Inside The Sorta-Secret, Swag-Laden World Of Mommy Bloggers

If you’re a mommy blogger with a strong following, companies will fall all over themselves to show you a good time. The Los Angeles Times examines the culture of quid-pro-quo marketing, in which bloggers get bombarded with free samples and go on all-expenses-paid junkets with the understanding that they’ll write positively about the products.

Reporters P.J. Huffstutter and Jerry Hirsch write:

Free-flowing wine and buffet tables laden with crudites are now common features of a company-sponsored function for bloggers. Some companies are even offering free kitchen appliances, vacations, groceries and enough fruity snacks to feed a neighborhood’s worth of kids.

The growing trend is fueling legal and social debate over how bloggers disclose what goodies they get. New guidelines unveiled last month by the Federal Trade Commission say bloggers must divulge financial or product compensation they get in exchange for writing about a company’s products. The regulations are set to go into effect Dec. 1.

It remains to be seen how the FTC’s regulations affect the mommy blog culture. The FTC is hoping once readers get hip to the way the bloggers are being wined and dined, they’ll take product endorsements they read as the advertisements they are rather than off-the-cuff recommendations from a trusted pal. Do you think the strategy will work?

Blogging moms wooed by food firms [Los Angeles Times, via The Awl]
(Photo: ninjapoodles)

Comments

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  1. mommiest says:

    Clearly, I have a long way to go. Sigh.

  2. Dont lump me into your 99%! says:

    Well I can see being provided a product to test, but wining and dining seems a bit too much like how congress works.

    • bohemian says:

      @csparks: The whole current issue with bloggers being compensated to write articles and not admitting they are basically writing commercials causes problems for everyone else who runs a blog.

      Because now what is on any blog is up for suspicion. The new regulation is something at least. Marketing departments know no lows.

  3. econobiker says:

    And this is different from old line media journalism reporter junkets how?

    Were/are reporters not supposed to accept items due to their company’s policies? But it was ok that the owners of the brands/products would spend money on advertising in the newspaper, magazine, tv spots versus actually funneling product directly to the article writer?

    Ever see a magazine with an article promoting some class or type of product that then had a full page advert on the opposite page for a company selling that same product?

    Interesting.

    • scoobydoo says:

      @econobiker: I agree with you here – and I wonder how much of these new rules were lobbied for by the old school media? They are seeing large amounts of their readers defect to blogs and other online sites.

      • floraposte says:

        @scoobydoo: I think the issue is that these venues appear different to their readers, even if they’re operating under the same practices. It’s akin to the Yelp reviews issue below, except instead of astroturfing, it’s sneaking astroturf into grass. I’m suspicious of extant bloggers with no disclosure if they mention products, but I come from print.

        FWIW, the editorial/advertising relationship is pretty variable from industry to industry and periodical to periodical; in ours, we don’t know who runs ads at the time we’re producing the editorial content, for instance.

        • Dondegroovily says:

          @floraposte: Of course, for that New England paper, it’s a huge mattress ad on one side and an article saying the mattresses have bedbugs on the other.

    • bobinchicago says:

      Oh please, econobiker. I’ve worked as an editor for magazines I bet you and almost everyone here has read, and that’s just bullsh!t. Even in this economy, the monthly magazine I work for works really hard to make sure that doesn’t happen. And, you know, I bet you can’t provide any examples. C’mon, just one.

      I’m not saying it never happens. During the first Reagan recession, I walked out of a job interview when the editor told me they did favor companies that advertised. That was a quarter of a century ago and I haven’t encountered it since. It’s that rare: It exists almost entirely in your mind.

      And I’m not sure what your point is. That bloggers should be able to get away with product placement? Are the new rules that two wrongs make a right, or are you rejecting the notion that ethics are rules all media, new and old, should follow?

