Thursday, October 19, 2006

Eric Rice of Hipcast vs Walmart blogs

I examine and interact with a recent post by Eric Rice, founder of Hipcast, on the Walmart pseudo blog incident.

From the About Page (which is the single most important page of any website or blog)...

Eric Rice is one of the world’s leading experts in consumer generated media, particularly in podcasting and videoblogging. As co-founder of Hipcast (previously, Rice’s goal is to bring solid tools to enable everyone to create personalized or business media. As chief evangelist for, Rice travels around the country to explain the values and simplicity of podcasting and videoblogging to the masses.

Concurrently, Rice is the founder and executive producer of Slackstreet Entertainment, a holding company for podcast and videoblog consulting and products. With Slackstreet, Rice has consulted some of the largest entertainment, technology, and Internet-based companies in the world, as well as developing original audio and video programs for worldwide distribution and syndication. Slackstreet is the home of the KSSX network, Backstaging, Everyday Films, The Eric Rice Show, among others.

Rice is a highly sought-after speaker on a variety of topics that touch upon his past and current experiences. He is married with children, and still lives in his native Silicon Valley.

"walmart, edelman, and my trademark brand of snark and insight"

Now that Walmart and Edelman are old news (number 2 on Technorati! so, so yesterday afternoon), and the blogosphere has put away their copies of Les Miserables song lyrics, I thought I’d share some anecdotes and a possible black helicopter theory.

[VASPERS: I like a slight shimmering of self-parody in a blog. Exaggerating ones own opinions is a good way to use humor to secretly influence the vast unwashed masses.]

Let’s have some fun before kicking the awesome science. First, the anecdotes.

[VASPERS: "anecdotes" euph. > "gossip" = human interest schedule.]

I’m fortunate to have plenty of non-bloggerblogosphericals, non-Mission District, non-PR-type friends. Everyday Joes and Janes, who might shop there, or might even blog, but because they like it, not because it’s some grand movement. I polled a few of them about their thoughts on the basics of the Walmart fake-blogger thing/Edelman PR thing.

[VASPERS: Appeal to the common crowd, which is having fun with the new technologies, as Eric cleverly points out "because they like it". We all love music, OUR music, and videos. Videoblogging will soon be almost the only blogging.]

Alas, as I suspected, it was hard to get past the giggles and the eyerolls when Walmart + Blog was used in the same sentence. Forget issues of transparency, some might say, it’s fucking Walmart. Okay, so not much progress there.

[VASPERS: Videocasting is the new and most humanized form of telecommunications. As I search for new forms to inflict upon this field, I admire those who put their image where their blog mouth is. Actionable video judo.]

Even the story is retarded. Walmarting Across America? Man alive, if you want to be pissed, be pissed at the creative who came up with THAT idea. And even if it was real, it would probably be mocked equally.

[VASPERS: I'm currently, as I type this, listening to a mind-boggling CD I just burned via iTunes, from free legal mp3s of noise band beauty at Zero Moon net label, songs like "Potame, first 2 et 3 movement" by X-Ray Pop, "No Beauty Contest" by Vox Populi, "Track 01" by Crisis in American Music, Kapotte Muziek "An Apology is Necessary", "When I First Saw You" by Das Naturhistorisch Museum Der Klang, Pandora's Wooden Bucket compilation.]

The short version: “I’ll take ‘things I could give a shit less about’ for 100, Alex.”

[VASPERS: This goes good with any tune by New Carrollton, or Mystery Hearsay, tastes like chicken.]

Now, onto a couple other thoughts. The mascots and ideas of long ago. Betty Crocker. The Maytag Man. People who might otherwise be considered to be ‘real’ although not. I dug up some print ads from 1951, and lo, there’s a picture of Betty Crocker, with a quote about cooking (Betty Crocker is not a real person, and has evolved over the years). Where’s the transparency? Of course, there was none. Character blogs have come under attack, but I don’t know, that would be like ripping on Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny for blogging. Shut up and let us have some fun.

[VASPERS: Sure, have all the fun you can.

But remember that deception and fictionality are twin brothers up to no good on a blog or anywhere else.

The best blogger for a firm is the CEO. That servant leader must be the most informed, most charismatic or quietly deadly serious, most enthusiastic, most visionary employee on the payroll. Truth. Transparency. Authenticity.]

Yet, I’ve worked in client services industries before. You know that thing, about the customer being right? Have you ever had the most ridiculous client that you wish would just go the hell away, but you aren’t allowed to actually say that, since you have some duty of professionalism?

