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February 06, 2007

Flog This! A Resurgence of Character Blogs .. Are we more forgiving?

Rainn_wilson Like most bloggers at the start of a new year, Dwight posted his New Year’s Resolution for 2007 to "display more wisdom and benelovence (sic) to my inferiors". The thing is … Dwight is Dwight Schrute .. A fictional character from NBC’s comedy “The Office”. And Dwight is blogging. Has been since 2005 apparently. And his blog is quite popular – one post has received over 600 comments.

Schrute’s blog started off on MySpace but was moved to NBC’s blog space in early 2006. He was inundated with friend requests and comments. So, is this a flog? Probably not, according to Wikipedia’s definition. And it certainly hasn’t provoked the outrage like some recent flogs, namely Sony’s PSP flog and Wal-Mart’s RV trip flog. But it certainly is a character blog. And … didn’t we all hate those character blogs that came out a few years ago? Captain Morgan had a blog (no longer accessible). There’s Moosetopia, a blog written by a spokesmoose for an ice cream brand. And Barbie even had a blog (no longer accessible). There was much criticism of these marketing attempts: “mascots can’t participate in the conversation” and “you have to be human to blog” and “stupid marketers, you just ‘don’t get’ the blogosphere.”

However, this seems to no longer be the case. The blogosphere is hungry for good content and Schrute’s blog feeds that hunger as do other recent character blogs. ABC has launched blogs for its hit show, Grey’s Anatomy. They have chosen to feature minor characters from the show and are taking a hands-off approach – surprisingly, an approach shared by other TV execs, an approach that would make even die-hard bloggers proud. Tom Carr, a VP at TNT, commenting about a blog written as a companion to the show “The Closer” says If it’s truly a blog, you can’t wave a lot of banners towards it. It wouldn’t feel true if you were yelling, ‘Hey—we have a blog!’

Depending upon the show, these character blogs are being written by the original writer or creator of the show, a team of writers or even by the actor playing that character. And these blogs struggle with the same issues that we all struggle with when blogging: good content that is engaging and maintained. Some of the NBC’s show blogs haven’t been updated in a year; others are written for characters who probably wouldn’t have a blog (and it shows). But a few have become outright hits, like Schrute’s blog.

A couple of Canadian notes on character blogs … The popular show “Corner Gas” had an episode on last year where one of the characters started a blog. It was a great episode that poked fun at the myopia of bloggers (myself included!!). But the topic was simply episode fodder and the idea of Hank’s blog didn’t last beyond it. I think this was a good choice on CTV’s part .. One of the things that makes a successful character blog is a rich backstory and the opportunity to fill in gaps between appearances. Corner Gas, while very entertaining, doesn’t have that magic blend.

And it seems that character blogs are making a resurgence outside of TV shows. Yes, right here in our own Canadian marketing backyard. If you receive “Marketing Daily”, the daily newsletter from Marketing Magazine, you may have noticed a link to Mark Etting’s Blog. So far, two posts on two swank marketing social events. It will be interesting to see how this blog plays out in the community .. Beloved character blog or reviled flog? History will decide!

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Comments

Great post Kate. You've hit on some key issues with blogging and flogging. I think character blogs like this one differ from the two examples you gave (WalMart and Sony) because the Dwight blog, while not written by the actor, is not trying to deceive anyone.

It's in the NBC domain and is clearly tied to the show. Another separating point is that the character's lines are written by a team of writers and his style dictated by a director, so the fact that he's not writing posts like this is acceptable in my book.

I think a blog coming from a well known public character is generally ok as long as it's done in an open manner. Creating fictional people to blog is where a flogging gets companies in trouble.

Thanks, Matt! Excellent points you raise. The authenticity issue is key - I totally agree! There have been some very interesting discussions around the blogosphere recently vis a vis authenticity, transparency and intent. And maybe what marketers need is simply a good old fashioned lesson in ethics!

The line is indeed a fine one between intending to deceive and simply trying to sell. My hope (likely naive) is that through the power that consumers have gained through publishing platforms like blogs, podcasts, etc., marketers will be held to a higher standard. We're already seeing that happen in so many arenas.

Marketers need to reinvent themselves .. and reinvent the nature of their relationships with their customers. By extending the parts of their products that customers want through character blogs like Dwight's, this reinvention is starting to happen.

Thank you for your thoughts!

Another difference between the two styles of character blogs (clogs?) that you've identified is that those tied to the television shows are extensions of an existing character.

I like the idea of a clog associated with an existing character from TV, movies where there is already an existing backstory. It allows people who are watching the show to engage more deeply. One example that stood out for me was Margene's blog on HBO. It opens the door to some of the established backstory that likely won't ever make it onto the screen.

Lex says: "I like the idea of a clog associated with an existing character from TV, movies where there is already an existing backstory."

But what if you don't know that Margene is on Big Love and you think it's a real blog? Might less with-it readers feel cheated?

How is that different from LonelyGirl15?

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