consumers, according to federal regulators.

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