    • BrazDane says:

      @econobiker: To see examples of this, you just need to buy Guns and American Handgunner. The writers are completely in the pockets of the gun manufacturers and the ammo industry. No gun ever gets a bad review, they always use the most expensive ‘generously donated’ ammunition and all seem perfectly happy to act as nothing more than pawns for the industry. That, and their retarded political comments, made me cancel my subscriptions. I have nothing against an informed debate and polite exchange of views, but they seem to have made a business out of being single-minded and I simply won’t pay for that. However, being for sale as a magazine writer really isn’t much different from how many lawmakers are for sale on the Hill these days.

    • Tim says:

      @econobiker: Oh, come on. Are you saying that it’s unethical for a newspaper/magazine to sell ads to a company that it also writes about? That would be impossible for many publications, stupid for others.

    • coffeeswirl says:

      @econobiker: I work for a TV news station. The people who write/choose the stories do so based on newsworthiness, we don’t know what companies are running ads during our commercial breaks.

      Simple, the people writing the stories are downstairs in the newsroom.

      The people who sell the ads are upstairs in offices.

      The people who put the ads on the air are in master control.

      None of these people talk to each other (master control gives us time cues but that’s about it).

      Also, occasionally the sales office will sell something within the show, for example we have McDonald’s mugs on the set in front of the anchors. You’ll know if something has been sold because a lower third font will appear at the end of the show featuring a “promotional consideration brought to you by…” disclaimer. We put the mugs on the set, then we run a health block story about how McDonald’s fries will kill your heart. They paid us to put mugs on a desk, not to gloss over their foibles.

      It’s really easy to play the conspiracy game but the truth is the people who do the news hate ads just as much as you the viewer, but we have to live with them. No choice.

      And PS we also hate running stupid hollywood fluff stories, and if they weren’t so popular we could leave them out!

  4. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    I used to do video game and media reviews, and I would get a lot of stuff coming to my cubicle. I never let it sway my reviews, but I could tell that some companies would pile on the swag just to try.

    • AthronofEryndor says:

      @pecan 3.14159265: With all due respect, there is a difference between being able to say “I didn’t consciously let it influence me” and saying “I didn’t let it influence me.”

      The social norm of reciprocity has been demonstrated to operate in a variety of conditions, often below the explicit awareness of the individual. The same can be said for ingratiation. I’m not calling you out as a bad or unethical person, I’m just saying you are human, like we all are.

      And that’s sort of the problem, we need disclosure because it needs to be up to the consumer, not the writer, to judge if their evaluation may have been compromised.

      • pecan 3.14159265 says:

        @AthronofEryndor: If you knew the kind of things I got extra, you’d know there was no influence there. I got a baseball hat one time, a PR book about the game (which got tossed) and all sorts of things that got thrown into the freebies pile. Just cause you give me a baseball hat doesn’t mean your game sucks less.

  5. donnie5 says:

    As a blogger (not mommy blogger, but a blogger non-the-less), I have received books from many different publishing houses. I find this a fair exchange because they are still risking a negative review.
    Not all the books I have read are good, and many do not get a good review. This makes it more like work for me than reward.

  6. ponycyndi says:

    I have read quite a few ‘mommy’ blogs, and the minute they start in with the giveaways and talking about products for no reason, I stop reading and clicking, and move on to another blog.

    No, I don’t want to enter your contest or giveaway. That is not the reason I read your blog in the first place.

  7. bhr says:

    Mommy-bloggers are the most conceited entitled group I’ve ever seen. I was working at a friend of mine’s craft shop in WV when he took his wife on a vacation. Twice in that period I had “bloggers” try to blackmail me into free/discounted items in exchange for not giving me a bad review. Then in another gig I had someone actually tell me they worked for the consumerist while trying to get an undeserved refund.

    • temporaryerror says:

      @bhr:
      Read violentacres’ take on mommybloggers. It’s high-larious.

