Why Paid “Product Reviews” Have No Credibility

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Jennine referred to seeded products (freebies, gifted items, etc.) in her recent post: “Do Bloggers Really Get Paid for Press Releases, Freebies or Campaigns?”, but it's worth noting again, and again, and again:

Bloggers should NOT get paid to do product reviews.

Bloggers absolutely should get paid for sponsored posts, or blogger campaigns. Especially if the work is done within a specific time frame, or featuring specific keywords or links.

Not reviews.

A review is a thoughtful, critical, un-biased look at something. A review is not just a post with a picture and “I love these new shoes this brand sent me. Look how pretty they are!” A real review is an in-depth look at how the item fits, along with notes on the quality, value, and versatility. Since nothing is perfect, sometimes a review will have negative points in it.

The goal of a product review is to give your readers all the information you can about the item so they can make an informed decision about whether to buy it or not. A review isn't the same as a product “feature” or a sponsored post. A review could be of something you received as a “gift” or that you bought yourself, and you have actually worn or used.

Can you write a 100% honest review (perhaps also critical) of something you received for free?

Can you write a 100% honest review (perhaps also critical) of something you received for free? Maybe. But what if you are getting paid by the brand supplying the product? I guess it's possible, but there are too many variables at play to be sure (keeping the brand/company happy, getting paid…). And honestly, I'm pretty firmly in the “no you cannot” camp.

Would you trust a restaurant critic who'd been paid to write a review of a restaurant BY the restaurant?

Would you trust a restaurant critic who'd been paid to write a review of a restaurant BY the restaurant? Or a movie critic? Magazines, newspapers, TV stations, pay critics, not the restaurants or movie studios.

It's just not entirely ethical to take money from a company you're supposed to review or critique “impartially;” how can it be impartial if you've entered into a financial contract with them?

It can't, can it?

What do you think?

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29 Responses

  1. Olga

    It can be impartial as long as the brand has real expectations and expects, itself, a honest review. Of course as long as the negative opinion is delivered in a diplomatic manner. But I am not sure if brands want truly honest review and I tend to think many are afraid of criticism. I maybe naive thinking things can be any other way.
    I think bloggers write mostly good reviews because they want to keep receiving those free products and not get on the bad side of the brands. Even if it means sacrificing the truth.

    Reply
  2. Megan @ Lush to Blush

    I think a paid review can be completely unbiased, as long as there is no agreement that negative points be left out. The brand not only pays for the review and exposure, but also the time spent testing the product & writing the review, the professional photography and any other equipment or services that are used creating the review. I don’t see why being paid would sway a blogger to stick to the positive. I know it wouldn’t for me. Then again, I always make sure I’m paid before posting.

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    • Bike Pretty

      Exactly. It takes so long to do a proper review. The testing, photographs, write-up. There are a lot more moving parts than with a typical outfit post.

      In fact, it’s so much work that I usually turn down offers to review a product. I find the insistence that bloggers shouldn’t be paid to write reviews distasteful. It downplays the importance of the actual effort involved. And it implies that reviews lack value, and that even amateurs can do it.

      Reply
      • Grechen Reiter

        i’m certainly not downplaying the work that goes into writing reviews, i do them all the time, and have done them for 10 years. but i’ve never been PAID to do them. I get paid for other things, never reviews; a review is a critical, impartial look at something either you purchased or was given to you with no expectation other than if you like it, maybe you’ll wear it or write about it. how many words you write or pictures you take is completely up to you…

        not getting paid to do the work to write a 100% unbiased, impartial review is part of the “cost” of doing business as a blogger if you want to keep your credibility, in my opinion.

