October 13, 2011

Are Mommy Bloggers Whores?

I read this article in today's Toronto Star with a great deal of interest. With so many new bloggers entering the arena every day, the field has become ripe for those who naturally want to turn their hobby into a career. Can't blame them. There are some very good writers out there who deserve to be paid for their words.

I've watched this particular field from the sidelines for the past decade or so. The pioneers, the first to actively keep blogs and grow within the discipline, are some of the heavyweights noted in the linked piece. There are others, notably in the States - The Bloggess springs to mind. Longevity is a key to success, monetary or otherwise. So is good writing. Humour helps, a lot.

But the twist of late has been the bold, unvarnished venturing into product placement. Is it fine with you if the woman who relays stories of her darling two-year-old now peppers her prose with the fact that Huggies are the best? Or that this Peg stroller runs rings around that store brand one? Do you notice? Do you care?

Here's the thing: you have a right to know who is getting what currency for which services. If said blogger is a paid spokesperson for Brand A, that should be clear. And quite frankly, that will dismiss their opinion in mine. Period. I am aware I am not speaking for everyone. Otherwise, endorsements from everyone from Whoopi Goldberg to that old dude on the oatmeal commercial wouldn't work. And they must work, or nobody would be doing them.

The article touches on the handwringing that some bloggers experience. Funny. All they need to do is look up things like the rules that apply for the industry I work in - automotive. You want to talk an industry where the writers get called whores? We might come out a nose behind the travel writers, but the stench lingers on all of us.

Let's cut right to the chase. One time I flew business class on a junket to San Francisco with Rolls-Royce and stayed at the St. Regis. There. Let's throw all that bait out there in the first sentence. I wrote up the lovely experience of driving this spectacular car - that's my job. And some wannabe auto writer fired in a letter to the editor calling me out. Here is my response, and applicable links. it was three years ago, but it still applies.

Here's the thing: I don't have a Facebook page or a Twitter account where I casually mention Armor All or Turtle wax, mostly because I don't casually mention anything except what my cat is eating or what ridiculous show I'm watching because I can't find the good remote to change the channel and I'm too lazy to get up. And if I did mention Armor All or Turtle wax, you would have a right to know if those companies or their retailers were paying me to do so. Transparency matters.

Now, conversely, let's say that Armor All decided to pay me, say, a quarter million dollars a year to pimp their product. Just a round number (are you listening, Armor All?). You would not be much surprised to hear me go on and on how I use Armor All for all my polishing needs, and I would drink it if I could get the sprayer off. I would LOVE Armor All, because I was being paid to love it. And as a consumer you would pause, and think, 'Hmmm. I was considering acquiring something for my polishing needs, and even though Lorraine really loves Armor All, there are several other products that do the same thing. Perhaps I should weigh the fact that they pay her a quarter million dollars a year, and decide for myself'. But you could only have this think with yourself if you were aware of my payday. If you thought I was just being chatty and social and all networky and helpful, you might mistake my love of said product as genuine and unfettered, when it actually was quite fettered.

I'm actually confused about the confusion. Magazines and newspapers and television and radio all run ads from many sponsors within the same issue. A website can accept advertising and maintain the same parameters. But if you're going to tell me about one kid's cereal, you should be prepared to tell me about all the other ones in the category. If you're going to recommend I take my kids to Disneyworld, it shouldn't just be because they hosted you there. Decent reviewers of experiences need to acknowledge that the experience they are getting is not the normal one, most of the time. You need to talk to other people, wander off the path, and ask different questions.

If I wanted to compare strollers (and I don't), I would approach 3 manufacturers and outline my pitch, note my readership, and ask if I could review the appropriate product in the appropriate price point. I would then write up all three strollers and do a proper comparison. This is useful information for a consumer. A blogger getting a thousand dollar stroller and saying, "I loved it!" doesn't help me much. Then you donate the strollers to Goodwill, or return them. (I always have to give the cars back, and I pay for my own gas when I have a press car). You build up a reputation as being fair and smart.

Manufacturers are smart to want feedback from the end users of their products, and they're right to realize there is a huge untapped source of information in these Mom blogs. But there is a right way and a wrong way to extract that information, and I think hard learned rules in other industries could be applied to this one.

