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A Manifesto for Microsponsorships


I2m_svama_contest There is a gap in online marketing today. Despite the rising budgets being allocated to online advertising, the distribution of this money is not equal. Even as thousands of new blogs and social networks are created, the vast majority of online ad spending is still going to only the largest portal sites or search engines. Of course, there is a vast traffic difference between Yahoo and a small blog – however the theory of the Long Tail shows us that there are plenty of reasons to think outside the portal (or search engine) when buying advertising online. For example, it is generally accepted that word of mouth marketing can be successful even if a person tells just 3 people about a product or service because the interaction is personal, direct and comes from a trusted source. That interaction is worth far more to an advertiser than millions of empty impressions. Yet buying word of mouth rather than impressions on the Internet is an impossible task. Microsponsorship is about making this possible.

Before I get to explaining how microsponsorship would work, consider the following trends and facts about the state of marketing and the Internet today:

  1. Everyone is becoming a content publisher as technology makes publishing content online easier and easier
  2. The vast majority of the online advertising dollars today go to only the largest sites or networks
  3. Most online advertisers have little incentive or no process for advertising directly on small sites
  4. Brands struggle to find influential brand ambassadors and the right ways to "activate" them online
  5. People have products and services they love and are usually eager to tell others about it

I2m_vornadodeskfan Social media amplifies individual voices and helps them be heard far beyond the close circles of friends and family. This is the truth that has led to the current popularity of consumer generated advertising. The problem is, you can’t always identify brand affinity easily. For example, I write a marketing blog, but have never had cause to write about my Vornado desk fan (which I love). As a result, Vornado has no idea I am a brand enthusiast, yet how many of my readers are people who sit at desks and might take action on purchasing a desk fan of their own if given a strong, personal, authentic recommendation? More than a few, I imagine. This is the type of missed opportunity common in online marketing today. Instead, ads are placed based on industry category (ie – consumer tech ads on a gadget blog) or inconsistent keyword algorithms (ie – text ads for "Spicy Spam Kabobs" when you visit your spam mailbox folder on Gmail). What most marketers need is a way to get authentic word of mouth endorsements for products and services from influential sites and individuals. This brings me to microsponsorships.

Imagine if any blog or any social network, no matter how small, could sell a sponsorship of their site to the right brand – one they believe in? Site sponsorships are like sponsorships of an event, they signify support and are based on relevance. They are usually limited in number. Most importantly, they are persistent. You could argue that any site can sell a sponsorship – but the problem, as highlighted earlier, is that for most advertisers the challenge is finding the right sites to select to sponsor. Added to that is the mistaken idea that online "sponsorship" simply means putting your logo in the corner or sidebar of a site. Microsponsorships are based on endorsements and choice, and therefore would include an inherent recommendation and far more value for advertisers. You might have noticed that this idea is influenced by Muhammad Yunus’ Nobel Prize winning theory of microcredit. His idea that there was a market need for small loans that was underserved by the existing financial institutions of the world led to the creation of microfinance. Similarly, online marketers need a way to more authentically engage influential brand ambassadors on a micro level. Microsponsorships can do that.

The real question is, how can the industry meet this need and allow brands to buy these microsponsorships, as well as make it easy for individual content creators to sell microsponsorships to the brands they believe in? One potential answer lies in the creation of could be a directory where:

  1. Every blog or social network can register their site to sell microsponsorships
  2. Sites select brands or products they believe in, and define the type of sponsorship
  3. Automated algorithms would be used to generate "influence ratings" (using a similar model to Todd And’s Power 150 List)
  4. Online advertisers and media planners register on the site to get access to see brand affinities and select sites to sponsor.
  5. Site owners would get a proposal from brands and decide to accept or decline.
  6. Microsponsorships would be brokered across hundreds or even thousands of smaller sites, effectively augmenting any online advertising buy
  7. Once accepted, sites would fulfill on the agreed components of the microsponsorship and provide reporting
  8. Online advertisers could use metrics reported, or real metrics from the landing page URL provided in order to measure performance

This is only one model for bringing microsponsorships to life, and there are bound to be others. This is an idea that represents a shift in how we think about advertising online and how the importance of having smarter techniques to find and collaborate with brand evangelists online will be the key to getting a value out of online ad spending far beyond just impressions or clicks.