[VASPERS: If you really think a client should go to hell, why service the schmuck?

If the client was cool at first, then suddenly gets myopic, structural, narcissistic, exhibitionistic, paranoid and greedy, why not just dump the jerk?

There are plenty of good clients, seeking smart marketers. Spare yoself the agony. I feel your pain, and my own. Scars never fade.]

Here’s a fictional scenario about Walmart and Edelman (And I’m willing to bet that some of you will nod your head in resigned, lurkish silence, and won’t post on this, cuz this is plausible).

Scenario: Steve Rubel, one of the champion voices of Edelman for transparency and all that, is in the client meeting. Walmart, being the client, is a seriously big fucking client. That’s cash money. That pays the bills, that feeds the kids and puppies. That pays for Typepad.

[VASPERS: Pays for shit, sure. Right.

But with what kind of money? From what type of ethics?

From what ultimate goal or futuristic plan? In what manner of acquistion, and at what cost to others?]

Steve, advises against the fake blog idea, and Edelman associates nod. Shit, I like Steve, but I think he can be too stiff on riffing on character blogs (Captain Morgan had a blog, Steve didn’t like it, zOMG lighten up dude).

[VASPERS: Fictional characters are okay for children and silly themed products.

But for a fake character to pose as real, convincing the gullible or hurried and multi tasking surfers, and to confide false adventures, at non-existent locations, bringing back bogus recipes, for a food blog, for example, that sucks.

That violates Authenticity, and may even verge on Consumer Fraud or deceptive practices.]

So I’d believe it if Steve said, yeah I tried to tell ‘em.

Walmart has a big ego. And big money. And can certainly say, no, we really want to do this. It’s not like they have to sign a waiver, like when you tint the windows in your car too dark, and risk getting a ticket. Yeah, not like that. If Walmart gets outed, it blows over. There’s no *fines* involved.

I worked at a bank once. The web division. The CEO’s ear was bent 100% by his ‘good friend’ who had ‘advised him for nearly 25 years’. Blood runs deep. Even if that guy might be WRONG, you can’t change his mind.

So, Steve Rubel and Edelman PR try REALLY REALLY HARD to convince him, because they all know that a PR storm will start brewing. Maybe Steve walked away from the project internally, not anticipating that people wouldn’t like that either.

And everyone is faced with the Big Dollar Walmart saying, “Look, we want to do this, and if you don’t let us do this, fuck you, we’re taking our money elsewhere.”

[VASPERS: Then have some guts and integrity, and say: "Then take your fancy big butt chicken head eating, corn mullet munching, cow patty frying money with you and shove off mister Warbucks!"]

Duh, what do you think happened? (if you are just joining us, this is a fictional scenario I’m painting of what could have happend with Walmart and Edelman PR). “Transparency in Blogging” does not pay the goddammned mortgage or pay the medical bills or anything else.

[VASPERS: Really? Transparency is not so great after all?

I have a different opinion on that. Inauthenticity does no service to the perpetrator thereof.]

Naturally, Edelman isn’t going to let it walk, they are a business. Walmart is a huge client. An arrogant one, sure, but huge.

[VASPERS: Rule of the Almighty Dollar dwarfing the blogosphereic values of honesty, candor and modesty? There is Financial Karma, and the rules have been spelled out by all great business leaders.

The self-policing blogosphere has ways of dealing with all of us.]

And Steve Rubel and the rest of Edelman sit and wait patiently for it to blow up, stressing on how to do PR for a PR company (has that been done?)

–end scenario of fakeness that I believe could be quite the plausible one–

Even in the aftermath, I don’t believe Rubel or Edelman can come out with this, even if it was true. Hell no. I don’t think they’d get a big client such as that if they did, because who knows, maybe there is a type of PR-client privilege? People in the blogosphere bitching does not equal business-to-business services and we know it. They (Edelman) would be fucking themsevles WORSE if they outed this scenario (if it was true).

So there it is. My two theories.

1. Everyday people can give a shit about this
2. Edelman might have said no, but Walmart said yes and threatened to take their huge budget elsewhere.
3. Betty Crocker is a non-transparent evil whore we should all blog about.

Thank you and good night.

[VASPERS: Thanks for the cynical guesswork, but what is the cure?

How can we all learn from this and try to evolve into better dimensions and more productive truth harvestings?]

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