      • Letitia Elizabeth

        I have to agree with you doll while simultaneously completely disagreeing with this article. Sorry Grechen! But I think the point being made in truth is that bloggers are utterly incapable of having courage or strong will to publish their thoughts on a product without fear of the brand or retaliation. Doesn’t that go against the grain of narcissistic blogging to begin with – sharing our individual thoughts on whatever the wind blows our way? 🙂 It’s almost an insult to the very intelligent established and professional bloggers who have been around forever and even have editorial/journalistic backgrounds before starting our blogs. We may not want to work at magazines anymore where there is no freedom from the paid control, but starting our own blogs is a way to sever the ties with that sort of dysfunctionally corrupted system while still making a buck. But it’s hard because I do think there are some amateur bloggers out there so desperate and thirsty to survive that sure, they will do whatever. I remember those days haha

      • [email protected]

        I could not have responded better!

        The assumption that if you are paid to review something means you obviously can’t stick to a moral code is definitely in the insult zone.

      • Grechen Reiter

        it’s not just me saying this though! it’s a question of ethics that’s been around for years. why did the FTC establish guidelines for bloggers about disclosure? certainly not because everyone out there is ethical, and doing the right thing all the time….

        of course not EVERY blogger is going to change her “opinion” about something once she’s been paid to write about it, but many do do that, or leave the negatives out altogether.

  3. TlvBirdie

    Paid review is some sort of just two words put together in an alogical way.
    Review absolutely has to be ethical and objective. I assume blogger can receive a product for free for a review, on the other side the time being spent to do a review ( I am talking about deep research of pros and cons, taking quality pictures and putting post together) CAN and SHOULD be paid. Just as any other job, due to blogger’s rate.
    Sometimes, review takes much more time and resources to do rather a feature.
    Let’s put it into other words:
    For a FEATURE, blogger gets paid due to blog’s numbers, traffic and engagement of the audience. It’s just a feature, along with other brand’s products most of the time, when the main goal of the brand is to get EXPOSURE.
    For a REVIEW, blogger gets paid for a research job done, as the main goal of the brand is a FEEDBACK.
    Staying objective when you receive money from a brand, and vice versa, demanding a positive review from a brand’s side, is totally an individual’s ethical issue.

    Oly
    http://www.tlvbirdie.com

    Reply
  4. Kierra

    I literally could not agree more. If your teaming up with a company then for sure you should be paid but its just so unauthentic to do a review on a post and just sit there and rave about the product when we all know good and well you were paid for that. What irritates me even more is when people say ” all opinions are my own”. But you really have to ask are they? No blogger wants to burn bridges with companies so why would anyone willingly go on a blog post and say they dislike the product. Its a jaded system for sure.
    XO
    http://www.hercharisma.com

    Reply
    • Sephie Rojas

      I agree! I get annoyed seeing some bloggers claim that their opinions are their own when it’s so obvious they’re paid to say nice things. Whatever happened to blogging organically and being honest about something? It’s impossible that a brand/product is THAT amazing, really. It’s just sad and a bit of a turn-off seeing a lot of top/popular bloggers be swayed by money when they get to work for brands.

      Reply
  5. Sephie Rojas

    I think it will all depend on how the company/brand talks to the blogger they’re working with and what the brand’s goal is at the end of the day.

    If the brand specifically only wants a positive view about their product to be shared, then it’s better to just go for a SPONSORED post wherein the blogger writes about the product and the brand and he/she gets paid for doing what we can call a “feature”.

    If the brand wants a fair feedback about their product, that requires enough research and analysis on the part of the blogger, the blogger may choose whether to be paid in cash and receive the product for free for review purposes OR wouldn’t be paid in cash but just receive the product for review. It is simply more of an honest PRODUCT REVIEW from the blogger which doesn’t necessarily require cash payment.

    If the brand simply wants exposure by giving the blogger a product to just mention along with their brand/company/shop, then it’s more of a PRODUCT MENTION and does not necessarily require to be paid for in cash.

    Although personally I think this will all depend on what kind of ethics individual bloggers believe in.

    xoxo
    Strawberry Bunny

    Reply
  6. CynthiaCM

    I once had to write a sponsored post about my experience at a store in my city. I was given a list of what I had to say, which is pretty standard for sponsored posts. I was not allowed to say anything negative. Except my visit wasn’t exactly the best. The people did not know I was coming (I even asked if I had to call to confirm my visit. I was told it wasn’t necessary) and I felt like they wanted me out ASAP. Needless to say, I didn’t stay very long and called the people who offered me the job immediately after I left. My post ended up being fairly neutral rather than glowing. I wasn’t even able to get more “proper” photos because, well, they didn’t really want me there.

