Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Paid Product Reviews:: What Does This Mean?

Voices of 2013 Blogs and Brands Panel (L-R) Brian Giesen of Social@Ogilvy, Lousia Claire of Brand Meets Blog, Stacey Roberts of Veggie Mama and me.

I had the great pleasure of attending Voices of 2013 on Saturday. I've been light in step ever since, I've felt so buoyed by the experience.

It's been good not only for my blog (inspiring!), but for me to meet so many like-minded people, and awesome birds that I only usually get to chat to on the interwebz. 

Maybe you might not know, but by day I work in PR. It's night time when I don a cape and mask and start blogging. I was delighted to sit on the Blogs & Brands panel as a blogger. Even if I did get covered in nervous rash sitting up there. 

So on the day, while we talked about sponsored posts, we didn't get to talk about paid reviews. And what I think of them. Or more likely - what I don't think of them.

Because at the heart of a review - it's meant to be an unbiased account of what you think of a product.

But if it's paid? Well then it blurs the lines doesn't it? It becomes a bit of cash-for-comment - because really, are you honestly going to bite that hand that feeds you? Will you look a gift horse in the mouth? (How many more cliches can I work into this one paragraph?). How can a review be unbiased if you're being paid to post it? 

The cold and quick answer: it can't. 

Or can it? I'm interested to know if you think that you can maintain an unbiased review while being paid by the brand. Because me? I don't think so. I think the lines are blurred, I think you're cosying up with Alan Jones, and your reader is going to be pretty annoyed to find that your writing paid reviews.

This stinks of lack of integrity.

Nielsen research shows that 71% of Australians look at web reviews before buying. That's a huge figure - a lot of Aussies looking for credible reviews to guide them. Now let's imagine if all the reviews you're reading are fictional. How to navigate your way through all that crud?

There's more power in honesty, integrity, and your readers will want to keep reading what you have to say. But if you're being paid to share your scoop de la scoop about products? Well who wants to read more PR guff. Not me! And I work in PR!

You need to give your audience more credit - they are smart and savvy. They can sniff out when something's not right. And if all you share are glowing reviews, then something's rotten in the state of Denmark. 

image is courtesy of the impeccable Cheryl of BusinessChic. 
THANK YOU CHERYL! (I'm in the pink - like Barbara Cartland).


claire said...

I think you are completely right - a review cannot be impartial if you are being paid. End of. In my opinion these paid posts should be clearly marked with 'this post is sponsored by xxxxx' - and there are lots of great ways to create quality content around a product that do not take the context of a review. It should be more like an advertorial. If I was ever lucky enough to be offered any sort of cashola for my blog that's how I would do it anyway :)

Jen at Interiors Addict said...

Totally agree, Lexi! This is becoming a worrying trend in blogging (people who write biased reviews, whether they realise what they're doing or not, in return for free product) and it is in danger of giving us all a bad name. There are so many more creative ways of approaching sponsored content (which yes, should always be clearly labeled as such) which work for all parties: brands, bloggers and readers. It should always be a win-win-win in that respect. Above all, write about what you love and what inspires you, whether you're paid or not. If you keep providing quality content the audience will come and then, in turn, the brands wanting to work with you in more sophisticated ways.

Vivian Mansour said...

So glad you wrote about this Lexi, I have the same feelings about paid reviews. I once reviewed an app and I reviewed it honestly. I talked about the features I liked and offered suggestions for how the app can be improved. Honesty all the way or nothing.

workingwomenaustralia said...

I'm not sure what the difference between a sponsored post and a paid review is? Aren't they the same thing? Sorry, it may be my melting brain not understanding here (I blame this cold that won't go away)

Caz Filmer said...

I think you are right about the lines being blurred. I write paid reviews and I do tell my readers what I really think. However, if I have more negative than positive things to say about a product I will always contact the PR/company and give them a choice as to whether they want me to press publish. That could be considered a 'blurred line'. I ALWAYS disclose too. I think it is totally unethical to be paid to post without providing warning that's sponsored. There is much more to be unravelled on this topic. I really do hear what you are saying but I still say you cannot buy my integrity :) Thanks for making us all think thou - it's really important to keep these things in mind when you are writing SPs.

Rebecca Wolkenstein said...

Doesn't it depend on what your intentions are? If you're blogging to make money, then it's fine and honest. People do worse stuff for money every day of the week. I find it frustrating that women agonise over these things. Men wouldn't be timid and apologetic. It's not the first time I have read this debate on a blog by a woman. Do it, own it, close that gender wage gap!