Note: This article was first published as an entry into the SVAMA Marketing Thought Publishing Contest.

technorati tags: microsponsorship marketing svama advertising trend rohitbhargava innovation idea tags: microsponsorship marketing svama advertising trend rohitbhargava innovation idea 
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12 thoughts on “A Manifesto for Microsponsorships”

  1. Have you been looking at my old business plan? Seems awfully familiar to an idea I have patent-pending 🙂

    The only mistake with would be to become the destination site to find people to sponsor. I have had plenty of time to refine this concept and nixed the destination site since last year. The key to this brilliant idea is to be the enabler at the point of consumption. Vague? Yes, but it will become clear, because soon, everyone is going to get blipd!

  2. Hi Ty – thanks for commenting. I had not actually seen your post, but I followed the link and it seems to be going to a site that is no longer online? I am intrigued by your landing page for Blipd, but also have not heard about that service or what you can do. If it does fulfill on the promise of microsponsorships, I would be very interested to check it out. Let me know when you are at a point of accepting beta testers and I’d be happy to participate.

  3. Sam Sethi ( posted a similar idea/call to action a few months ago and I’ll respond in a similar way. Similar services do exist such as AdBrite, Text Ad Links, Fed Media and the now defunct Automatic but the problem lies more with us bloggers.

    We are amateurs, and as someone who manages blog advertising/sponsorship for clients the perils of this are many.

    A lot of my time is spent ensuring bloggers actually keep the ads on their blogs (even when one of the above services is providing those ads). They change layout and design often, they sometimes even remove adverts in the middle of campaigns (happened twice this month so far).

    Lastly, media buyers like simplicity, the kind of DoubleClick simplicity, ‘one place to bind them all’. None of the above, with maybe the exception of Fed Media has managed to build a big enough, robust enough, tempting enough directory of the long tail to make it simple for media buyers to use it.

    A common thread in the blog world today is the removal of slow performing widgets/advertising, anything that has an impact on the speed their blog page loads gets dumped quickly.

    That being said I’m sure it will happen and happen right at some point.

  4. Hi Gary – thanks for commenting. I think you are right about the dangers that exist in more niche blog advertising and media planners’ desire for simplicity. One of the most interesting components of this idea for me, though, is that it focuses less on ad placements and the idea “buying space” and more on the broader definition of sponsorship. Priceline turned the model of travel purchases on it’s head by letting travellers define what they would pay. Similarly, I think what makes this idea new is the ability for bloggers to create what they feel the sponsorship would offer (from ad units to product sampling and posting to persistent logos). From a creative point of view, the idea is for the blogger to determine the creative (which is what they would do in consumer generated advertising anyway). The simplicity from a planner’s perspective would be the ability to go to one location and find a congregation of self described brand enthusiasts who are also active content publishers (something unavailable on forums or anywhere else online). The details of each sponsorship are set by the blogger and agreed to on the site by the brand/planner. Of course, this presents it’s own challenge: finding metrics that allow for consistent measurement across sites. If each site has a different sponsorship (some with ad units or logos, some with product trial and posting), then clicks or even impressions cannot be the sole metrics anymore …

  5. Hi Friend…..

    We have just released an Indian Blogs Directory. We plan to develop the largest online Indian Bloggers Community. So please go ahead and include your blog into our directory. You can link to us or write about us on your blog. Not mandatory for submission though.

    You can submit your blog here:

    India Counts

  6. Rohit:

    I see this model working, particularly since it follows a fundamental philosophy of self-selecting, which works for people offline and online. I found measurement to be difficult to provide in offline activities as well. Our Fast Company magazine readers business network used to do events at the ING Direct Cafe’ in center city Philadelphia. That was a way for the bank to get in front of mobile professionals and for our group to find out more about the bank’s awesome rates and products.

    Yet, since the bank got too lazy to track how many referrals for savings accounts and refinancing it got from our group (I could cite several), they now charge a flat $500 for the space, per event. It is easier for them to put $500 on the books today than to figure out the value they realize from the exposure to this group over time. Will I recommend the bank to my colleagues and friends today? Probably not.

    How can we have the cake and eat it too? How can we get closer to customers and track WOM and viral value of those customers at the same time? Measurement seems to be the sticky point in all these discussion.

    About definitions: to me interactive means the actions resulting from relationships between people, online and offline.

  7. I am not an expert or anything but one thing that doesn’t sit well with me is the idea of paying brand loyalists. Why would someone trust the opinion of someone they know are being sponsored by the brand they are recommending. On the flip side, wouldn’t you be turned off if that fan company paid you because you mentioned them in your blog? The reason you are loyal to them is because they offer you a good product. Wouldn’t there be a conflict of interest?


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