Monday, August 3, 2009

Swag Here?

Last week, I got an email from a marketing representative from a company saying that he loved my blog and wanted to know if I was interested in reviewing a product for him, or hosting a giveaway, or having him guest post. I get these emails neither regularly nor frequently, but I have gotten emails like this in the past. Most of the time I simply delete the emails without thought. Frankly, I always sort of assumed the emails were scams, because why on Earth would someone want me, the girl who is constantly blathering on about non-consumerism, to review their product?

But I have to tell you, all the recent discussion about SwagHer BlogHer had me intrigued. What if I responded? It could be a teaching moment!

So I sent the nice marketing representative back an email saying that while I appreciated his email, I'm an eco-blogger who aims to avoid wasteful consumption. And having looked over the website of his company, I couldn't really see much of an environmental angle, and anyway current levels of consumption in the developed world are unsustainable. Then I told him to let me know if his company moves in a more environmentally friendly direction.

Well, the next day I got an email from the nice marketing representative wherein he thanked me for getting back to him, and pointed to a few products that his company sells that are made with sustainable materials. And then, and this is the kicker, he said if I wanted to review one of his products, he could send me anything worth up to a hundred dollars. For free.

Okay, some of you probably think this is funny, but I was completely shocked by this. Like ... for reals? A $100 product?! And all I'd have to do is write one lousy review? That's incredible! Who needs ethics when you can get free stuff!!

Okay, fine. I like my ethics. But, all the same, the offer was pretty enticing and I can completely see how others get sucked in to this product sponsorship vortex. Because blogging is hard work, there is little recognition, and it's cool to feel like you are on the cutting edge, reviewing the latest products on the market.

But ... at the end of the day, as a blogger, I am responsible to you, my readers. And frankly, I am not comfortable accepting a $100 product for free because I believe that that would compromise my ability to review said product impartially. Hell, I worried a little about accepting a free copy of Vanessa's book, but then decided that, frankly, my blog crush on Vanessa and her hair was more actually more problematic in terms of my impartiality.

Like I said before, I get it. I understand why some bloggers accept free products. I understand why some bloggers put advertising on their blogs. I too have considered advertising, and frankly, if a company that fit within my ethical standards asked to advertise here, I would probably think about it. It isn't entirely fair to castigate greedy bloggers; the issue is that media, as an institution, is typically funded through advertising. Which puts us non-consumeristic types in a bind. We can have principles or be paid for our work, but we probably cannot have both. And until anyone comes up with another means of earning money for web content, we'll continue to have bloggers promote companies for free stuff.

So, I have never before found it necessary to formally articulate ... any policy really, here at this blog. But things change, and I want to be as straight forward with all of you as possible. I will never accept money to review a product on this blog. Ever. While I reserve the possibility that I may occasionally accept a free product for review (such as Vanessa's book), I will henceforth make that crystal clear in my post. And I will never accept a free product for review that goes against my relatively non-consumeristic principles.

I haven't written the nice marketing representative back yet, but I plan to. While it would be nice to get some free stuff, the reality is that I blog to build a community. And as it turns out, this community? Is worth a whole lot more than a hundred bucks.


Oldnovice said...

I was thinking about something similar this morning when I got an Email from a representative of an organization that handles donating money to charities when you click. I pimp these types of "free" charities on my blog whenever I run across them simply because there are SO MANY worthwhile causes and it's SO SIMPLE for even the poorest readers to contribute with a click.

For me, the question in my mind involved over-saturation in charitable causes. Do you think there is such a thing? I dunno.

Anonymous said...

I've got this feeling, that writing good blogposts, like you do, really is a lot of work, wich i never could do that well myself, so i seriously wouldn't mind a couple of ads or some reviews. If you don't hide the fact that it's a payd review and still stay objective, it would be fine.
i'd totally understand.

Chile said...

Ruchi, I struggle with the same temptations. I've also received a few emails from company reps offering free goodies. My policy, however, remains to avoid placing ads on my blog in the sidebar or within posts even though, as you say, blogging well takes a lot of time.

The exception, however, is when I come across a great environmental product offered at a good deal by a good company. Why I come across something like this on my own, I do occasionally mention it on my blog. Examples are the dehydrated food and the solar oven. I feel comfortable with this because they were not solicited; I am just sharing information on something I feel is good (much like bloggers do with products like Klean Kanteen or bamboo flatware).

Then the question becomes, is it okay to take discounts offered by those companies when they later discover I blogged nicely about them?

Farmer's Daughter said...

A while back, I reviewed the Eco-canteen after getting an email from the rep. Haha, I felt guilty afterwards because I did a little research and found they're not produced in a sustainable manner and the one they sent me had a fingerprint on it in ink or something. Let's just say it was not a good review... And I decided it would be my first and only review of a product that they sent me for free.

I've gotten a few emails about reviewing meat from some company in Colorado or other places out west. I was like, hmmmm, have you read my blog? That's not exactly local!

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

I used to have Google Ads on my blog, but I deleted them when they started advertising baby monkeys for sale. I could deal with the random creationism rubbish, but not with that.

Plus I never made any money. Not one single cent.

I do have an ad for my friend's business, but that's as a favour to him. I've been promised a beer for each referral (none to date). Lesson of the day: no-one reads my blog!

ruchi said...

You can buy baby monkeys?!

Cath@VWXYNot? said...

Apparently so. But don't, because I'll have to kick your ass!

Anonymous said...

Ha! Jesus is a spammer. I just knew it! (If you don't delete that stuff it'll just get worse.)

Anyway, different bloggers have different policies about "stuff." I accept it if it's something I really think will benefit my readers, and a lot of times I've asked for it in the first place. Glass straws. Stainless steel containers. Soapnuts. Etc. I don't feel guilty in the least because I'm very clear on my blog that I got the stuff for free, usually I end up giving it away, and when I decide to keep it, it's never worth enough that it would skew my review anyway.

The one time I ever accepted an item over $100 was when Soda Club sent me a Penguin soda maker. They had already read the post I wrote about how I coveted it. And this was during the Brita campaign, and what they said was they just wanted me to have it whether I reviewed it or not because of the hard work I was doing. So I accepted it and blogged openly about it.

Anyway, I personally am extremely selective about anything I review on Fake Plastic Fish, and the no plastic thing really weeds out a lot of stuff automatically, so I'm fine with my policy. But you might want to read a different opinion at Z Recommends where they just decided not to keep stuff: