Who is Tosh Bilowski? Corporate Blogs and Authenticity

(Don’t miss the next update in this unfolding story…)

CONTEXT: I published this article before it was completely evident to me that Tosh Bilowski is indeed a fictional character. Some people spotted this ruse immediately, but I didn’t – and I suspect my experience isn’t particularly unusual.

CORRECTION: I made a mistake concerning the following text, which I’m marked with strikethrough formatting. For an explanation and update, see my followup posting.

(UPDATE 3pm MDT: Well, I guess someone over at Panasonic said “Ooops!” and is trying to backtrack. Since I posted this article, they’ve heavily re-edited This posting on the DefPerception blog, removing a story about how this “blogger” had an Indian mother and a Polish father, etc., and replacing those “personal” details with vague “wink wink” references implying that this is indeed a character blog. If you see that, bear in mind – that’s not how they were presenting this blog until just a couple of hours ago. Cute. Oh – and whoever’s moderating that blog never approved the comment I tried to post there, asking them about this.

(FURTHER UPDATE 7pm MDT: That DefPerception article I linked to above now bears a couple of comments which focus solely on technical issues. My comment, where I inquired whether the blogger was fictional, has not been published. Now, notice something – the names of those comment authors link to e-mail addresses. That’s pretty unusual, since usually comment author names link to URLs. However, Tosh’s name links to the blog home page – a URL. Again: Cute. …More updates, as warranted, will be in my followup.)

(And here’s Another update, Oct. 31)

This morning, in Blog Herald News, I stumbled across this announcement: “Panasonic Launches Blog To Discuss AG-HVX200 And HD” (translation: a new high-definition video camera and high-definition issues in general). This sounded interesting: a corporate blog that specifically targets video geeks. In my experience, video geeks have very high expectations, and they enjoy debate. I figured, wow, Panasonic would really have to prove itself to that crowd, and work hard to engage them. Not easy.

So I checked out the blog, DefPerception. I was initially pleased to see something that appears much less stiff yet more informational than most corporate blogs I’ve encountered. Panasonic apparently hired a video geek named Tosh Bilowski to write this weblog. On first glance he sounds knowledgeable, and he seems blog-savvy.

…Still, though, it always helps to get some background on the blogger to understand the blog – especially in the case of sponsored or corporate blogs. What’s his blogging track record, I wondered? So I did what any geek (including video geeks, probably) would do: since this guy has a pretty unusual name, I Googled him.

Nada! As of 8:50 am MDT today, zero results. No matches. I kid you not. Not for his nickname Tosh Bilowski, nor his full name Pratosh Bilowski

OK, that’s odd… Would Panasonic really hire someone to write a corporate blog who had no apparent online track record, at least under the name he’s currently using?

I did some further poking around…

Here’s what I’ve found so far:

  • Running the same search queries on Technorati yielded only two links from an item just posted less than an hour ago by the Swiss blog b-spirit – one in English, and an abbreviated version in French. (No results at all for his full name.)
  • Feedster yielded only one result for “Tosh Bilowski” – the Blog Herald article.
  • Yahoo found six results for “Tosh Bilowski,” but all of them were references to the new Panasonic blog.
  • By opening up the permalink to one of his articles in a new browser tab, I discovered that defperception.com appears to map over to a Typepad blog, Toshpit. I speculated, OK, maybe he started that blog before and Panasonic bought it when they hired him, or something like that. But then I discovered that Google and Yahoo offer no relevant results for “Toshpit.” Neither do Technorati or Feedster.

OK, I can’t spend all day on this, so for now my investigation stops there. But this definitely seems weird to me.

Did Tosh Bilowski exist, or at least use the internet, BEFORE Panasonic hired him to write this weblog? If so, then why wasn’t I able to find at least some results for him that predate the Panasonic blog?

Apparently I’m not the only one asking questions. On Oct. 13, DefPerception ran a posting bylined by Tosh Bilowski entitled “O Brother, who art thou? This is really interesting. Tosh mentioned that there’s been some controversy over his identity, and he offered some personal details – storytelling, really, and nothing that can be corroborated as far as I can see.

This paragraph in that posting caught my attention: “If you’d rather read a data sheet, there you go. If you want a little more character – you came to the right place. So, skip the brochure, and be part of this blog.”

