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.