In that link on the Rolls-Royce piece, I noted my first lesson in all this, the salsa lesson. That has stayed with me all these years, and is still a good litmus test. Oh, and the salsa was horrible, by the way. Horrible. But sticking to the rules meant I never had to say otherwise.

*Note. I use Armor All. I also use other stuff when I can't find it in the garage. I've never received even free product from Armor All. We're not allowed to, as those rules at the Star are so clear about.

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Anonymous Zena said...

I have never actually clicked a single blog ad link, anywhere, ever. Ad clutter overwhelms me, so I respond by just ignoring them.

And having products pitched to me without my knowledge is extremely disturbing. It's like being stuck in an episode of "The Truman Show," where everyone is in on the joke except the hapless dupe in the centre of the room. Let me in on the joke too, and then I can tell you if I think it's funny...

Do advertisers/bloggers really want to make fools of their customers/readers, or do they not care (or even think) about the implications of these methods?

Question, though: how (if at all) do the professional bloggers who have sworn off ads actually make a living at blogging?

My word: "repsi"

(proof positive that there is, indeed, a (twisted) little person sitting inside the verification program, thinking up bizarre ways of giving everyone the cyber-creeps when they post here. Either that, or it's a subtle plea for deliverance - I mean, how exciting could life inside a verification routine actually be...)

October 13, 2011 3:38 PM  
Anonymous Roz said...

Personally, when it comes to strollers and their durability, you cannot do better than the Dwight Shrute test facility in Scranton, Pennslyvania.

October 13, 2011 4:17 PM  
Blogger Chris Brown (not the felon) said...

I could become a whore and I am neither a mother or a blogger.

Isn't the world just amazing?

October 13, 2011 4:28 PM  
Anonymous zena said...

Not a "mother-blogger," eh? That's, erm, very commendable of you...

October 13, 2011 4:31 PM  
Anonymous buzzwhack said...

Newspapers are in a terrible situation where compromises are being made all the time regarding advertising limits and taste. The Toronto Star willingly sells split pages which wraps around the headline page in order to promote some product. I dislike it intensely, but know the revenue must be killer to make them do it. I've done the press car junket many times. I wrote what I believed about the cars, good and bad. Currently the majority of new vehicles are so drab and appalling I stopped test driving and writing about them. When it comes to blogs and product promos, it boils down to reader identification and support of the blogger. If they like the blogger, relate to him/her and are willing to try something they reccommend, then its a "sale." Call them opinion leaders, blogwhores, whatever, but its been around forever and nothing really changed. Meet Vance Packard.

October 13, 2011 4:52 PM  
Blogger Lorraine said...

It has been around forever, Buzz, but 'social media' has tossed a new spin into it. I abhor the whole concept of 'friends' etc, when it's really not. It's like the creepy product placement in movies...that started in earnest about 20 years ago (?), but now is so ridiculous I can't watch a movie without distractedly counting how many products I'm being forced to notice.

Transparency is everything. An ad is an ad; an advertorial is misleading.

October 13, 2011 4:55 PM  
Anonymous Niblet J. Keebler said...

If anyone is looking for someone willing to blog for money, please visit WWW.EATJAX.COM. I'll sell out my site, my husband, my friends and my kids. Especially my kids.

I've been ethical up to this point, as they taught me in university journalism classes, but it's gotten me nowhere. My whoreprice is $50,000 a year. (AMERICAN) If it's Canadian, I require extra lobster.

October 13, 2011 7:08 PM  
Blogger Lorraine said...

I will vouch for Niblet.

No better seller-outer around. And, girlfriend can write....=)

October 13, 2011 7:45 PM  
Anonymous Zena said...

Okay, a bit off-topic, but I think it's really cruel to direct people to a site containing pictures of anything slathered in caramel, without prior warning. That's just low...

I actually had something insightful to say, but I seem to have drooled on my sweater. Think I need to go change...

p.s. I'm with you on the product placement thing in movies, Lorraine; but I have to say I always get a really good chuckle at the Mac reference in Wall-E. I guess I'm more forgiving if you make me laugh...

