Lately I’ve been getting a ludicrous number of offers from “content providers” who want to send what are essentially advertisements written by one of their minions to look like a blog post for me to post on the site as if I wrote it. This appears to be a huge advertising push right now. I usually patiently explain that I don’t do that type of thing, that I am happy to sell ads on the site but I won’t publish someone else’s content and pretend it’s a genuine post from one of the Geargals. I am particularly not willing to do this for free. Or, ever, really. But for free? Don’t make me laugh, it hurts my ribs.
And that’s the pitch, usually. “Hey, we’ll provide you with content you don’t have to pay for!!!” Whoop de fucking doo. I can provide myself with content I don’t have to pay for, you ninnies.
I’ve also gotten a few invitations to particiate in those gear-reviewing cliques that come with hashtags of their very own, a group of other bloggers to squee with, and lots of exclamation points. I’ve politely turned them down, mostly because I think marketing like that is reprehensible – unethical free advertising from naive people who don’t know any better – but also because I am not keen on aligning myself with a brand, again, for free. I’d probably be happy to actually do it, but I’m gonna get paid if I’m gonna advertise for you, folks.
I find it interesting to receive those pitches. It’s obvious that the pitchers never bother to read the blogs they try to assimilate their brand into. If they’d read this site, they’d know this is not the place for those shenanigans (I did have one big company acknowledge that when I asked them what the hell they were doing with this tactic, telling me that they usually aimed their pitch at “small” or “unknown” bloggers, ones they “wouldn’t usually work with”). Anyone who has read one single page of this site would understand that I am more prone to mocking marketing than I am to participate in it. I love press trips, cuz hey, free trip, but I’m pretty steadfast in my reluctance to kiss ass. I’m also pretty entrenched in making fun of and maligning “social media” which makes it even more hilarious that a company would invite me to “help us generate a conversation around gear across various social media channels, hopefully beyond the scope of any one individual review. All of it will be monitored by our staff, looking to improve products and get the word out about the brand.”
That quote, from one of these pitches, makes me digress for a moment and alter my policy of politely turning these projects down, and taking a hard left into full-on mocking. Let’s look at an example of this type of marketing, and what is “required” from bloggers, all without pay:
- Write “a series of comprehensive, visual AND (emphasis theirs) written gear reviews on your blog, shared across social media channels with the #brandhashtag. Secondarily, posting gear images, pre-review thoughts and stoke as well as publicly interacting with #brandhashtag posts by other members of the crew.” You think all those people are friends or something? Nope, they’re compelled to “interact” by their new bosses at the brand.
- Produce reviews that “include lots of detail about the product features, how/where you’ve used them, how they performed, and what you liked and disliked. We don’t shun criticism, but we expect it to be respectful and constructive.” There it is! The “don’t say anything truly BAD about our product” requirement. If you don’t follow that requirement, “the quality and consistency of your posts and interaction with #brandhashtag dictate whether you will be invited back for the next season for more free gear.” See that? Say something bad, and you’re out of the club. Is there any doubt that resulting from this type of campaign are biased? I sure hope not.
- Brand bloggers must also follow this schedule:
- 19-May Explain that you’ll be socially broadcasting gear reviews for (BRAND), on Facebook and Twitter
- 26-May Photos/videos of all your new gear/unboxing/stoke on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter
- 2-Jun Photo/video of gear in next week’s review, where you’ll take it and why Instagram and Twitter
- 9-Jun Blog Post: Comprehensive Gear Review on Blog, your blog post shared on Facebook and Twitter, also it’s time to email the (BRAND) blogger manager
- 16-Jun Photo/video of gear in next week’s review, where you’ll take it and why, on Instagram and Twitter
- 23-Jun Blog Post: Comprehensive Gear Review on Blog, your blog post shared on Facebook and Twitter, email (BRAND) blogger manager again
- 30-Jun Photo/video of gear in next week’s review, where you’ll take it and why Instagram and Twitter
- 7-Jul Blog Post: Comprehensive Gear Review on Blog, your blog post shared on Facebook and Twitter, send another check-in email to your controller
- 14-Jul Photo/video of gear in next week’s review, where you’ll take it and why Instagram and Twitter
- 21-Jul Blog Post: Comprehensive Gear Review on Blog, your blog post shared on Facebook and Twitter, email your boss again
- 28-Jul Photo/video of gear in next week’s review, where you’ll take it and why Instagram and Twitter
- 4-Aug Blog Post: Comprehensive Gear Review on Blog, your blog post shared on Facebook and Twitter, report into the Hive again
- 11-Aug Get creative and have fun with any topic relevant to #BRANDHASHTAG, on any or all of the social media sites (wow! Freedom!)
- 18-Aug Blog Post: Closing thoughts, favorite pieces, final critique, your blog post shared on Facebook and Twitter, assimilate fully with the Borg via email
All that (except for the smartass comments from yours truly) was taken directly from a pitch from a single brand, with identifying references to the brand itself removed, though I really want to name and shame because this type of marketing is unethical and totally lame (I think you can probably figure it out though, if you follow social media). It’s a carefully laid out advertising campaign, all for you to do for the brand, for free. I do not think that gear is a form of payment, but that’s the pitch they make – “$300-500 of free gear!*” Hot damn, folks, if I did all that stuff listed above on a schedule they dictate, I’d charge several thousand actual dollars in United States currency for my services. I would definitely not accept a hundred bucks (that’s what $500 retail gear actually costs the brand) in “gear” as a form of payment for being a brand’s advertising bitch.
