July 13, 2009

Blogger Sponsorship Article in the NY Times

There was an excellent article in the New York Times about the line between sponsors and/or advertisers and bloggers, and what the bloggers should disclose. As more marketers see the influence of bloggers, they are sending them products to review and discuss. However bloggers do not always reveal that they have been given these products.
The article in the TImes specifically discussed a blogger called "Classymommy" (ugh) who has reviewed more than 1,500 products on her blog. Alghough she does acknowledge which posts are "sponsored" and which are her own, many bloggers do not. I think at this level of "sponsored posts" in a blog, then it becomes one big commercial. In journalism, there's always been a sharp line between the reporting side and the advertising side, so that there's no influence.
I had a rather sharp discussion with a food blogger who was sent sushi-quality fish, high grade meats, kitchen utensils and small appliances and much more, without ever acknowledging that she had been given the items in hopes that she'd write a positive post about them (which she did). I thought that this was unethical. When I do talk about a commercial venture, I am doing it to share information and no other reason.

I receive loads of PR e-mails and always refuse to post about them, for several reasons. Most of what I am sent shows that the person hasn't really taken the time to read my blog. I write about what I think is interesting, and am not willing to flack for someone else. I also know that lots of the other bloggers are receiving the same e-mails, and I tend to follow my own road. I have also received offers of product, but I have turned that down as well, because I think that it puts the blog on a slippery slope towards becoming an advertising vehicle.

What are your thoughts on blogs promoting certain products? Do you or would you do it? Why or why not?


This post has been brought to you by the number 8.

33 comments:

  1. I have also recieved many of these emails from companies. To date I have had tweo giveaways.

    1. A French book, which I read & gave away because it pertained to the content of my blog. I felt that readers would enjoy the book as well.

    2. Just today I featured a giveaway which I used the product in a creative way to work around a post and theme. Otherwise I would not have given the contest.
    I think if you are only doing giveaways as your content then yes, it may be constued as "giving in", but a few giveaway's are fun and the readers do seem to enjoy the fun as well.

    I think that a moderate giveaway content and only showcasing the products you yourself would buy is another way of sharing your lifestyle and including readers on what is available out there.

    It is also a fine line and I agree with your thoughts, as long as your blog has balance I do not see a problem with a little giveaway and shopping for free. We could all use a little spring to get our step going these days.
    Thanks for the post, A very good topic!
    Leslie

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  2. Leslie... I don't have any problems with a company giving a blogger something for the blogger to give to a reader. What I do have an issue with is people who review products that they've been given, and they don't disclose that fact.

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  3. I'm with you 100%. I certainly fell like it is unethical if a blogger doesn't disclose wether or not they have been given a product, etc.

    I really wonder what amount of research some of these "scouts" have done. Better yet, I wonder what real results they get from a bit of blog publicity. Can it really be that much?

    Way to go, Pigtown. I loved your post!

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  4. I've got your back on this one. If a blogger gets he should say. That way you know what you are dealing with.

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  5. Funnily enough, I just got a looooong e-mail from a company asking me to write stories on their product and they gave me a number of talking points, should I be interested. Uh... no.

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  6. Nobody has ever approached me with a product to test or review, et cetera. But I agree with you, Pigtown: I'd want to know if the blogger had a vested interest in a given product.

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  7. Hi Pigtown-

    I love your blog and have placed you in my 'favorites' on www.thestylesaloniste.com

    This is an important topic. (I also love the 'free pianos in London' post...wow, people gathering around to sing in the summer-time street. Fabulous.)

    Note that all the best design blogs have no commercial content (ads etc) at all or very little.

    A blogger must maintain credibility, integrity, ethics, a sense of equilibrium.

    It is this 'editorial tone' (the same one I apply in my books and in magazine features) that must be maintained. The editorial tone should be discriminating, consistent and focused, and even-handed. It can be light-hearted, should be.
    Product:
    Perhaps for this blogger noted in the NYT today has her own purpose. It is diametrically opposite to mine.

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  8. I do not have a blog of my own, but I appreciate the ethics upheld by Pigtown and others here. I taught journalism and then worked in public relations and advertising. While I like the immediacy of the blog world, I do miss, among many things, the balance, fair play, the objectivity of news world long gone. I applaud all of you who abide by your own sense of objectivity. You have my deepest respect.

