Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The thing about the shill...

Have you guys read Roserunners latest blog entry?  Like a lot of her posts, there's a really interesting discussion going on in the comments.  And it's inspired me to write a post on a similar topic that's coming up in the comments on her blog.

Products and Bloggers

In the running blogging community, there seem to be two extremes on the whole "shilling / product placement" thing.

I feel like I fall somewhere in the middle.  I certainly don't mind getting free stuff, especially free stuff I would have bought anyways (Mizunos..Nuun...).  To be honest I've saved a considerable amount of money as a result of Mizuno's generosity.  But then...writing about products is awkward.   Even if I like the product.  Not only am I am fully aware that a lot of people don't enjoy product placement type posts, I don't blog that often, so a post stays up forever.  And I almost never blog about products or "what I wore" outside of a brand partnership.  I am pretty sure no one cares what I wore or ate because I certainly don't :). 

So what's appropriate in the blogging community when it comes to promoting products?  Obviously you can't make everyone happy all of the time, but here's my opinion on the whole thing.

The Blogger

While I don't really agree  with the "if you don't like it, don't read" philosophy (there are a lot of things that I don't like, but still can't stop reading), I apply this to constant giveaways and promotions on blogs and not even by choice.  This is because I get bored and kind of forget about blogs that are constantly promoting products.  Everyone has their own reason for reading blogs, and mine include looking for a laugh, good training advice / inspiration, or just keeping up with a friend.  I don't need more reasons to be encouraged to buy more random shit I don't need.  

That said, it's just mildly annoying for me.  If someone tweets that wearing compression socks helped them win the race, I usually just roll my eyes and move on.  I figure, the blogger doesn't necessarily owe me an entertaining experience.  In the case of misrepresentation (saying something is awesome that sucks or not saying that they were compensated), I guess that's wrong, but I don't really take anyone's product opinion posted online that seriously anyways.  People write fake reviews on Yelp, people post living social deals on Facebook just because they want to get it free for themselves, and people write random-ass product reviews on blogs.  For better or worse, readers should be careful when reading any advice online.

The Companies

All the anger directed toward companies that work with bloggers doesn't make that much sense to me.  In my day job, the main things that would influence my working with a blogger would be :
1) The amount of revenue/exposure that could be gained in the partnership
2) Are they a fit with the brand
3) They are not an ax-murderer.  

I don't care if the person is the worst writer in the world, if they have a huge loyal following, I would want in.   As part of the company, it's not really my opinion to form.   The way I see it, these companies are just trying to make a buck, and for smaller companies, it can be a good way to get some brand awareness and traction.

People don't get angry in the same way when Coke shows up in a product placement in a movie, or when they constantly hear the "Tostitos Fiesta Bowl", and I don't see how working with bloggers is that much different.  It's annoying to be bombarded with the same product over and over again in social media, but it doesn't mean the company owners are assholes.  Seems to me like they are just trying to make a buck like the rest of us.

Is there a way to do it right?  

Even though product placement doesn't bother me that much, it clearly annoys the crap out of a lot of people.  And that needs to be considered, because unfortunately for my ego, my opinion and emotions are not the only ones that matter.  

I think in running blogging, it's a particularly sensitive subject, because there are elite runners out there who don't get anything for free, and people who run 15 miles a week who get valuable products and compensation.   It's not like being a fashion blogger where someone can't say "she sucks at dressing herself, how come this elite dresser didn't get these Chloe boots instead?".  Running blogging is less subjective.

So...is there a way to still partner with a brand in a way that feels authentic and not in a way that's comes across as fake, annoying, or misleading?  The only thing I know that has worked for me is to work with a brand that or product that I'd buy anyways.  So that way, if I tweet about something, I feel a little awkward but at least I don't feel like I'm lying.   But who knows.  Maybe I still annoy everyone.   I don't really get much more than occasional products and Starbucks money off my blog anyways as I'm not in the class of bloggers trying to make substantial cash off their blogs.

What do you think about product placement / giveaways on blogs?

Is there a good way to partner with a brand?  Or is it all just too annoying?


  1. I agree with you. I'll write about what I like when I like it because I personally use referrals from others to inform (note not dictate) my purchases...that said, I promote a lot of things I love I have never gotten for free/discount...because I like them, and someone else might find it useful. Call me naive but I think that most people will go out and let something they read online dictate their purchase - if so, there are bigger issues with the situation :) On the other hand, you can't fault a retail company for doing what they're supposed to do - market, promote & sell - if they use high readership places.