If you're writing for money, the code of ethics (no bias) should be implicit anyway. So as long as you only endorse products you like, and you have worked hard to gain an audience, then you deserve every cent and don't need to feel guilty/unsure about it.

Yellow_Dandy said...

I'm so glad you wrote about this!! It was one of the questions I was to shy to ask the panel ha!! I have been feeling the exact same way, I feel like it just isn't authentic at all. I have a subscription to Choice magazine because I Trust their reviews!!!
My husband thinks that it would be a payment for your time, and not the result of the review, but that's still too blurry for me. I didn't even notice your rash btw!! x Karen

Kate Luella said...

yeah and many "reviews" (as they put it) are full of affiliate links for them to earn a commission if you buy. So, it's a touchy area, aren't bloggers allowed to be paid for their opinion? How can you really trust a review? The answer is in the reputation of the person recommending the product (obviously no benefit to the reviewer is ideal) but that's not possible if we are to make a living online atm anyway. So, just a clearn declaration of payment if any, should be enough for the reader to make up their own mind. Again, if the rep of the author is good, then the readers won't mind. To all the bloggers who shameless "review" stuff over and over for comission, readers wont stay with for long - that's just life. :)

Danimezza said...

I write mine honestly, I tend to share what I love though so sometimes I appear to "excited" but It doesn't make it to the blog if I'm not passionate about sharing what I've learnt with others.

I did a three month campaign with Target and wasn't shy about stating the changes they'd need to make to provide a better service and product but I did it in a constructive, fun and entertaining way. My readers were very vocal in their appreciation for my honesty and shared their own pros and cons which the marketing team appreciated. The PR team however decided after the term was finished to work with another, less critical blogger.

You win some you lose some but my integrity stays true and that is what I think is important for everyone involved. The brands who understand that are the ones I'll be working with, the rest can flood the internet elsewhere.

Lexi Kentmann said...

I don't think I'm agonising, more discussing. This is just my ideas - up for discussion.

I don't think it's a gender matter either - more ethical. Journalists have a code of ethics, and I think blogging needs to adopt similar.

I agree, men wouldn't agonise over it. But men aren't blogging like women either.

Lexi Kentmann said...

Oh high fives! Well this is just my thoughts, but I have to agree. I read Choice because I trust that they are unbiased. I like that analogy.

Lexi Kentmann said...

No I think they are two separate things.

Lexi Kentmann said...

I think it's key that we're upfront with disclosure. No teeny tiny small writing. No hidden links. Just up front, loud and proud if it's sponsored.

Lexi Kentmann said...

Agree. Write about what you love, what engages you, and someone, somewhere will love it too.

Lexi Kentmann said...

I am not anti making money from blogging. On the contrary, I just think we need to be accountable.

Desire Empire said...

I think the old PR model is dead when it comes to bloggers. No longer are the Fairfaxes, Conde Nasts and Consolidated Presses of the world there to pay the writer a wage for writing a review, when it comes to blogging. We bloggers are self employed and should be compensated financially for the value we provide.

I have reviewed products for money on my blog and my readers don't seem to mind.

I have refused money to write about stuff I don't like. I would never do that to my audience. Brands pay loads of money to appear in old media, so why shouldn't they pay to appear on blogs? As long as there is full disclosure, I do not have a problem with it.

The PR companies are taking a large fee from the brands and I truly believe there should be some budget to pay bloggers to review a product as part of that. I Will no longer review a product unless there is at least a giveaway in it for my readers.

I don't think they want to read about me getting the product, without them at least even having a chance to have one as well.

I think if PRs were more open about paying for value they would get much more bang for their client's buck

Dorothy @ Singular Insanity said...

If I received a product and didn't like it, I would let the company know regardless of whether I was getting paid for it and would not feature it on my blog and not accept the payment. Reviewing a product, unless it's the only thing you do on your blog, takes time and effort and is not free. I am happy to accept payment in product, rather than cash, unless it is of really low value. Then I would ask for payment for a sponsored post.

Dorothy @ Singular Insanity said...

Well said!

Rebecca Wolkenstein said...

"But men aren't blogging like women either." No you're right there. There a tone and an implication of intimacy in women's blogging and so I suppose it would be even more essential not to blur those commercial boundaries and abuse that trust.

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Nikki | Styling You said...

I'm really quite confused. A paid review is a sponsored post - payment to write about a brand or product - which is the same as an advertorial or "promotion" in print media.