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  9. Completely agree with you, Meg. This new blogventure of mine is meant to promote ME and MY ideas to whomever finds them appealing, not some random product that I haven't even expressed interest in. I do, however, also agree with La Maison Fou. If a product is offered and fits in with the 'theme' of the blog, it might be promoted or used as a giveaway. A fun diversion and a blog post that writes itself. With full disclosure of course.

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  10. DDS... thank you so much for adding me to your list. I will do likewise!

    I agree about the tone of a blog. I think that it can change when you're being paid to say something. In effect, you're answering to a different master.

    It is interesting to read the comments on the article in the times, including one I wrote. Some say that blogging is a new thing and old rules don't apply. Others think that ethics apply, regardless.

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  11. HBD... We'd love to see you write a blog! I am sure it would be terrific.

    I am from a newspaper family and was always taught about the line between the advertising and editorial sides... never the twain shall meet.

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  12. Well, from the other side of the coin, don't you want a reviewer to have seen the product before they post or review about it? I get product pitches all the time and have asked to see certain products - a sample or something - in person because I may be intrigued but don't feel that a photo is enough to go on. Magazines receive samples all the time, don't they? Now, when I have reviewed a sample I've been very clear to post that I was sent the product or book. In some cases, I've done a giveaway or I've used it. In some cases I've not liked what I've seen when I receive it and either given it to someone or tossed it. In those (few) cases, I've not done any post on it. I don't have the funds to mail back or do a lot of giveaways where I have to pay postage. It's a balance. Ultimately, like any other endeavor, it's about trusting who you are reading or who's word you take. I don't think it's inherently wrong for a blogger to write product reviews or receive product samples to review. Like anything, being open and honest is what's key.

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  13. Linda... you're totally right. I would expect someone to see the product before reviewing it. All I expect is that it they disclose that they've been given the product. I get irked at people who rave about a product or service, not mentioning that they didn't purchase it.

    My father used to write book reviews for numerous regional publications, and publishers sent him books all of the time . He didn't and couldn't review them all, but when his reviews were published, it was understood that he received the books from the publishers and he didn't buy the book himself... mostly because the book review was printed concurrent with publication or before the book was released.

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  14. Right on Pigtown! By the way I love the # 8 and am rushing out to by one, or do one on my bike. You are so right- I will be watching more closely, I must be a blogvirgin still-Who knew? free stuff?-that I have never won a thing-Disclosure is all. la

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  15. All great points. I've had lots of offers to host giveaways over the years and haven't done one – probably because I’m just lazy and hate giveaways! But like you, when I give something away, it’s because I want to not because someone has asked me to. Ironically, a small NY company that I am familiar with & met the owner a couple years ago, approached me today and I am going to do one. However, I have shopped there before and know the products - I am not receiving any compensation for hosting the giveaway and if I was, I would disclose that either at the time I announced the giveaway or afterwards if I received something from the company in appreciation, etc.

    In the three plus years I’ve been blogging, I have accepted products from a couple of companies in hopes I would do a review which I did (on a old blog) but I posted my honest review and always disclosed that the company had sent me the items for that purpose.

    People have approached me about buying advertizing and I have declined the offers. It’s just not the look I am going for – I don’t blog to make money or receive items from people. I don’t advertize other than my own Amazon page with books I’ve read, want to read, etc. because I don’t like the look of all the ads, etc. I have integrity and people trust the stuff I post and recommend – therefore, I feel like I have a responsibility to be truthful with my readers.

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  16. Hi Meg!

    I also get alot of requests for reviews, but have not been sent alot of freebies other than books. I will post about the things I particularly like. I get so many requests, I really don't have time to post about them all.Even stuff I like! I will say that I have gotten a few books to review and have not stated that they have been given to me. I will be more forthcoming in the future! I had not really thought about it, so I am glad you brought it up. Though, I think if I had really not liked the book after getting it, I would just not post about it.

