Blogger Integrity: Swag, Accountability, & Disclosures

shutterstock_97810388At 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.


How do you feel reading the Fashionista piece? Have you ever witnessed this on a site? Have you ever felt compelled to pretend you've received merchandise C/O of  a brand, even if you haven't?

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33 Responses

  1. purplebananasandfudgeballs

    I’ve suspected a few bloggers whose blog I regularly visit of faking their gifted items. I suspect them mostly because their blog quality is uber poor (not to mention they have only a handful of followers..not that the number of followers is the only indication of being popular, but still…), yet, they post on a regular basis ‘gifts’ they’ve received from well known brands. I find these types of posts hilarious. Like, really, what are you accomplishing by faking ‘gifted items’? Do you think that the PR of the brand will notice and then really send you another gift? No. Instead, they’re probably laughing all the way to the bank and at you, because you’ve just given them free publicity and promotion. I’ll never understand the logic behind that.

    • 4HumaniTees

      As a Social Awareness T-shirt company, we have given items to accurate positive supporters of the line. I did learn more from reading your piece and appreciate the life of a blogger.

  2. Jenn Staz

    Faking a gift seems odd, and while I understand the logic behind it …. “fake it til you make it”… you’re absolutely right when you say that it means a lot when someone buys something on their own. As a beauty blogger, I receive a truckload of free product, but my readers definitely notice when I review something, and then when I run out, BUY ONE MYSELF!

  3. Rachelle Porsenna

    That is so disappointing, I’m actually not fond of bloggers who only wears free swags. It’s ok to be successful and receive gifts from brands. But I think it should be limited to 2 items per post. But hey that’s just my opinion. I work so hard to be able to afford the clothes in my closet, the only person getting credit for them is Myself. xo

  4. Pearl Westwood

    Say what indeed! When I first heard about this I had to LOL all over it. It really does sound a very desperate thing to do, since I don’t read any blogs where such suspicious activity has been noticed I did wonder if it were indeed true or a one off which people are milking for a ‘big story’.

  5. Hope Howland

    I find this whole idea baffling… To me, as a blogger I am a voice of influence… How can I expect to be a reliable source of information or a review if I’m not being honest of where I got it… Also, don’t we want our followers to relate to us? I know I do… it’s real life folks… and if what I am portraying on my blog isn’t real, then I’ve missed the point entirely….

    Honesty is always the best policy….

  6. Jessica

    I’m SHOCKED that bloggers are pretending that they are getting free stuff. I work really hard on my blog, and if a company wants to gift me something, I’m honored and credit them. But if I want to wear my favorite jacket, I’m going to wear it and say I bought it! I’m human. I buy stuff.

    xo Jessica

  7. Rachel

    Hell, I even mark things where the brand has paid me for sponsored posts in store credit and then I’ve used the credit to purchase them as c/o. But anyway, reading the Fashionista post actually prompted me to write a post which I think I’ll put online after fashion month fully disclosing how I make money off of my blog with sponsored posts, other projects, advertising, affilate links etc. I’m lucky enough to be able to make money off of my blog yes because of my hard work, yes, but mostly because of my readers who stick around, engage through social media, and buy things I have affiliate linked to so they deserve for me to be totally transparent and honest with them, regardless of my being transparent with brands I work with also. The most beautiful (and expensive) item in my closet is a beautiful Chloe bag which I’d never be able to afford myself, and yes I worked for it, yes a site gave it to me, those two could only happen because of my amazing readers.

  8. Chaucee from Streets and Stripes

    Wow that is not cool at all. A huge part of blogging is trust with your readers. Why would anyone want to compromise that?

    I also don’t think it’s good to just keep everything hush hush when in fact it’s kind of like “cheating”.

  9. Nicole Williams

    As a fellow blogger who is working hard to brand my blog the honest way, I find the story unbelievable. Whether you have 10 followers or 10,000, as an influencer credibility is important – readers and followers are expecting honesty, transparency, and reliability. I have a disclosure notice posted on my contact page and have made it known where necessary if items are purchased or not.

  10. Laura

    I would like there to be a clear standard for the difference between c/o and gifted. When I receive a free item from a brand to promote on my blog I use c/o. However, when I receive something as a gift, say for christmas from my boyfriend, I write that the item was “gifted”. Does anyone else do this? What should bloggers be using as the standard between the two?

  11. Filipa

    “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. …Only YOU can determine what’s important” – these are my favorite sentences from this article.

    I haven’t seen anything like this on the blogs that I follow nor did it myself. Faking a relationship with brands is just wrong. I don’t understand why would someone say he/she got something for free when he/she didn’t and lie to the readers.
    I don’t usually shop branded stuff, but I have a few. I’m proud I bought them myself because it took me a lot of effort and time to collect the money and buy the things I desired.

    Great article!
    Filipa from

  12. Andria Rivers

    I can’t believe bloggers (allegedly) do this! It would never cross my mind to do something like this and, personally, I would be more proud of an expensive item I bought myself than one that was c/o (though there’s nothing wrong with c/o items).

    Indie Punk Goddess

  13. Mary

    This is such an odd concept to me…one that never even crossed my mind. I love to shop, so I am not going to pretend I didn’t buy the items myself. Besides, I take pride in finding particular pieces on my own as opposed to them being given to me. I relaunched my blog at the beginning of this month (new name, site, etc) so there are only a few posts. I am still learning about my camera, so my photos are in no way top notch. There is no way I would be gifted anything right now. And if I never am, that’s ok. I don’t blog for the purpose of getting free stuff. I do it because I love fashion and want to share it with others. And because I am still so “new” (in terms of this relaunch), I have no affiliate links, I receive no compensation of any kind. But I already have a disclosure page about these things. I think it is very important to be completely honest with anyone who comes across my blog. Even if the disclaimer is not yet applicable, at least it is there for if and when the time comes. I don’t appreciate when people lie to me…I am not going to lie to my readers.

