Blog Networks - Not Necessarily an Advertising Play

We've had significant contact with most of the blog advertising networks out there, talking about ad deals with many of them, sponsorships with some and other potential tie-ins with one or two. What bugs me is that when reps pitch me with an ad deal, they're not offering me anything unique that I couldn't get anywhere else. Blog networks aren't big enough to be reach plays, aren't yet polished enough to be premium content plays, and they don't have a common thread that can unify each one of the blogs in the network. (Unless you count the whole "bloggers as opinion leaders" thing, which I don't think holds water. You're advertising to more blog readers than bloggers when you purchase ads on blog networks.)

Truth be told, when a rep comes in with an ad deal we're almost immediately talking about price. A network ad buy is a commodity. Why pay a blog network $5 per thousand when I can get Run of Network inventory elsewhere for $0.50 per thousand?

What blog networks need to focus on is that which no other network can give an ad agency or advertiser - an entry point into the conversation. I'd love to see a blog network come into the office and tell me that they can help us with the qualitative aspect of communications - how to connect meaningfully with the audience of the various blogs they represent without wallpapering the entire damned landscape with 160x600 skyscraper ads.

I'm not looking to pay for non-disclosed coverage or alter a content agenda. That wouldn't make sense. I'd be willing to speak to some relevant bloggers about commenting on something that makes contextual sense (perhaps on another blog), and prompting their audience to chime in. I'd be open to a blogger, or the audience of a particular blog, offering some suggestions to someone at a client company as to how to improve their marketing or tell them what's wrong with their current approach.

But it can't be just another 160x600 wallpapering. I can do that anywhere and I can do it cheaper outside the blog networks. That road leads to blog networks not being able to support themselves because they're giving their audience away while continuing to broadcast "buy my stuff" messages AT them. But if blog networks take on a more consultative approach, helping agencies and advertisers facilitate the conversation between blog audiences and marketers, wouldn't everybody be much happier?

Yes, blog ads do get better response rates than typical banner buys. But that isn't sustainable. It's not very long before people tune out because they're being broadcast TO as opposed to conversed WITH. Can we learn from the past and do this right from day one as opposed to trashing the reputations of the blog networks and having to rebuild them? We know we have to tap into what makes blogs special, and many blog networks aren't doing that.