Which brings me back to the discussion related to the title of this post. I don’t have a social media strategy. I think social media for anything other than occasional personal communication with people you actually know is stupid and creepy. I tried the Twitter thing to make sure I knew what I was talking about, gave it a good shot, assembled a few thousand fans/followers/bots/stalkers/whatever, but ended up just finding it annoying and lacking in any actual or personal value. I also found that participating in social media makes zero difference in how many people read this site. I’ve concluded that social media is mostly an enormous waste of time. I also found it really weird and uncomfortable to have thousands of utter strangers knowing what’s up in my life, just because they clicked a button on their browser. After a hiatus, I reinstated my Twitter, but have it locked so I know exactly who is reading it. I also wanted to stay in touch with a few of the good souls I had connected with, but instead of hundreds of people, I follow a few dozen, and have about the same number of followers (making it even funnier when I get these social media pitches from brands. You want your #brandhashtag blasted to fifty people, do you? Paying attention, are we?).
Regarding reviews on the site, the deal is: if a brand wants their gear reviewed, they send it to me, I review it, transaction complete. Or, I don’t review it, transaction still complete. It’s up to me what I put on this site. Brands who want to seed product to bloggers to get honest feedback and genuine buzz take the risk that their stuff might not make it to the pixeled page. If I agree in words that I’m going to review the product BEFORE a brand ships it to me, then I do it because I said I would, but in general it’s just a risk you take when you’re trying to get coverage for your product. I particularly hate it when a brand ships a product and THEN tells me “oh, by the way, you need to do X and Y and include this link and that link at least five times in your post.” Not gonna happen.
So, brands, don’t pitch me this hidden advertising bullshit. Please. I know you don’t read the site or care about the content of any of the blogs that you try to get on board your advertising train. I know that you just troll social media looking for uninformed people who might fall for your schtick. I also know that you are basically circumventing FCC rules for advertising disclosures by using these tactics, and I think that sucks. I hope they are paying attention and I hope you get your asses handed to you soon.
Actually, keep pitching me this bullshit so I can post your advertising strategies for all to see. Fair warning, next time the brand name is getting published.
So anyway, if you are a social media addict, keep an eye on the feeds you follow and if you see an oddly familiar pattern of #brandhashtag posts, you’ll know that person fell for the pitch described here (I posted it verbatim). You’ll also know that those posts are undisclosed advertising and they are screened by the brand (“Our staff will monitor the blog posts and #brandhashtag’s [sic] to keep up on what folks are saying”). Also keep an eye out for blog posts that have oddly placed and strategically repeated links to other sites and that seem out of tune with the writer’s regular work, and you’ll know that those posts are likely written by a content producer and are paid advertising. Or maybe free advertising. Either way, it’s advertising.
*I’m sorry. I left out that you’ll not only get paid in “free” (how is it free if you have to work for it, I must wonder?) gear, but you also get the company to “help to grow your follower base.” What a deal! I take it all back. You’d be nuts not to jump on that offer!
I’m going to add each one of these pitches to this post. And I’ll go ahead and out the company above: it was Outdoor Research for their “ORInsightLab” hashtag project thing, which I publicly questioned on Twitter last year and discussed directly with OR regarding how douchey such endeavors are, a conversation which apparently they forgot because they pitched me the project last week.
Columbia Sportswear also engages in that type of marketing (and I think is the company OR actually copied for their own campaign) though I’ve never seen their “contract.” They were the company who told me they only work with “smaller bloggers they wouldn’t ordinarily work with” though.
Just got one from Manfrotto: “Clearly there’s a significant crossover of interest and audience between your blog and photography, and having read your blog, we’d love to team up with you to promote some of Manfrotto’s range of products.” Um, no. How many times have I stated that I’m really not a picture taker? So I guess they haven’t really read my blog after all. Thanks for the offer though.
Received an “opportunity” to:
· Share information about LifeStraw® on your blog and social media channels
· Include images and/or video of you testing out the LifeStraw®
· Host a giveaway on your blog, if you’d like, for a reader of your choice to receive a LifeStraw®
….all in exchange for trying out a LifeStraw. I mean, this one isn’t as offensive as it’s not super pushy, but really, if you want a review, just send the product and we’ll probably review it. I don’t need a big massive pitch and a list of requirements to do a review. I actually wanted to try the darn thing but I don’t want to obligate myself to annoying tweeting and making videos and all that crap. I think this interaction started because they sent me a Kickstarter request and then told me they didn’t have any sample products for review but would get ahold of me when they did.
Just got two emails within five minutes of each other, trying to get me to promote “Cotopaxi” which is something allegedly about philanthropy that I didn’t even read. They didn’t bother to even offer me anything in return for “promoting this amazing brand.” Guess I’m just supposed to feel good about myself? No, PR people, it’s not “up my alley” and if you read my site you’d know this.
Just got marketing email about THE WELL BUILT TRIATHLETE with picture of dude in wet suit putting on goggles – in a studio, looks like. Does this site feature triathlon stuff? no. Do I even like racing or cover racing or mention racing in any way but to make fun of it? no. Did these people research their market or are they just blasting out emails to their entire PR list? You guess.