October 13, 2011 8:09 PM  
Blogger Chris Brown (not the felon) said...

In case anyone cares I just finished a huge plate of wings and dry ribs. Unlike dry heaves, the ribs were memorable. And... unlike certain other commenters I do not drool all over myself when confronted with delectables. $20K and a quart of hagendaas and I'm yours if you're a wing manufacturer.

October 13, 2011 10:18 PM  
Anonymous Zena said...

Dry heaves are always memorable for their sheer unpleasantness...

gynedit: process whereby she seeks to revise his questionable apparel choices - invariably prefaced by the rhetorical indictment "you're not going dressed like that, are you?"

October 13, 2011 10:59 PM  
Blogger OmemeeOzzie said...

Was the headline rhetorical or was there something more you'd care to add?

October 14, 2011 4:42 PM  
Blogger Lorraine said...

David, you know how headlines work!

An awesome one just came up on my Twitter from Insider Perks:

"Amtrak hits record 30 million passengers"

October 14, 2011 5:19 PM  
Blogger OmemeeOzzie said...

Yes, I do - but it often depends upon the media outlet, too.

Like the Amtrak head.

October 14, 2011 5:27 PM  
Blogger Lorraine said...

I am my own media outlet.

(Said in the tone of 'I am my own liquor control board')

October 14, 2011 5:28 PM  
Blogger OmemeeOzzie said...

A personal favourite and one I write many moons ago in the UK..."Lightning hit my Dick last night."

October 14, 2011 5:34 PM  
Blogger OmemeeOzzie said...

Of course, I meant to write, wrote...

October 14, 2011 5:35 PM  
Blogger Lorraine said...

From 2009, a Boston website:

'Missing Baby Found in Sandwich, Father Arrested'

October 14, 2011 5:37 PM  
Blogger Chris Brown (not the felon) said...

-If strike isn't settled quickly it may last a while
-War dims hope for peace
-Smokers are productive, but death cuts efficiency
-Cold wave linked to temperatures
-Child's death ruins couple's holiday
-Blind woman gets new kidney from dad she hasn't seen in years
-Man is fatally slain
-Something went wrong in jet crash, experts say
-Death causes loneliness, feeling of isolation

Yes... I do keep a file of some of my favourites.


October 14, 2011 5:52 PM  
Blogger Lorraine said...

"Blind woman gets new kidney from dad she hasn't seen in years"


October 14, 2011 5:53 PM  
Anonymous jmd said...

"Clinton Apologizes to Syphilis Victims" Gotta be more to that story.

October 14, 2011 7:54 PM  
Anonymous buzzwhack said...

"2 Convicts Escape, Jury Hung."
"Night School to Hear Pest Talk"
"Sues Bride of Four Mouths"
"Coloma Bride Stands 45 Tons, Test Friday."
"Dog in Bed, Asks Divorce."
"Wild Wife League Will Meet Tonite"
"Prisoners Escape from Farm After Execution."
"Send-A-Dame Chain Letters Deluge City; Interest Keen"
"Boy Cooks Must Eat Own Vitals"
"Enraged Cow Injures Farmer With Axe."
Some gems I know of.

October 14, 2011 7:56 PM  
Blogger Lorraine said...

You guys are crazy, you know that, right?


(so do I. sigh. So sad.)

October 14, 2011 8:19 PM  
Anonymous Zena said...

Here's one my beloved 2nd-born cut out of the paper:

"Marriage: main cause of divorce"

Who knew...

I wonder if Amtrak was actually aiming for those passengers...

October 14, 2011 9:53 PM  
Anonymous Padraig said...

One of my favourites occurred when the Toronto Telegram was sponsoring Marilyn Bell in swimming the English Channel (long before your time, all of you boomers). Their front page featured a dramatic shot of Marilyn coming out of the water, and it so happened that the Toronto Star photographer was also in the picture. The caption read: "Marilyn Emerges Triumphant from Conquering Channel, while Elderly Unidentified Bystander Struggles to Focus Camera."

Oh, incidentally, I made my living by writing ads, so I don't really have a dog in your original fight.

October 15, 2011 11:13 AM  

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