  2. I do like informative posts that teach me about a new (at least to me) product. I am not super informed about all workout gear. I have learned about some cool stuff through blogs. Nice to see first hand, honest reviews about stuff I would actually use (sports bras, clothes, shoes). I do enjoy learning about smaller brands as well. Good way for mom and pop shops to get the word out. Your Diet Coke fridge is pretty awesome, though...

  3. I like finding informative reviews when I search for a certain product. With that said, as a blog reader, I absolutely removed certain blogs due to constant promotion about ANY product that may not even relate to the blog itself. I have done a few reviews and only for a product I know and love or have been dying to try. I find it hard to write lengthy reviews in general, so I opt-out of reviewing anything I know I wouldn't love or use.

  4. I work for an advertising agency so I spend a good portion of my life locating bloggers who reach the target audience of my clients and asking them to review products/services. This is just my philosophy, but I never work with a blogger who constantly posts about promotions/giveaways because I assume that his/her audience only reads his/her blog in the hopes of winning something. Rather, I reach out to bloggers who write informative/entertaining/inspiring posts that really engage their audience - even if that audience is small. Those type of bloggers,in my professional experience, are much more likely to have their opinion respected by their readers which in turn tends to lead to sales and better brand exposure for my clients.

    1. It's all about the quality of the readership not the quantity of visitors/comments.

    2. Totally agree with you and it sounds like you're probably really good at your job. Good points :)

      I think I was more trying to say that it's not my opinion that matters if I'm looking for a blog in a work environment. Even if I personally don't like the blog or think it's any good, they could still be a fit for the brand and thus drive revenue, which IMO are the primary concerns.

      I do think volume makes a difference for sheer efficiency reasons (ie 1 blog with 25k visitors = the traffic of 25 blogs with 1k visitors) but definitely if the traffic is not the right kind, it's a waste of time.

    3. Good for your ad agency! That's smart.

  5. One way to look at product shilling on blogs is that with a regular advertisement (whether online, on tv, or in a magazine), you're guaranteed that 100% of the things said on the ad are going to be positive toward the product. Brooks/Nuun/Oiselle/Mizuno/insert brand here will not pay a marketing agency to say anything but good things about their product. On a blog, it is most likely that the feedback will be positive, but there's the chance that something will be said that is actually constructive or that is less than 100% positive. Even if it is just "I like nuun but it makes me burp."

    I think if you partner with a brand, you need to make sure that they are ok with you being honest and reviewing things that you feel comfortable reviewing and with enough "wear" that you're comfortable making that review. It pissed me off to see all these bloggers reviewing Old Navy workout wear and saying it was great after only using it once and never washing it. So many clothes don't pass the wash test. But ON insisted they all get their reviews up within certain timelines. I wouldn't feel comfortable saying an item is great without wearing it a few times - so that would have been a bad partnership for me. (not that anyone is knocking on my door).

    All that to say: I think brand partnership CAN be done well - but it needs to be transparent and the blogger needs to be able to keep his or her own voice while still partnering with the brand.

    1. Really good point RE actually using the product for a while before reviewing it. Something I'll keep in mind.

  6. "Hoorraayyyyy free stuff!"

    I admit being beaten over the head with the same product, mass-promoted by a large group of very like-minded (and likely with very overlapping readership) bloggers is annoying. Like a song being overplayed on the radio and after two weeks you cringe every time you hear it. I'm sure it's a hard balance from the business side, getting the exposure they want without spending a million hours weeding the internet for unique outlets with low cross-over. So the "big guys" or ad agencies or #hashtag groups get hit up as an easy pond for the fish they want. Probably the same reason my wardrobe sucks - because I buy my clothes while grocery shopping at Target instead of combing racks at little indie shops and finding something truly special.

    This tailspun(tailspinned?) in a way I didn't mean for it to. I don't even remember what I wanted to say anymore. And you heard all my thoughts last night at the track anyway. Have a good day, FasterBunny.

    1. I remember my point : IT'S THE INTERNET QUIT TAKING IT SO FUCKING SERIOUSLY. (addressed universally, not to you directly.)

    2. Good Target analogy.

      In other news, I'm sore as hell.

