Holier than thou? When it comes to pay to play, blogging is looking a lot like print
Some time ago I came across a story about an website, classymommy, whose writer is sent tons of baby toys and products in order to promote them on her blog. For example, if you go there now, you’ll find her writing that she’s “a huge fan” of California Baby Natural Bug Repellent spray; she and her family “love” the Wiggling Water Sprinkler; and her child, MacKenzie, “is nuts for” the Wave & Learn Magic Spelling Wand from Super WHY — all of which she presumably got for free.
True, in her “About” section, classmommy tells product manafacturers, “If you would like to have your product reviewed and possibly featured on Classy Mommy, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and details on where to ship your sample…”. She’s also got a link to a rate card for advertisers. But it’s not clear to me at all that classymommy’s readers read her “about” link, and thus know that her site is actually an online advertorial.
A couple days ago Jeff Lefevere, who blogs at goodgrape, sent me a link to a website, MarketingVOX, that ran an article about another mommy blog, momdot, that just issued a “P.R. Blackout Challenge.” Basically, momdot is asking all mommy blogs that receive “hundreds, if not thousands, of product requests each year resulting in massive obligations” to go for one whole week without blogging about baby products and services. That will give all the mommy bloggers the freedom to blog about things that are really meaningful to them: “…your kids, your marriage, your college, your hopes, your dreams, your house and whatever you can come up with for one week.”
This suggests to me that the mommy bloggers realize on some level that their original inspiration for blogging has been hijacked by getting sucked into the corporate P.R. whirlpool. I suspect the moms like all the free stuff, but at some level of consciousness they’re feeling a little guilty about being shills. Of course, if they go back to blogging about “hopes and dreams,” the free stuff stops.
When the New York Times reported on classymommy last Sunday, the reporter wrote, “The proliferation of paid sponsorships [like classymommy.com] online has not been without controversy. Some in the online world deride the actions as kickbacks. Others also question the legitimacy of bloggers’ opinions, even when the commercial relationships are clearly outlined to readers.” The article also contained a link to a Federal Trade Commission notice of proposed rulemaking, in which the FTC announced it may require online media to disclose all freebies, in a clear, upfront way, under its truth-in-advertising rules.
The mommy blogs may be the most egregious examples of pay-to-play in the blogosphere, but they may also be the canaries in the coal mine: If mommy blogs can fall victim to payola so readily, then maybe other subject-specific blogs, that started out innocently enough, also can.
I think wine blogs have been largely immune to this kind of thing, so far. But the times are changing. More and more bloggers are getting more and more free samples from wineries. They’re getting more advertising, too. And it’s just a matter of time before paid trips, junkets and free restaurant meals start flowing the bloggers’ way (as they do mine). I’m not saying any of this is necessarily damaging to a blogger’s reputation or credibility, any more than it is to mine. Just saying that we’re a year past last summer’s Rockaway crisis, and as far as I can tell, the chatter about ethics and transparency this Summer is considerably less than it was in the Summer of ‘08. Hmm.
The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which. – George Orwell, Animal Farm (1945)