    About advertising and/or sponsors.....I am not against it unless the blog becomes less interesting and honest due to the fact. I don't find a blog with lots of flashing ads attractive so tend to not visit as often. I don't mind when someone has a sponsor list going if they relate to the blog and don't interfere. After all...people work hard on their blogs and I am not against someone trying to get a little compensation for it.

    I personally don't have plans for it, but do have an Amazon "shop" with books I like. I think it was a more streamlined approach to all of the books I used to have in my sidebar.

    Great topic! I hope more people weigh in!

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  17. Not a blogger, but a reader. It becomes very obvious very quickly when a blogger starts using commercial marketing as their posting subject. Generally, I just stop reading them, since I can google to get that information anyday. And too many commercial links in a blog make it unreadable and so I delete them from my list too.

    On another side, many of you post about books or art you like. I think these cultural plugs are doing a terrific service for small presses, and even large and shaky ones, not to mention all the talented and struggling artists who get a moral and sometimes financial boost from it.

    So as a reader, I'd say its a question of balance and probably should happen only for truly exceptional stuff that you've really loved. Certainly, disclosure is a good idea.

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  18. * Hi! It's IMPRESSIVE to see the integrity so many of you wonderful bloggers have written about here.

    As a NON-BLOGGER, maybe my opinion doesn't count~ or may BECAUSE of it, it does. I don't know. But, EITHER WAY, I DO BELIEVE "discretion", honesty & good ol' American "Common Sense" should ALWAYS be at the helm of any worthwhile project...

    I SINCERELY APPRECIATE the time, effort, research, etc that most of you put into a blog... I don't mind a tad of advertising, but PERSONALLY, I don't read those with "tens" of ads at the top/header... I think the occassional "drawing" seems funs to many, however... Just my thoughts here...

    MAY I THANK YOU ALL, for how you so GENEROUSLY SHARE with us? It IS appreciated, believe me!

    Blessings,
    Linda in AZ *

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  19. I suppose it would depend on the blog - if your format was to review a specific genre of items, so be it. However, negative reviews should also be posted.

    If it was a personal blog, it would seem strange to have family photographs in one post and an endorsement for shampoo in another.

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  20. The web is full of advertisements and endorsements. I don't read blogs to get more of that. I wouldn't bother with endorsing things on my blog - it would make blogging seem like work. And, then it wouldn't be fun.

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  21. Hi Meg,
    When blogging was in its infancy, the code of ethics was all about authenticity and integrity. I have never been approached by a company to promote products, though I promote small businesses and products I like all of the time. I just blog about things I like and enjoy, but I think it's pretty obvious I'm not making any money or getting gifts from these comapnies.
    When I come across blogs that do this habitually, I leave the blog. I can watch commercials on TV, I don't need them in the blogosphere.

    Great topic!
    Rita

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  22. I love the idea of reading real-life honest product reviews. However, I don't think the "honest" piece is achieved without disclosing how one got the product. I've written about a couple of pretty specific items that I love, but it's because I love them- not because I've been contacted. Giveaways are totally different, in my humble opinion. Great post- must check out the article.

    BTW, not sure when you changed it (yesterday/today?) but I am LOVING the new header.

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  23. S.A. I agree about the give-aways. It's sort of a fun thing, rather than more commercial.

    I am glad you like the header. I've added a little piece at the top right giving an explanation of the header, since they change a lot and people seem to be interested.

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  24. If I'm sent a review copy or a product I'll usually review it... but honestly. I prefer that I am contacted in advance to see if I'm interested though. And I always try to give full disclosure about the provenance of the piece.

    I just accepted my first advertiser as his product is exceptionally well-made and it fits with my content nicely.

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  25. I think this is an issue that probably comes up more frequently for food bloggers than other types of bloggers.

    From a marketing perspective, it makes sense for companies to send food bloggers advance samples of new products - it's an easy way to reach that whole "influencers" demographic. So I don't have a problem with that - but I do have a problem with bloggers writing about something (especially uncritically) without disclosing that they've gotten a freebie. I'll write about something if a) I like it and b) it fits with my style/content. But if I got something for free, I always say it.