“Character” – yeah, that’s what I’m wondering here. Is Bilowski a character manufactured by Panasonic (or some PR/advertising firm) intended to put a superficially human face on product marketing? I’ve gotta say it: that looks pretty likely to me. I could be wrong, of course, but this does look weird.

Character blogs are risky business, since authenticity and transparency are the basis of credibility in this medium. I’ve said before that I am not categorically opposed to character blogs, but I do think they should be used carefully, with respect for the target audience in mind. In a nutshell, I think that if you’re offering a character blog, you’re asking for trouble if you don’t make its nature clear. Don’t present a character as a person; approach it as a theatrical device. Theater is cool. Deception is not.

To be clear: Tosh Bilowski may exist. He may even be a really cool guy. It’s also possible that “Tosh Bilowski” is a pseudonym.

Still, let’s consider the goals.

Panasonic is trying to reach out to video geeks here. High-definition video and TV are a big and fast-growing part of that company’s business. That audience has exceedingly high expectations for clarity and quality of information (not just video). Also, geeks are notoriously rough on anyone who tries to snow them, even in a minor way. In my opinion, if this is indeed a character blog, it has nuclear-scale backfire potential.

I sure hope the people over at Panasonic have their lead-lined undies on.

…And Tosh: If you exist, you might want to find some way to prove it. Your utter invisibility on the search engines is suspicious. If you don’t address it, you could blow it big time with your target audience. Don’t say no one told you.

(UPDATE: On DefPerception, “Tosh” offers a gallery of “photos I took on my trip to Japan.” He’s not in any of them, which is a a bit odd… But what’s truly bizarre is this photo. Tell me that “Welcome TOSH to Panasonic tour” sign doesn’t look hastily Photoshopped in. I’m not an imaging expert, but it’s hard to miss.)

6 thoughts on Who is Tosh Bilowski? Corporate Blogs and Authenticity

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  1. I’m sorry, but every time I see �Toshpit” I think I am reading “Topshit”

    So. Maybe Tosh Bilowski is an anagram? BLOW SHIT IS OK is one possibility …..

  2. I love how you dug into this! Seems fishy to me. I have a friend with media background whom just started a character blog. It’s a transparently over the top persona, like Manolo at shoeblogs.com. Transparently being the key word. (I’ll post it next week.) Theater, play – like you say is one thing. But deception, I agree, is quite another.

  3. I took a much closer look at the blog myself. “Tosh” spells out that he is a character in so many ways. For instance: “In search of a more interesting flow of information for my fellow tech-savvy video nuts, I came to be. And my blog was born.”

  4. Thanks, Evelyn

    Yeah, that sentence raised my eyebrows, too – but it’s not exactly what I would consider disclosure.

    If this is, as it seems to be, a character blog, I’ve gotta ask:

    1) Why didn’t they simply hire a real blogger? They obviously had money to spend on this blog. It wouldn’t have been hard to find a good one.

    2) Have these people at Panasonic (or their PR/ad firm) ever talked to the people they’re trying to reach with this blog?

    3) Didn’t they think anyone would notice?

    – Amy Gahran
    Editor, Contentious

  5. The worst thing here is that it’s just really boring as a weblog. Even his reference to “controversy” doesn’t include links to articles (like this) questioning his existence and legitimacy. So I’d say controversy: 0, boring: 10. 🙂 On the other hand, my kudos to Panasonic irregardless simply because they’re trying something new. I still believe that it’s possible to create interesting and compelling character blogs. I just haven’t seen it done yet.

  6. Hi Dave

    Yeah, you make a good point: Panasonic deserves praise for being willing to try weblogs at all, and I do hope they try it again.

    However, I also think they bungled this particular weblog very badly.

    If what they wanted was to achieve a personable and engaging online presence, the easiest and best solution would have been to hire a real person to write this blog for them.

    There are undoubtedly plenty of qualified, talented, and sufficiently professional writers or video geeks out there who could have done a great job with this weblog. Panasonic missed a big opportunity here, and that’s a shame. This could have been a stellar weblog.

    I think they can try again. They can acknowledge that their first approach didn’t work and try a second approach: preferably with a real blogger producing better content. I hope they do, and I will be among the first to congratulate them if so.

    I’ll follow up on that more in another followup.

    – Amy Gahran