diaclaimers & such: being honest about blogger perks

I received a press release for lemons. Lemons. Maybe you’ve heard of them, but they’re fruits and they’re good for…oh, come on, they’re friggin’ lemons.

You may not know this, but bloggers are sent loads of press releases, marketing packets, and free products. Because of you, the reader. Many bloggers support themselves in part via advertising on their blogs. Sometimes it’s super obvious, like when pop-up ads block whatever you’re reading until you interact with them. But quite often, a blogger will feature or review a product that they’ve received free. They’re supposed to tell you when that happens, but they rarely do.

Another way companies get exposure is by hiring bloggers as brand ambassadors or bringing them on as recipe developers. I’ve gotten a couple of these offers, but since I’m not strictly a food blogger, I think it would be weird if I started featuring recipes based on these products. (Some of these “recipes” are pretty funny—don’t know if you’ve noticed them—but the product is sometimes used as a topping or thrown in a cookie or it serves as a layer in a parfait. Snore.)

Perhaps it’s because I spent a few years as an in-house magazine staffer and my interaction with other bloggers (in my experience with Vida Vegan I’ve seen a full spectrum of blogger behavior) that I have such a low tolerance for sneaky paid ink. I don’t care for the dishonesty, and I think it’s pretty transparent. I’ve seen feigned excitement in print that I know for damn sure wasn’t felt by the writer. Hey, ever notice a bunch of bloggers writing about the same thing at the same time? It’s not a coincidence. It was a busy mail day.

When you’ve seen posts here featuring products, I bought them and either liked them or thought they were crap. The times I was treated to free food, I’ve told you well up front and was honest about the highs and the lows. If I ZOMG-love everything and am always so excited about <insert new thing here>, why should you believe me? Oddly, PR groups don’t seem to care about that. They just want the ink. And who can blame them? It’s the cheapest, most natural-looking exposure out there. And for a small, independent company, blog features just might be the best use of a limited marketing budget.

You know, this post has sat unfinished in my draft folder for a while, because one thing has really given me pause about hitting “publish”: Most vegan bloggers are, I believe, truly passionate about what they’re presenting to you, and it does take a bit of time and money to produce a blog. We buy domains and hosting and try to have a decent camera, and we need stuff to photograph and try out so we can tell you all about it. So some of us welcome, even depend on, being compensated in some way for these costs.

This is not to blame those bloggers selling ad space or for saying “yes” when they’re offered free stuff. I just want everyone to be honest about what they’re doing, because there’s a shift in vegan (or “plant based”) business happening right now, as marketing folk realize vegans are starting to make up a nice little consumer category. Suddenly there’s a bunch of money to go around to target you, the reader, and not everyone’s getting an A+ in Ethics. So I want you to keep your eyes open, to know when you’re being sold to.

By the way, I really do like lemons. Always have.

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