    Interestingly, when I was writing for Examiner.com, there was a discussion among the food and drink writers about this same subject. A couple of the more vocal writers said they thought it came off as unprofessional to disclose that they got something for free. That argument made no sense to me and actually, knowing that I was writing alongside those people helped me make the decision to quit.

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  26. Yeah not really crazy about them. I highlight companies I love personally not just for their product but for their service too...which is so essential in life!!!!
    I regard a blog as a personal statement, which can include art the blogger creates but one big commercial...pass.
    By the way. I've always hated the word classy.

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  27. Oh gosh, I thought people only read what I write about paint and color because I'm so fun and my personality is so darn irresistable. I had no clue it had anything to do with people wanting information and actual products and reader's projects.
    ;-)

    I only write/talk about what I've used. If something sucks, then it sucks. I don't feel the least bit obliged to sugarcoat otherwise. A free can of paint (or whatever) is nothing compared to the value of my reputation for being direct and impartial. If a company wants to send me something for review, they do so at their own risk.

    Making that disclosure crystal clear from the beginning is just as important as disclosing to readers if I ever got the product I'm recommending for free.

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  28. Interesting discussion here. Yes, it's important to disclose that you received the item. Like others, when I post about a certain item, it's usually because I like it or I think my readers will like it. Or, it fits with a certain theme of a post. In terms of review copies of books, I think it's pretty obvious that most bloggers receive them because we always post reviews before the books are actually released. But, I only post reviews about the books that I have personally enjoyed reading. If there's a book that has no relevance to my blog or that isn't up to snuff, I just don't review it. And yes, most email solitications that I receive involve products that absolutely do not fit my blog at all!

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  29. I don't think there is anything wrong with bloggers accepting items from companies. Newspapers, television, and magazines are sent new products by companies, often months before they come out for consumers, in the hopes they will be reviewed or featured. Writers then sift through the products and decide which to review or use or feature. That is how magazines, etc. know what clothes, foods, cosmetics, books are going to be out in May or June when they write and file the articles in November. Journalists are not at the stores picking up the items themselves (often months in advance!) to review. Getting samples and free items and press kits that try to influence what is reviewed is just how media works, perhaps more so for magazines than newspapers, but still. I don't think bloggers have any responsibility to not blur lines between editorial and advertising content. They are free to write what they like and readers are free to read what they like.

    If one make the argument that bloggers should disclose everything they might have gotten free do you think that "mainstream" media should also disclose that in every single article? Should there be a disclaimer at the beginning of a movie for all product placements? I think readers of blog and print reviews are smart enough to understand that it is just one person's opinion. If a blog is nothing but positive reviews of products and devoid of other, meaningful content, readers will know the author is disingenuous and stop reading. Eventually the blogger will have to change or risk losing their audience.

    Many bloggers work very hard and for very little money, providing entertainment and information for others at the expense of their own time. Rather than judge bloggers for accepting free products, I think that they more than earn those small perks. I also do not begrudge those bloggers that utilize ads on the site. Some bloggers earn their mortgage money this way, precisely because they provide enough content of sufficient interest to thousands of readers. (Btw, you can download a plug-in to your browser so that you do not see the ads.) I respect those who choose not to get any freebies, but I wouldn't begrudge those that do.

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  30. Danielle... Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I think that there are two different concepts at work here.

    The general public understands that the mainstream media reviews products and services. It can be thought of as part of their public mandate. Many times, you see negative reviews of products... think movie reviews!

    What I have an issue with are people who review products or services without disclosing that they were given the product. The woman cited in the NY Times article has reviewed more than 1500items, and only writes positive reviews. How many things has she gotten that she hated?

    Usually, when you see a review in the media, it's warts and all. Think of restaurant reviews.

    I think that if you're a blogger and want to be credible, then you should follow general ethical guidelines.

    Just another $.02 from me!

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  31. If the general public can understand that the mainstream media reviews products and services (most of which are comped), why can't we understand that bloggers may review products and services? and why must we hold them to a higher standard that of the mainstream media?

    I am sure that some bloggers who receive free products give less than flattering reviews to some of those products. The bloggers who give uniformly good reviews are quite obvious and can be ignored.

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  32. I've done 2-3 but only for companies/items that I truly liked.

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  33. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


    Susan

    http://ovarianpain.net

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