    • pot_roast says:

      @bhr: I agree. I was wandering around BlogHer once (hey, it was free to get in) and overheard a few ‘mommybloggers.’ What a bunch of self absorbed, vile creatures. And yes, I’ve read about similar things happening. They threaten ‘bad reviews’ trying to get their way. They hope that the other mommybloggers will spread the word. They’re generally women with an inflated sense of self importance and a LOT of free time on their hands.

      • lemortede says:

        @pot_roast:

        I actually use to have a “Mommy Blogger” that I use to enjoy reading. She was funny and had alot of stories that even I, as a man, could relate to. Then she got more popular, then got a book deal. The stories stopped and the blog get a husband bashing attitude.
        I stopped reading.

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      @bhr: You should have gotten a picture of the alleged consumerist editor so we could out them like those door-to-door electricity salesmen types. :D

    • thisistobehelpful says:

      @bhr: I just can’t understand how interesting someone else’s kid can be. It being news or opinion worthy is just odd. I care about the kids related to me and my friend’s kids. I get the community of mommy things, but god they’re so farking boring and didn’t even do anything that spectacular. It’s not like we’d be reading about some amazing larger than life experience. It’s a kid, loads of people have them, get over it. Product reviews related to babies sure, but why the hell does having a kid make you all of a sudden an expert on things not related to babies? Oh wait, it doesn’t.

  8. gStein_*|bringing starpipe back|* says:

    but the question: will it blend?
    er, i mean, how will it be enforced?
    we can make laws all day long, but unless there’s an easy way to enforce it, you might as well not pass the law.

  9. mike says:

    All I ask is for people to be honest with their reviews. For example, I tell people about Invisible Shield all the time. Yes, I get a discount for using them and promoting them…but only do so because I believe in the product. I write the things I find annoying as well, but I always make sure that people know that I have a marketing relationship with them.

    But I also tell them that I wouldn’t recommend it if I didn’t use it myself.

  10. Rachacha says:

    Say, did I ever mention how much I think that [www.teslamotors.com] is going to revolutionize the auto industry. Who would have thunk a few years ago that we could have an electric vehicle that would be considered a sports car, and now they are coming out with more moderately priced vehicles for the more average consumer. Wow, what a great company!

    Ok, In all seriousness, no donations from Tesla Motors were received as a condition of this post, but if they would like to hand me the keys to a Roadster, I would become a very big supporter of theirs, and I would even do something drastic and life altering, like changing my Consumerist avatar to the Tesla Logo. I would even b willing to drive up to NJ to take SteveDave for a ride in his labcoat. Think of the publicity Tesla! ;-)

  11. searonson says:

    How does the disclosure law apply to archived blog posts? Will they have to go back and disclose all the times they received free stuff in the past?

  12. NoDavidOnlyZuul says:

    wasn’t there a story about a mommy blogger who was trying to blackmail Crocs about 3-4 months ago? as much as i like getting recipes from certain blogs, there is only so much cutsey crap i can take before i have to move on.

  13. Ms Meghan says:

    Doesn’t it not matter after December 1st? I mean granted, any past posts are certainly questionable, but after that they are required to fully disclose things like this.

  14. nstonep says:

    Not this shit again…

  15. Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

    Disclosure is key. I think reviewing things fairly that you get for free is tough anyway because when you pay money for something (and how much you pay for it) has weight on the value you think it has. If you pay a lot for something and it doesn’t work as well as you expect for that price, it will effect your opinion of it. But if you get it for free it is easy to say that it’s awesome because hey, you didn’t pay for it so the value for you is really good.

    A big part of reviews for me is if the reviewer thinks that the product is worth the price they paid.