  7. You make some good points. Promoting brands in an authentic way is something that I've thought a lot about over the past couple of years that I've been blogging. At first because it's kind of exciting when you start a blog and suddenly companies want to give you stuff ("Yay! Free stuff!!")...and then after awhile I got jaded and realized that everyone seemed to be getting the same free stuff and it started feeling a little disingenuous to post about it myself. I don't do a lot of giveaways for that reason...and of the few I've done, most were stuff I bought myself.

    I'm not against working with/writing reviews for companies (obviously). My logic is similar to yours - if I truly like/use the product and would (or did) purchase it myself than I don't have a problem promoting it. I suppose there are people who still find this annoying though, and it can be hard to find that line...

    However, in my non-professional, reader opinion - if you are constantly promoting something, whether it be one company or many different ones, I think that your credibility goes down. Because instead of being a blogger with a unique voice, you basically just become one big advertisement. Now clearly I'm not in advertising so my opinion probably doesn't matter much. I can't imagine that a company would complain about constant press/promotion. But it does get annoying as a reader. And I wonder if that ultimately impacts sales over time? Or if it's a situation where any exposure is good exposure...?

    I also wonder about the quality of the blog/content/followers - related to what you said above. I know that writing skills may not necessarily be on a company's priority list, but shouldn't it matter that a blogger accurately write about the product? Or if a blogger has a large enough following, does it not matter that the review(s) are poorly written or done by someone who barely runs? Again, these are things that I really don't know...a background in public health has provided me with absolutely no business experience (who knew?). But I can say that I've definitely gotten turned off from using certain products/reading certain blogs for this reason.

    Anyway, this comment is absurdly long, especially since I agree with most everything you wrote. I definitely think this is a great topic to discuss, especially since brand/blogger partnerships seem to be getting more and more prevalent. Thanks for making me think! :)

    1. Just because you aren't in advertising doesn't mean you're not super smart and able to craft an opinion that makes a lot of sense :).

      Soooo...I think in the case of people who barely run...let's say a healthy living blogger...her audience is probably people who run a few times a month or so. But these people probably still consume running products at a high rate. So it's annoying when they get all this free running stuff, but I think it makes sense to me.

      As for the poorly written reviews I totally agree with you. Like what if the blogger didn't even try out the product and is just phoning it in? I think this is something the companies can't control too well, but after enough shitty "i don't care I just want free stuff" reviews, I'm guessing most companies would dump the blogger partner.

      I still don't know the answer to "any press is good press" thing. I think at SOME point, it does become bad if it's just a lot of pissed off people...just not sure when :)

  8. Agree 100% with all of your points - this is exactly what I was trying to get at over on RR's post, but you laid it out much more eloquently. Product placement makes sense for the companies, makes sense for the bloggers - it's just a matter of finding the right way to do it to avoid alienating your audience.

    I feel I'm perfectly capable of skimming through posts that don't interest me, whether they happen to be endorsed or otherwise. Again, I'm not going to pretend I've never given anyone a side-eye (especially if their blog has gone the way of solely product promotion) or that I didn't have a pretty good laugh over RR's post, but has any one blogger or blog-loving company done me any personal harm? Of course not. So I don't understand the depth of negative emotion that seems to be out there regarding this topic.

    1. Well it was honestly your comment on RR's post that made me think...hey...those are good points...that I agree with!

  9. Kristen's points above make a lot of sense to me. I think it's the former reporter in me, but if I ever got approached to review something (as opposed to reviewing something I've bought with my own money, which I've done a bit of), I would want to know exactly what the terms of the engagement were. Like, you're cool if that review turns out to be NEGATIVE, right? Cause if not, I wouldn't want to be in; I don't blog to lie.

    At the same time -- if a brand I legitimately love offered me something for free? I'd disclose the hell out of it, but I'd also have a much harder time saying no (slash would really want to say yes even if it made me look like a sellout). Something I talk about all the time for free letting me have something for free? Sure! But how many things do I legitimately love and talk about all the time? Not too many.

    I am thankful to blogs for introducing me to Nuun and Picky Bars, both of which I would have seen by now at my local sporting goods store but maybe wouldn't have had the impulse to try as quickly. But I encountered both pretty early in my running-blog-reading days, and I think now I'm a little more wary a consumer of information. I know Nuun works for me, so if all of a sudden everyone I read started talking up some *other* electrolyte tablet, I'm not sure I'd jump to try it.

