Oh dear. Creative Commons shack up with BzzAgents

According to the Creative Commons blog, CC have now entered into a pro bono arrangement with ‘word of mouth’ promoters BzzAgents so that the latter can promote the former:

Creative Commons is fortunate to have a partnership with BzzNet Inc., a word-of-mouth marketing firm based in Boston. Today, BzzNet launched a grass roots marketing campaign to promote Creative Commons. What does this mean? The marketing campaign is a network of volunteer brand evangelists who share their honest opinions about products and services with other consumers. The Bzz agents are regular joes like you and me who bzzz (or promote) different campaigns.

BzzAgent’s GoodBzz Partnership provides selected non-profits with a pro bono 12 week marketing campaign. To become a BzzAgent and help support Creative Commons in this BzzCampaign, visit BzzAgent.com.

Oh dear.

The concept behind BzzAgents is that they bring together bloggers and companies so that the companies can benefit from the ‘word of mouth’ promotion of their products by the BzzAgent bloggers. What happens is that BzzAgent launch a campaign, then the BzzAgents can sign up to a campaign if they like the look of it:

After a BzzAgent signs up for a BzzCampaign, their BzzKit will arrive in the mail a week or two later. This kit usually includes a product sample and a BzzGuide, the custom guide created to help BzzAgents create real, honest Word-of-Mouth Bzz about the product or service.


BzzAgents are given a list of BzzActivities to help spread Word-of-Mouth Bzz in every BzzGuide. These activities make it easier and more fun for them to spread Bzz.

Every time a BzzAgent ‘spreads Bzz’ they earn points, which they can then redeem for rewards.

Now, if companies want to try their luck with BzzAgent, that’s up to them. I don’t like the idea of trying to manufacture buzz because I think that it detracts from real thing, the stuff that’s earnt by having a really good product. To me, it pollutes the blogosphere with bought, fake ‘word of mouth’, but I can see why companies would want to try it.

But for Creative Commons to start using BzzAgents is, not to put too fine a point on it, a betrayal of the work done by grassroots activists who are genuinely concerned about the state of copyright today. The people who have been working hard on promoting CC, who are contributing CC material to the ever growing commons, who are writing about copyright reform, putting together seminars and events, these are CC’s ‘buzz agents’, and they do all this work for free, because they believe on a fundamental level that it is important.

Creative Commons is not a new gadget. It’s not a new flavour of tea. I’ve been reading about CC, copyright and digital rights as much as possible over the last year, and still there are areas where my understanding is fuzzy. So how much reading and research are BzzAgent going to expect of their bloggers? How hard will a blogger have to work before they can start writing in an informed manner about CC? Or are the BzzAgents simply going to be saying ‘Whoa, this CC shit is cool! I get free stuff!’?

I think that getting BzzAgents to promote CC is doing a massive disservice not just to all the people who promoted CC because they believed in it, but also CC itself. In using fake ‘word of mouth’ promotion they devalue the work done by real supporters by polluting the blogosphere with fake buzz.

Of course, the counter-argument will be that BzzAgents are honest, only saying what they think about a product and not committed to always being nice. I accept that many BzzAgents will undoubtedly try to adhere to this, but you can’t get away from the fact that they are being rewarded to write about something, and that in and of itself affects not just one’s subconscious reaction to the thing you are writing about (and as someone who has written product reviews professionally, I am intimately acquainted with this problem), but also the perceptions of the reader.

If Creative Commons want to promote their work, there are better ways of doing it than with BzzAgents. The whole point of the blogosphere is that it allows you to easily find those who are interested in the stuff you’re interested in, so there’s no reason why they couldn’t reach out to individuals within the CC community and discuss with them how best to raise awareness. But instead, they have chosen to get into bed with a company whom one friend of mine characterised as ‘fuckwit liars’.

Just rereading that first paragraph of the CC post makes my blood run cold. ‘Grass roots marketing campaign’? ‘Volunteer brand evangelists’?

CC is supposed to be about cutting out the corporate bullshit, but here they are, buying into it. Very disappointing indeed.

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