    Reply
  7. Rachel

    Okay, as a food journalist I have a counter question to your restaurant review question. So a restaurant critic can’t write an honest review if they’ve dined in the restaurant for free, then?

    Reply
    • Ashley

      I can’t speak for restaurant critics, but I know that many movie and theatre critics, who write for magazines and films, are required to purchase their tickets. These tickets are then tax deductible because it is a business expense (or it is purchased by their employer). Within that industry, it’s considered unethical for a reporter or journalist to request free tickets, because it biases their review.

      Reply
  8. Archana

    Would never trust such a review. Never ! If lot of em appear on the blog, i would unsubscribe. There are so many content makers out there. Give someone else my time and readership. No such thing as honest paid review. Its not like a food critique system. Bloggers try to build relationships with brands and readers. Its a messed up system when i see these paid reviews.

    Reply
  9. Christina @ Hair Romance

    I understand your view and I have to politely disagree. As a blogger, my currency is my credibility. I am a full time bloggers and I work with brands that I choose to work with. My opinions of them are exactly what I publish in my posts. Having a critical point in my review makes the posts more interesting and convincing. I have done several “product reviews” that are sponsored and they have been really successful. It takes a long time for me to do a thorough review and publish my findings, and the sponsored posts price covers my time and audience reach. If I felt the product didn’t deliver, I wouldn’t go ahead with the post. As bloggers, our value lies in the trust we have with our audience. That is what I worked for years to build and to believe that I would compromise that for money is crazy.

    Reply
    • Munachi

      My question is this: you say you request payment for a review and once you’ve tried the product and are unsatisfied you no longer post a review on your blog. How does this work? I don’t quite understand the concept of being paid to write something, regardless if it’s good or bad (theoretically), then not writing it. I think it’s a good practice to not publish reviews on your blog if you’re less than satisfied with the product (though I’ve taken a different approach), but I don’t see how this can work if you’re paid to write the review. Could you explain your process a little bit further?

      Reply
  10. Munachi

    Reviews take a lot of work just like many other posts bloggers wrote on their blogs. But I really agree with the fact that it is difficult to create an entirely unbiased review when you are being paid to write it. Many if not all bloggers truly believe that they are/can be completely honest and unbiased in such a situation but I believe it human nature to want to please those who have done something for you. It’s not outright, intentional, or even obvious at times but I do think it happens in some capacity for a paid review. For instance, if you received a product you ABSOLUTELY hated would you write a flaming review about your immense dissatisfaction without a second thought? Doubt it. You might still write the review in that manner but do so considering how the brand would feel and the effect it might have on your relationship. And others may say that they’d focus on the few things they liked or try not to be too harsh or all out hateful in their review, but doesn’t that seem like a little bias? If you truly hate something, then talk about how much you hate it! If you’re paid to write a review it would be much more difficult (if not impossible) for you to feel entirely comfortable writing a review about how incredibly horrible a product is and if you’re not comfortable talking about how horrible something is, it is hard to trust when you are talking about how great something else is.

    Munachi
    GlamorousRevelation.blogspot.com

    Reply
  11. Andy Z

    It is really important to have in mind what’s the purpose of your blog, if making reviews of products (they send you for free) is one of them, then go for it, is up to you what you want for your blog, and no one else should say anything about it.

    http://www.fashiongiver.com

    Reply
  12. Emma

    Hmmm I do agree with this but at the same time I don’t think many brands expect a full on review in the fashion blogging world, they just want photos of you in it combined with natural (albeit positive) editorial. Pitch and Post covers this (if you haven’t found it already, I’m swearing by it – new agency in the UK)

    http://pitchandpost.com

    Reply
  13. Abby

    I have been offered payment in order to feature a product in a review and to push a review forward too. If a brand wants a review on a certain date then they must pay for that priority.

