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Brands Tap Web Elite for Advertorial 2.0

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"Brands are realizing this stuff is happening with them or without them," said Murphy. "They can be a catalyst for the conversation they want to have or only react to what others are saying."

Chas Edwards, chief revenue officer at Federated Media Publishing, believes the reality of digital media means advertisers will need to become publishers. While they can create their own content, they are more likely to both aggregate content from professionals and pay for exclusive content.

FMP, which represents several popular Internet writers, has matched up advertisers like Dell and Microsoft with bloggers.
 
"American Express's competitors are not just MasterCard and Visa," Edwards said. "It's anybody who might have content that might show up in a Google result for a small-business search."

For that reason, AmEx hooked up with FMP to have Internet notables like author Guy Kawasaki contribute content to an AmEx site to promote its OPEN small business service. Thanks to the popularity of Kawasaki's personal network-he has over 45,000 Twitter followers -- his posts gain lots of readers.

For it to work, however, brands need to give up on the notion of control since the old model of advertorial won't work well online, according to Edwards. Kawasaki was only instructed to write something that would appeal to small business owners.

"We're looking to engage the brand in topics that are important to the brand," said Jordan Bitterman, svp of media, marketing and content at Digitas, which works with AmEx. "They're blogging about topics important to them. They happen to be doing it in places we'd like them to do it."

It's a fine line. FMP ran into trouble in 2007 when it conducted a Microsoft campaign that enlisted top bloggers Om Malik, Fred Wilson and Paul Kedrosky to write for a Microsoft site what being "People Ready" meant for their businesses. The program came under fire online with the bloggers accused of parroting an ad slogan and Microsoft for trying to "buy influence." Malik and Kedrosky apologized for their participation.

"There are certain authors that run the risk of crossing the line with content creation that involves brand names," Edwards said.