  10. It becomes annoying when it becomes obvious and overkill. Mentioning yogurt in every. single. post, regardless of it's relevance? I'm going to assume the blogger is somehow being compensated for that and it makes me question their genuine preference for that product. I guess when it starts to seem fake, the blogger kind of loses credibility for me.

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  12. I think there is nothing wrong with posting about products that you like to use, no matter if you get them for free or not. I bought a few products that I read about on blogs, for example my yurbuds. I love them, and they are excatly what I looked for for quite some time. Therefore, I am thankful that others posted about them (I think they all got them for free). On the other side, it is annoying when product reviews and giveaways seem to be the only things on a specific blog.

  13. Your posts always make me think!! I agree with Sarah - no need to take it all so seriously. Different blogs for different folks. Some blogs are just one big advert but i usually know when the blogger is trying to peddle something - the first sentence usually starts..."the first thing i noticed about [insert name of crappy product] was the quality...". At which point i switch off and try and find some funny cat pictures instead! Still a year ago i didn't own a foam roller, a truck load of nuun, an addiction to clif bars and a running skirt so maybe these promotions do work on me...

  14. So I've mulled over this for a couple of days, and now the point has been hashed to death, but I finally came up with my opinion! So, it's like, you have to realize that blog "reviews" are free* advertising for a company. You get one crate of yogurt or whatever, but as a result, the company sells 20 crates. Boom! You are a little, cheap billboard. That's what they are, and no judgement there. Except I AM allowed to judge, because I guess I just tend to think less of a person who is willing to delude herself that her review is actually a piece of journalistish writing when, in fact, it is just free* advertising. And I think presenting it as anything else than what it is is a little dishonest.

    *not totally free, obviously, but close enough

    1. Can I just take this moment to say how flattered I am that you actually mulled over this post. Yesssss. ;)

      You just gave me a good idea for another post: Are we actually writing good editorial content, or are we just fooling ourselves and patting ourselves on the back for writing at a 4th grade level. hrm.

  15. spambot spambot spambot. (just getting you back. I haven't forgotten).

    I am glad to see that you CLEARLY centered yourself significantly to the right of center on your chart! Drifting, I can see it!

    Of the bazillion things I could chatter about, I'll say this: "Mildly annoying." YES. I agree with that. Shilling is Mildly Annoying. I could give two shits about what is going on in the internet for 99.98% of my day. BUT, when I'm up in the internet, and tangled in this fun running blog community, sometimes you just have to complain and/or comment upon the Mildly Annoying.

    1) I find product reviews of irrelevant products mildly annoying (running shoes are relevant, I want the honest reviews on that, but YOU DON'T NEED most of the shit that is being shilled; running is a simple sport, but new runners can be influenced by bloggers to think they CANNOT run without compression socks or insert the blank...),
    2) I find bloggers who have minimal content except for ads mildly annoying,
    3) I find brands that lend their name to very average people who have the "unique talent" of being able to reach a keyboard with their fingers to be mildly annoying. I don't think it reflects well on the brand when they choose a dunce to represent their brand, and
    4) as with any ad on any medium, I get mildly annoyed when I have to see any ad over and over again (i.e. Pom Juice on a hundred blogs, or Fenwick & West ads every 10 minutes on NPR).

    I love free stuff just like anybody. I also like blogging enough that I don't need free stuff to keep me going. lastly, honesty towards people who are reading my words is pretty damn important to me, but honest reviews of free gifts are hard to come by. No shame in repping a product you truly stand by.

    1. I hear ya about commenting on the mildly annoying. The point of my blog post is also pretty meaningless the the grand scheme of things. haha.

      I think you make a good point about new runners. I've running since the last century when none of this shit existed, and even if it did we were too poor to buy it. But people who are new to the sport might not know that....

      I've been waiting for you to comment :). SPAMBOTSPAMBOT

  16. For me it's all about the genuine-ness. And if someone is hocking a different brand every other week, I kind of start to doubt their sincerity. (Also, I also agree with the analogy about hearing the same song on the radio over and over and over. Even though I actually like their products, I kind of want to shoot myself in the face any time someone mentions Nuun or Oiselle these days.)

    So yes, I would totally take some free stuff & post about it if it was something I felt I could honestly say positive things about, because that seems potentially helpful in the same way that I'm trying to be helpful when I blog about products I like without any compensation at all. And honestly, I have found several products I think are awesome through compensated blog posts.

    Alas, I've only ever been solicited to hock stuff that kind of made me go "WTF?!?," so....yeah. :P