At IFB, we've tried to pound into your head over and over again about FTC blogging regulations and fully disclosing your brand relationships. Get a free product? Disclose it. Receive compensation for a post? Disclose it. Using affiliate links? Disclose it.
Fashionista recently shared a hot post about the other side of the coin: bloggers who FAKE their free swag. That is, there are bloggers (of all sizes and shapes) who are disclosing that they received an item courtesy of a brand when they purchased the item themselves.
… say what???
I've talked with some fellow bloggers about this, and there seem to be a few areas of contention that come up.
Bloggers Disclosing at Item as Gifted–When it's Not:
One marketing exec, who wished to speak off the record, recalls a time when one fairly popular blogger (with one of those food-lifestyle-fashion blog titles) walked into the West Village store of a popular handbag brand. She asked for a free bucket bag, but the manager said she wouldn’t be able to give her one, so she bought it herself. As she left the store, she tweeted/instagramed/tumbled a big thanks to the brand for the purse.
To be honest, the idea of this confuses me. I understand wanting your readers and fellow bloggers (not to mention PR firms!) to think you're hot stuff. But as more and more blogs become saturated with C/O labels, your readers notice when you buy something yourself. So will your blogger friends. And so will those PR firms.
Brands Accepting–and Rewarding– this Behavior:
“However, in my experience with the brands I’ve worked with, I can say, bloggers who have inadvertently mentioned my clients in a positive manner (whether they are hungry for attention or rather ‘desperate’ as you put it) will be rewarded and noticed whether I have sent them product or not. If they ever claimed it was gifted when it wasn’t, yet they displayed the product in a positive light, I would most likely overlook that comment and thank them for their support.”
Call me naive, but it's incredibly disappointing to see brands rewarding bloggers who lie. I'd rather see Miss Influential Blogger 2012 buying said item and supporting said brand, that pretending it was a gift. Use it as an opportunity to pitch to the brand's PR department, so that you CAN build that genuine relationship, instead of promoting a fake one.
No One's Willing to Name Names
Several bloggers pointed out to me– how are we supposed to believe this article, and Fashionista's authority, when no one is willing to name names? Neither Fashionista, nor the PR agencies, were willing to actually say what bloggers they found guilty of this.
Do you think they should have? Are you willing to believe the piece if it doesn't offer cold examples, but instead has vague quotes?
I can personally see both sides… one on hand, if we don't call out those who are setting poor standards and creating bad precedents, how will the rest of us know to do better? And yet again, calling out a large and influential blogger for this behavior can have an impact on her future business dealings. It seems like it'd be best for the PR agency to initiate private communication with said blogger, but in fashion…. it seems everyone is avoiding stepping on one anothers toes. (Unless you're Anna Wintour.)
Lessons to Take Home:
Whether this is a story of a few isolated incidents or a growing problem in the community, YOU can avoid putting yourself in this embarrassing situation.
- Take PRIDE in buying at item for yourself. It proves authenticity to your readers and displays your genuine love and affection for the product. It shows that you've worked hard enough (whether in your day job or at blogging) to buy yourself a much coveted and desirable item. Fact: I often work with a great shoe brand. The fact they've sent me a few pairs hasn't stopped me from order 4 pairs in the last month. Paid for by my own debit card.
- Brand relationships are NOT the be-all and end-all of blogging. Your success as a blogger is only determined by your relationships with brands if YOU LET IT BE. Your success and worth as a blogger is completely determined by YOU. It seems that bloggers are driven to do this because they think brand relationships are the most they can achieve with their site. And they're not. Only YOU can determine what's important
- Why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free? If the men and women behind the marketing are noticing that you're disclosing an item inaccurately, you may NOT get anything more from them. In the above instance, we did hear of bloggers getting rewarded for their inaccurate disclosures. But what if you're not an A-list blogger? Why would they invest into giving you products if they know you'll buy it– and give them the credit? It may pay off for the right blogger, but the rest of us are potentially jeopardizing our relationship with that company in the future.
- With success comes responsibility: what impact are you contributing to the blogging community? Every action and choice we make has repercussions in the community as a whole. By promoting fake relationships, you're creating unrealistic standards for other bloggers and yourself. As a blogger, no matter what your size– you have reach. You have influence. And how you choose to use it impacts your site, your readership, your relationships, and the perceptions people have of you. The only ones holding us accountable is ourselves and our peers.
For another great response, check out Beautifully Invisible's The Dark Side of Blogging: It Isn't all Glitter & Gold.