    I am however always clear that the opinion is my own. No payment will ever guarantee a positive gushing review. In saying this I will accept the product to test out first and only if I really like it then will I inform the brand that I am willing to feature it and I will accept payment to feature the product sooner or on specific date. I constantly have over 30 products in a queue. You can pay to jump the line but you can never buy my integrity.

    Reply
  14. Phyllis

    As a product review blogger, I go back and forth with this situation all the time. I am learning that posting these types of reviews are becoming very time consuming when that’s all you do and it would be nice to be compensated for something more than a $1.99 product. Currently, I do request that companies submit a product to be “considered” for review. By saying this, it isn’t implying that I am going to 100% review it, so there are no expectations and there is no pressure on me to feel like I ‘have’ to write something. So, when it does come and it isn’t something I’d use or am happy to review, I simply don’t. Where payment is concerned, the companies I work with will usually opt for submitting a product for a potential review over a paid-for guaranteed sponsored blog post.
    http://www.totstoteensmagazine.com

    Reply
  15. Daniel Davies

    I’ve seen a negative review of a free product. Okay, not entirely doom and gloom but not the typical paid review like what you said – those shoes weren’t so great. I’d mostly agree that they have little credibility but also for the regular blog reader it’d be hard to distinguish the authentic review with a paid one (unless the author has stated all, like most I’ve seen do, fair play to them).

    Reply
  16. Fatima

    I think it really depends on the product you receive, and whether or not its something you’re interested in. I have turned down several products that just weren’t anything I would like to review because it wasn’t something I’d go out and purchase on my own. For me, reviewing a diet pill or a vitamin isn’t something that calls my attention. Maybe workout gear or a DVD on a certain workout routine, but other than that, I just say no. Honesty is the best policy, and even when I am not a fan of a product, I like to state why it doesn’t work for me, and how it could probably work for someone else.

    Reply
  17. Anastasia

    Well…to be honest….With all my respect I consider this subject a bit outdated. To be mo specific I can say that apart from having my own blog that I love but consider it as a hobby, I have a jewelry brand in Chile where I’m currently based. So when I reach local bloggers (here bloggers with 9-15k followers are considered as extremely popular ones) for cooperation, they all want money or a biiiig amount of jewelry for the same sum to make a post. And all social net activities are payed apart. Just to gift a necklace is not enough for them! As a blogger I would never ask for money if I chose the product I really love to receive – isn’t it already enough? Besides ok, companies like Nike have immense budgets and if they want some specific project there is some sense to ask for payed collaboration. Maybe. But when it comes to a little independent brand with beautiful things….As a entrepreneur I’m very disappointed with bloggers like that.

    http://fashionpeekaboo.com

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  18. Style Tomes

    I realize this is an older post, but interestingly enough still an extremely relevant one. I think the confusion is between “review” and “advertisement.” Many brands want an ad, but the approach is that of a review. I think, for the most part, bloggers understand that, though might not consciously put two and two together.

    The way forward is to clearly separate ads from reviews on blogs, in which case a blogger may be compensated and given a free product for a glowing advertorial, but payments should never enter the picture in an unbiased review. The payments from clear advertisements subsidize the time and money (which we all hopefully know is tax deductible) spent on other journalistic ventures.

    This isn’t a question of “all bloggers are doing this.” I’m sure there are plenty of bloggers who really do their best in unbiased reviews despite compensation. This is about the readers who browse, not one, but many blogs. If they go from one blog which is unbiased to another which also features reviews (with a bias this time) we are all taking part in fooling an avid audience. If they read one unbiased review and then 3 biased reviews, spend their hard earned money on a product and find that it’s not worth a grain of salt, they will be dubious about fashion blogs as a whole. It’s a risk vs. reward thing and immediate gratification (quick cash now) versus long term career goals (audience built on trust and an established journalistic platform).

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