Most bloggers I know are totally upfront with disclosing this so I'm not sure what the message is here?

What I see is that bloggers are more discerning and will say no to a paid gig with a product or brand they don't like - whereas print media publications are will take everyone's $.

Bloggers actually by and large have better ethics than journos who supposedly work to a code of ethics. Excepting ABC staffers, all others are very much subject to the commercial reality of their organisation.

Pip Lincolne said...

Ha! Me too! It's a minefield! How is a sponsored post by a blogger the same as a print media advertorial? Isn't a blogger one awesome integrity-packed person with a clear trusted voice. And print media a whole bunch of people and voices, with no one person having to stake their reputation on the advertorial or promotion they run? Isn't it quite different?

Sonia@ LIfe Love and Hiccups said...

I dont put products on my blog if I dont like them. I am happy to give my review back to the company to tell them why I didnt like the product but my rule is that unless I love a product (paid or not) it doesnt go on my blog. I wont accept sponsored posts from companies or products I dont know, like and trust either, otherwise I am just putting my integrity on the line and no amount of money is worth that. I agree with what every one is saying - its a HUGE minefield xx

Nikki | Styling You said...

Yes, bloggers are all that but the mechanics are the same - the space is paid for and it's disclosed. It's advertorial. It's paid media space. Just like in a print environment (or on a TV show), the brand concerned wants to get their brand out there and sell more of their stuff. We're just a new way of doing that.

The KEY difference is what I mentioned above - that bloggers don't accept every paid (or unpaid for that matter!) gig that comes their way because of their integrity and the trust they have with their audience. I wouldn't work with a company or product that didn't sit well with me and my readers. And I think on the whole, bloggers in Australia are very good at that. Of understanding their audience and not wanting to lose that trust.

Pip Lincolne said...

I think that bloggers need to be much more vigilant and careful in their decisions, personally. I value personal ethics more highly than company/media ethics - purely because company/media ethics are often questionable. I tend not to be as trusting of the media as I am of bloggers. I think bloggers need to worry about disclosure, for sure, but I think they must also think about what's worth putting their voice behind, and what isn't. I think a blogger's online space is really different to a print media space, personally. I always like to hear your view, Nikki!

Small Catalogue said...

I really dislike it when the disclosure is published as the caption to a photograph in the piece. And c/o. I really really dislike c/o (which really ought to be c/-, ought it not?). Especially in the context of a what I wore/decorated with post. Mostly because I don't know what that c/o means. Does it mean I received this item with the direct purpose of inclusion in my work (a paid insertion) or does it mean that this item as a gift or sample sent to me with no fixed agenda and I'm including it in my post because I really really like it (and not just because it was free). Perhaps something a little bit more descriptive than c/o needs to be adopted?

Irrespective, I think those that can spin a few extra dollars from their hobby are very clever. And most mistakes are likely to be an oversight than deliberate attempts to mislead.

Kim-Marie Williams said...

This is my policy too. I have a Kimba Likes Keeping it Real Policy and unless I love it and would lay down my hard earned cash to buy another one for myself, then I will not feature it on my blog, no matter how much money is on offer.

Kim-Marie Williams said...

My honesty and integrity is not for sale.

Maxabella said...

I really don't think you can remain completely impartial when being paid by someone to do something, no. I think a policy of only publishing 'good reviews' and not publishing the 'bad reviews' is the same kind of thing. That's why I don't like paid product reviews in any sort of fash. You can call it a 'sponsored post', but it's still just 'cash for comment' in my opinion. What you DON'T say is just as important as what you DO say and if you only ever publish good reviews of products, where's the total honesty in that? You don't ever talk about what you don't like, so why do I trust in what you say you do like? Or something like that.

I think there are a kazillion much more fabulous ways for a company to work with bloggers than paying them to 'review' their product and create an advertorial, I really do.

Fab to meet you Saturday. Please let's keep talking, lovely. x

Lexi Kentmann said...

I see paid reviews and sponsored posts as separate things.

It might sound crazy, but I see a sponsored post as an advertorial - in the blogger's voice, where one can expect to hear key messages, etc.

A paid review I see as it's positioned as being impartial, however due to it being paid for - there's also a sense of bias.

I do sponsored posts, and I think as long as it's disclosed up front - brilliant.

But the 'paid review' thing can be misconstrued. That's what my message is.

As for bloggers having better ethics than journos, the journos I know, work with and am friends with have strict codes of ethics that they comply with.