The first time I heard about BzzAgent was at South by Southwest this year, when I was on a panel about open source marketing and Jason Calacanis brought it up as a negative example, explaining that the agency’s methods involved inducing agents to shill for their clients in the guise of ordinary social interaction. Invite your friends over to a barbecue, flip the new Soylent™ brand burgerlike patties on your grill, and casually mention that they are Atkins-compliant and contain fewer transfatty acids than the other leading genetically engineered cow-orker food product, or something like that.
Sounded bad to me, like a cheap parody of honest, enthusiasm-driven word-of-mouth advertising. Then again, Jason has been known to take extreme positions, so I wasn’t sure I was getting a full view of this company and its practices.
Then, over the weekend, the blog world was brief… er… abuzz with news that Creative Commons had been taken on by BzzAgent as a pro bono client, an apparent marriage of light and dark. Suw Charman posted in her Strange Attractor Corante blog that this was a revolting development and Dave Balter, BzzAgentfounder hit back in the company blog with Bloggers as Liars. Shoot the messenger, much?
Apparently, BzzAgent sees itself as king of the hill when it comes to offline word-of-mouth and views bloggers as margin online blabbers who miss the big picture and spread lies. Somehow the idea that agents competing for points and rewards might disguise their flacking and shilling as ordinary conversations with their friends doesn’t similarly strike the BA folks as dishonest. Frankly, I don’t see how any of my friends could maintain their credibility if they were trading on our relationship to win the equivalent of green stamps.
Because Metafilter daddy Matt Haughey is the creative director or something like that for Creative Commons, the controversy got a full airing over there (CC and Marketdroids? WTF?), Suw responded with Apparently I am a liar, CC granddaddy Lawrence Lessig wrestled in public over whether to stick with BA or drop them and thus far I still haven’t heard Balter enumerate the twelve alleged falsehoods he claims Charman included in her blog post that kicked off the hullaballoo.
OK, that catches you (and me) up to Sunday. Has anything new happened today?