  14. Domenic Robert Bartlett-Roylance

    such a retarded thing to do. I wonder if some of our favourite bloggers have done this. There is no way to tell… guh! The despair.

    XX Domenic

  15. Anastasia Polosina

    Well, in my point of view it’s fairly ridiculous..Partly because there is no much sence to do so – first of all, because it’s a really bad start of your own relations with the brand. Before i turned to fashion blogging i worked as fashion editor of a glossy mag so i know well this disputable aspect – if you constantly put the brand onto pages for “free”, it wont actually tells on the sucess of the magazine, but most probably this brand will never give an advertisement. Just because there is no sence – they have already got promoted! And besides “A-listed” brands dont pay much attention to things like this – they think twice which magazine-blog-web is honored enought to public them.. As for affection to blogsphere i guess it’s a question of your morality, but i prefer to admit that i worked hard enougth to buy something, whether to be given an item.

  16. Jeanine Marie

    I was thinking “how easy” it must be to receive c/o items. The reason why is that every single blog has c/o items coming out of their ears. I feel a bit better knowing all is not what it seems.

  17. MonicaP

    If a blogger buys an item and then said the PR firm sent it for free for consideration .. then he/she is a desperate idiot. If the same person is sent and item and doesn’t disclose that it was gifted then that person is a liar. So I guess it depends on which end of the spectrum you’d like to live at.

    If I buy a Coach purse and say it was gifted from Coach .. I think that Coach would enjoy the free advertising, but will Coach want to work with a liar or someone with no integrity? Hmm, probably not. So lie if you like, you’re only hurting yourself in the end.


  18. Ashlei

    I honestly don’t understand the logic behind fake gifting, I mean I understand that it can make a blogger look “cool” if they’re receiving swag from a brand, but if you can actually afford to buy the item, that’s just as awesome! I think it’s much more effective to build a relationship with a brand and your readers by saying ‘hey, I really like this product, so much so, I spent my hard-earned money on it’.

    Personally, seeing a lot of c/o on a blog makes me feel the blogger isn’t that authentic, being gifted items is awesome, don’t get me wrong, but if over half of what you’re wearing is c/o this brand and that brand it makes me question if you’re doing this because you have a real interest and passion for it, or if it’s more about what you can gain (for free) from others.

    I’d much rather hear about you saving up for months to purchase this bag, or finding these shoes on sale for a killer price, or family members putting money together to buy you so-and-so because they knew how much you loved it. That, to me, is way more interesting, authentic, and “cool” than being gifted all the time.

  19. anne m bray

    Bloggers do strange things.

    Faking a c/o?
    Downright BIZARRE!
    I don’t get it.

    Let the blogosphere blow up over this topic, PLEASE!
    Maybe GOMI will out the fakers — I hope so. They deserve to be GOMItized.

  20. Sharde

    I believe full disclosure is always the best! While getting free stuff is certainly cool- and I’ve been on the receiving end before- its very cool as a reader to see clothes that someone hand picked to wear and bought with their own money because they liked it that much. I appreciate people being “real” and style generated from oneself is always better than “oh I shopped here because it was free”. I always appreciate a brand thinking they like my style and would love it for me to consider rocking their styles- discretion plays a big part in deciding whether you want to work with someone because you like their product or you just want free stuff. And discretion plays into whether you say you got free stuff when you didn’t. I think that that’s very dishonest and brands wouldn’t want to work with you further after noticing such a thing.

  21. vicki

    I think this is sad to hear, it shows what pressure bloggers feel they are under to perform and to pretend to be something they are not? I think it shows that the blogging world on a whole needs to be more honest and real if we are to take anything we read seriously.

  22. Marie Denee

    This article tripped me out when I read it. I was like, is this what they are doing now? I mean I felt soooo out of a loop… and in this case, one I was happy to be out of.

    Even when I am gifted, when and if I do rock something, I disclose, but I also am not the one who likes to tweet or instagram something gifted… BUT, this is me.

    Such a weird concept that I refuse nor can wrap my head around…

  23. tasha

    I think this post is super amazing. Everything needed to be said about this whole thing. I was talking with Bagsnob on twitter about this issue. I have actually over reading blogs thats all c/o. I read their blog because of who they are and now that has completely changed. I actually know of a blogger in NY that does this. They need to be called out. They are lying on a brand and to their readers. Why keep it sercet? There is no point in it. When someone does wrong it needs to be stated and corrected. Someone is going to thank they can still get away with it.

  24. Allison

    Not gonna lie, I really want to know who is referring to in their article. Judging by the, “fairly popular blogger (with one of those food-lifestyle-fashion blog titles)” I have a good guess…

  25. Ally

    Faking a freebie sounds like a weird idea but I guess they do it to make themselves seem more successful. I don’t think I could do that, what if you were called out on it? How embarassing.

  26. Anna

    I think this article is really eye oppening to all of those who pretend someting that´s not true. I think one of the most importante thing in blogging is beeing true to your readers and followers. It seems that some pepole just do it for fame, and that´s really sad.

  27. paul

    According to Canadian author and business speaker Jim Clemmer, honesty and integrity build a foundation of trust. He says that “Honesty and integrity are key ingredients in developing trust. Trust is a key element in establishing credibility. Our credibility is at the center of our ability to influence others and provide strong blogging leadership. These characteristics are the hallmarks of strong blogger.