Wednesday, September 13, 2017

How Word-Of-Mouth is Co-Opted

Is everyone and everything a huckster - including us?  Are we all being played?  Are we all chumps?  Answer: Probably yes to all three.

After I wrote a piece about Ham at Wal-Mart a reader became suspicious.   Was I being paid by Walmart to sell ham?  Maybe indirectly, if their ads appear on my pages - such is the problematic nature of monetizing a blog.   But no, I did not get paid directly by Walmart to sell ham, I just thought that $5 a pound was better than $9 a pound and waiting at the Deli where they act like they are doing you a favor to shave off a pound of meat.

And by the way, my monetization experiment may be ending prematurely - Google sent me a nice note saying that my use of naughty words and discussing taboo subjects (such as sex) makes my blog no longer "G-rated".   They gave me a deadline to remove the "offensive material" which I think has past.   I am not sure whether this means they drop ads for that one blog entry, the page, or the entire blog.

But you see where this is going - once you start accepting ad money, you start changing how you write, either consciously or subconsciously.   And in fact, you might start to write just random words like Meal Kits and Wal-mart and see if banner ads appear and get that click revenue.  Another reader noted that my piece criticizing meal kits as another sign of the end times was framed by banner ads for.... you guessed it... meal kits.

I also noted in the past (and reproduced in a blog entry) an entreaty from Hertz Rent-A-Car social media coordinator asking me to write a blog posting about used rental cars.   So I did - and pointed out that their prices were "meh" at best, and the car you buy has a red letter "R" on its CarFax, as it is now branded for life as a "fleet use vehicle" and the resale value degraded accordingly.   But I guess even bad publicity is better than no publicity and they figure that once someone reads my posting, the idea of buying a used rental car will enter their head.  I've been played!  Big time.

Another time, a company asked me to write a blog about potato chips - offering a free bag of the snack if I would write fun things about the chips and suggest a dip recipe.   People read that shit?  They must be more bored than I am!   I politely declined.

I guess there is a lot of money in doing that and I am an idiot for not jumping on it.  Some guy started a blog called 22 words (a precursor to Twitter's 140 characters?) and then sold it for millions, bought it back, and now makes $3M a year from the blog - promoting products and services and reviewing them.  I've never bothered to visit the site and don't recommend it - he clearly is making money promoting products - why bother going to an ad page?

But it never stops, though.  I get blog "suggestions" from people and sometimes I use them, other times I wonder if they are playing me also - trying to get me to write on a topic so they can capture the text and use it for a text farm.   Yes, there are people in India and Russia who, for a fee, will write text on a topic.  One fellow even e-mailed me from such a word-farm and asked me to review his blathering text about some topic - no doubt hoping I would give him free editing services.  It was horribly written, with no point of view - one of those "There are many pros and cons to leasing a car..." kind of deals that basically tells you what you already know about car leasing, but sounding authoritative and like it is dispensing real knowledge.

The internet is a fascinating place and we are all being played in one way or another.   You don't need to be a Bride of ISIS or some idiot who believes in Inforwars or to fall for a Nigerian Scam to be snookered by the Internet.  Just joining Amazon Prime makes you an internet chump, first class - like the rest of us.

So how is is possible to even perceive reality in any rational manner these days?   Living today, with the Internet and the media as it is, is like living in a funhouse, with those wacky mirrors distorting reality at every turn.  You finally see a flat mirror with a real image, and you reject it as false, as the wavy mirrors are more entertaining and see legit after a while - right?  

As they say, in any war, truth is the first casualty.  And maybe we are living in an era of informational conflict - conflicts of ideas, both true and false.  Inforwars (or disinfowars, more accurately) has aptly named itself in that regard.  They are fighting with words, ideas, tweets, and facebook likes in a new online battlefield.   And Breitbart is guarding their flank.

Anyway, once again I digress.   What started this was a series of annoying e-mails from a reverse mortgage broker who wanted me to link to his "blog" about reverse mortgages, which as little more than an advert for his services.  Let me reiterate it again:  REVERSE MORTGAGES SUCK!!!   There is little reason behind them and seniors get bit on the ass by them all the time.  The reason they are so heavily regulated is that the companies that were in this business used to rip-off old people all the time.   It is not so much they are stealing money that it is a bad bargain just as leasing a car is a bad bargain.  Yes, you get a car out of the deal, for a few months, but you pay nearly twice as much to ride.   Similarly, reverse mortgages allow you to "stay in your home" for a while longer, but like any loan or mortgage, it has to be paid back, and the later you ends up paying it back, not your estate - in 70% or more of the cases.

Hey Robert,

Just a quick follow up to make sure you got this, and to confirm that I’m a real person and not some some automated email robot!

I know how busy you must be! I chose your site specifically to show my guide to and would truly appreciate a response =)


On Thu, Sep 7, 2017 at 11:41 AM, xxxxx@xxxx wrote:

Hey Robert,

Xxxxx here, I founded my website to educate people (like my grand parents) how to free up some more cash and generally have more freedom in their retirement lifestyle. I noticed you spoke about reverse mortgages in one of your posts here -

The problem with retirement is, you never get a day off! You can be young with money, but you can't be old without it. the point - I wrote a super guide on what reverse mortgages are, how they work and who may be interested. You can check it out here - / - I remained very neutral and Kind of made me doubt all of my life actions when putting this together, but I suppose that's the whole point!

I thought it might make a nice addition to the post you wrote, since it gives a ton of detailed information on what a reverse mortgage is (way more than the wikipedia page does) and how they work.

Please let me know if you'd be interested in sharing my guide.

Kind Regards,
So you see how this sort of thing works.  You read a blog and think, "Well, that's interesting impartial information!" but it isn't.  In addition to all of our own biases and prejudices, some blogger are shilling for other people or being paid - sometimes huge sums of money - to promote certain products, ideas and services.  We are all hucksters today, trying to make a buck it seems, by influencing public opinion in one way or another.

Well, not me just yet, but only because I'm too stupid to figure out how to make $3M  a year from deceiving people.