RealTime IT News

Wikipedia's Wales Urges Ad Buyers to Get Buying

SAN FRANCISCO -- Marketers, if you've steered clear of placing ads on user-generated content sites, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has a message for you: Stop fretting and start buying space.

During his keynote here at the ad:tech San Francisco conference, Wales tried to convince skittish marketers to get over their fears about seeing their precious ads displayed on a site that's also home to lolcats, bizarre videos culled from the darkest depths of YouTube, badly spelled rants and snapshots of last weekend's fraternity party.

Of course, as the originator of one of the most popular user-generated sites on the Web, Wales may be somewhat biased. But he said that the quality of content on Wikipedia and other hot sites, such as Flickr, has vastly improved over the past few years, making marketers' qualms about advertising on such sites outmoded.

Of course, that doesn't mean Wales is urging marketers to spend money on all of the latest Web 2.0 trends. In fact, while user-generated content might be in, Wales said some marketers would be best off by avoiding another booming fad online: social media.

What's Wales' beef with social media? For starters, it's not right for everyone.

In early March, Skittles replaced its home page with a Twitter feed displaying anything and everything anyone on the microblogging service posted about the candy.

The idea aimed to encourage people to Tweet about Skittles so they could see their message on the home page. Some social media experts applauded the company’s boldness, but suggested Twitter consider using filter next time to keep obnoxious and inappropriate out of the displayed stream.

Wales, meanwhile, was less than impressed.

"It was a cool thing, but it was a gimmick," he said. "This is not the future of Skittles marketing."

He pointed out that the marketing techniques that are so in vogue right now -- blogging, Twittering, community forums and other social efforts -- are not likely to work if there really isn’t anything to say about the product and it isn't likely to generate buzz on its own.

"There isn't enough to say about Skittles to support that strategy, long-term. For those kinds of brands, they need to think in terms of how to get your name in front of consumers again and again. Consumer-generated media is the way to do that."

As it turns out, Skittles since has replaced its products page with a link to the Wikipedia entry on the candy -- something that few companies might dare to do, since anyone with a Wikipedia account can, in effect, now edit the Skittles.com product page as they wish.

Wales didn't touch on that potential pitfall, but he did admit that some brands that are information-intensive (such as airlines, cosmetics or computer vendors) perfectly suit interactive social marketing.

But other brands should continue to utilize more traditional advertising methods in the usual display and broadcast venues -- and on sites that house user-generated content.

Speaking of which, Wales devoted much of his speech to an update on Wikipedia and on Wikia, his for-profit company that fosters the creation of wiki communities on any topic that moves participants.

Wales says Wikia has had 300 percent year over year growth since it launched in 2004. But it hasn't all gone smoothly: On April 1, Wales closed the 15-month-old Wikia Search project, which was intended to be a user-driven rival to Google.

During the Q/A session that followed the keynote, Wales was asked if he had any advice for the newspaper industry. His suggestions are unlikely to warm the hearts of journalists.

"Newspapers cannot compete in some fields. They should just give up. The best political bloggers are the equal of the best New York Times columnists. And bloggers should take over sports content, too.”

Wales did admit that volunteer reporters cannot create certain kinds of content, such as reporting from the frontlines of a war and other sensitive events that bloggers are unlikely to have the necessary support and access to cover properly.

"That's the competitive advantage that newspapers will continue to have," Wales said.

Ad:tech takes place Tuesday through Thursday of this week at Moscone Center West in San Francisco.