Since I'm in the beauty industry (oh, by the way, I don't purchase any of my products when I post about them here, but I think that's kind of obvious), I'd like to focus strictly on beauty blog reviews. I get a lot of customers from reviews of my products on other blogs; they are essential to my business. I am a small, independent company; I do not have thousands of dollars to spend on ad campaigns like the drugstore brands. Let me tell you a secret: a lot of people who blog about my products didn't pay for the samples they tried. I've had people purchase products from me and review them without my knowing that they were purchasing for that purpose, and I've done the opposite where I've sent free stuff out for bloggers to test. Do I do that to assure a good review? No, I do it so that they have something to try and perhaps write about. I've had glowing reviews and I've had lukewarm reviews. I've sent products to people and never been reviewed. Just because someone gets something for free doesn't equate to an automatic positive, gushing promotion for the products. But let me get to that part later in this post.
The fire was further fueled today by Emrah Kovacoglu, founder and CEO of Total Beauty Media. I woke up to find everyone I knew on Twitter up in arms about an article he wrote claiming that "Beauty Brands Should Not Be Working With Bloggers".
I am so frustrated with the self-serving, self promoting piece of (expletive deleted) that I'm having a hard time even writing this post. Let's begin with his arrogant view of bloggers (including his own members) who are less polished and cannot spell correctly, and shouldn't trade free products for integrity. Excuse me? People read blogs because they have personality and are not dry, boring newspapers. Carleen Pruess, author of Beauty and Fashion Tech is an attorney. Meredith Edwards-Cornwall, who writes Daily Dose of Coffee used to be a journalist. Guess what, guys? I have an MBA and can write with the best of them, should I so choose!
To add insult to injury, Emrah goes on to say that bloggers should not deal with beauty brands directly, they should do so with his "Sneek Peek" program. Guess what his bloggers got (free, by the way) as their last sneek peek?
A lifetime supply of Q-Tips!!! Do you really need to read a review on Q-Tips? Total Beauty's sneek peek program is composed of sponsored items that are primarily drugstore brands. I queried Total Beauty about this Sneek Peek program. Though they have not responded, I'm willing to bet that those items are not purchased by Total Beauty for their bloggers review; they are sponsored by the manufacturer who either pays for placement or provides the product in mass quantities for free - most likely both. According to this yahoo, "We can ensure a buffer between their blog and brands, so that they are not penalized by a negative review, if that is what they truly feel." Beauty bloggers are not 10 year olds who need to have their hands held. Nor do they live in fear of retribution for writing an unflattering review. Companies, large and small, know that their cannot be all things to all people. We understand this concept. If bloggers should only write about products obtained through a middleman like Kovacoglu, the review world would be severely narrowed down, in addition to being repetitive. It's bad enough as it is - there's no missing whenever MAC introduces a new limited edition something, as a dozen blogs will all be discussing it at the same time. Kovacoglu started out trying to talk ethics and standards, fell into his own trap and lost his credibility by pitching his own program.
OK, back to the "free part" stuff and the FTC.
This was a major topic of discussion when I was on the bloggers panel at The Makeup Show. I have an unusal perspective because I am more or less on both sides of the coin. Let's take this in steps, and tell me if it doesn't make sense. Bloggers with loyal readership blog frequently - usually at least several posts a week, and significant proportion update their blogs daily. If you don't update, you won't maintain readers because you've said nothing new in recent memory.
If you write about a different product everyday, and had to purchase all the products you blogged about, you'd only be able to do so if you were a) independently wealthy, or b) charged a membership fee to cover your costs. Most likely, it's a mix of the two - freebies and your latest haul from (insert store name/website here). I get requests for samples from bloggers on a daily basis. Do I send everyone stuff? Nope. Your prices would go up to cover the costs of sending goodies to everybody and their brother who claim to be a blogger.
Who gets stuff? First, I look at the posts made on the blog to determine if it's even the right audience. My customers tend to be umm... not teenagers (to put it nicely). Most of them are not into bold, bright colors. I'm also not the cheapest product around, so if I see that the blogger writes towards those demographics, I will thank them for their interest, and respectfully tell them that my products are most likely not a match for their readership. I look at how many followers the blog has, whether many of the posts have comments to indicate that people are reading and responding to the author, frequency of posts, etc. When I do send out products for review, most of it is sample sizes. Not knowing what they may or may not like, I'd rather send a little bit of a variety of products than a full size of one or two items. From a business standpoint, it increases the likelihood that there might be something that they really do like.
Does knowing that the reviewer may not have paid for some of product XYZ that they're gushing about change your view of the author? What if they're writing about a product that they got a free sample of at the cosmetic counter at Macy's? Do they have to disclose that too? You can only gain the trust of your readership if they feel that you are honest - not whether the product was free or not. I've seen many blogs that will post the pluses and minuses of the product they're reviewing. Others may not have many negative posts at all, with perhaps a sentence here or there that they wished (fill in the blank). It all depends on their writing style and the approach with which they are comfortable. Some are believers in the saying, "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all". Those are the products that they still received for free, but didn't say a peep about it anywhere.
I'd love to hear your opinions and comments. It's taken me all day to sit still long enough to try to write this cohesively!
Here's a list (which will be updated as I find 'em) regarding both Total Beauty's fiasco (now coined TB-Gate) and the FTC issue:
- The Gloss Menagerie: Total Beauty Drama Llama Extravaganza
- Casual Lavish: TotalBeauty.com CEO Knocks Down Bloggers
- Beauty and Fashion Tech (the lawyer mentioned above): Responding to Total Beauty's Suggestion That Companies Should Not Work Directly With Bloggers
- Beauty Junkie London: TB-Gate - A Beauty Blogging Uproar
- British Beauty Blogger: Say What, Mr. CEO?