    • MollyAuden says:

      @Kimaroo – Fortified with Kittydus Purrularis: That is an interesting hypothesis, though it also brings to mind an opposite one: a la Festinger’s cognitive dissonance theory, if you pay MORE for a crappy something, you may actually be MORE likely to like it than if you paid less, since you’ve done a lot more rationalizing about the product. So this might not necessarily square with free = better perceived. For example, if I’ve paid 50$ for expensive chocolates that turned out only meh-tasting, I might be more likely to justify the purchase by altering how I think of them than if I only paid 10$ and could write the whole experience off as a not-as-embarrassing mistake…

      • Kimaroo - 100% Pure Natural Kitteh says:

        @MollyAuden: I guess it just depends on what kind of consumer you are. I tend to think the way I mentioned above, where if it costs more it better perform like the price would be justified. If it doesn’t then I will be more likely disatisfied with something.

        I could see your point being the case, that when things have a higher price there is a perceived notion of luxury tied to the item. My great uncle used to own and run a matress store, and sometimes an affluent customer wouldn’t buy a paticular matress because they thought it was cheaply made due to the price. He learned this and took the price tags off of the matresses and used his judgement as to what price to offer the customer. He made the matresses so he knew what value they really had. It may not be the most “fair” thing but he ran the business for a really long time, and now his sons own it.

  16. esd2020 says:

    @econobiker: I’ve worked for a trade magazine before and the rule is it’s cool to review something you didn’t pay for, but you either send it back after the review or buy it at MSRP.

    This is pretty standard. Most journalists I know wouldn’t work for an organization that didn’t do this.

    • floraposte says:

      @esd2020: That may be pretty standard in your industry, but it’s by no means the rule across the board. (Then you get into enforcement and disclosure issues even with that policy, but it’s certainly more straight-and-narrow than many.)

  17. memphis9 says:

    Sigh. Anyone who would not recognize a shilling mommy blog a mile away, probably wouldn’t notice that small print disclaimer in the big pharma “testimonial” ad, or appreciate the fact that the praise for that particular auto maker on some show? Is also an ad. I laughed my a$$ off the other night when some crime show actually included a little soliloquy on the the virtues of next-gen antidepressants. I believe they mentioned “Lexipro.”

    Mind, I’m not opposed to making the freebie bloggers fess up, just thoroughly cynical as regards this kind of small scale “dishonestly won’t be tolerated” cr*p. It’s tolerated just fine if you are GE or Merrill or Coca Cola spewing legally vetted cr*p on the air or through spokepersons on talk shows or by proxy on social networking sites. There’s a way to do things, mommyblogger, and your biggest crime (besides selling out for trinkets) is your low and crass lack of sophistication.

  18. donnie5 says:

    @Eyebrows McGee (now with more baby!): I see what you are saying. That does make more sense.
    And you are right, almost half the books I get I would not buy anyway.
    However, I will gladly review Chipotle burritos from now on.

  19. floraposte says:

    @Eyebrows McGee (now with more baby!): That’s where I think the issue (and the advantage) lies. I run a book review periodical with a professional audience. They know we get books to review because it’s what we, you know, do. If I wrote chatty Lifestyle columns or blogs about my life with my adorable children, that’s another matter, and a mention of a brand name in there is generally read as a reflection of unaltered real life absent a disclosure. It’s paid product placement seeking new camouflage.

  20. ScarletsWalk says:

    @Eyebrows McGee (now with more baby!): Our freebie table at my paper was crap too. I don’t think I even found one thing in my years there.

    I don’t think small quantities of consumables are out of line for Mommy Bloggers. There is a line somewhere between reasonable samples for review and bribery.

  21. Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

    @donnie5: @floraposte: A couple of blogs I read, one on religious issues and one on sci-fi/fantasy, every month publish an “items received for review” post, which I really like and think is a good way to handle it. Both mention that a particular product was received for review in the actual review as well, but this lets you see if certain companies are really drowning them in swag and stuff — and, because both are single-person sites with occasional guest posts, they’re more likely to review just the stuff they’re interested in or that’s getting a lot of buzz, since they have day jobs, so you get a chance to see everything they left on the floor of the closet.

    Both also post when they do a donation purge and where the stuff’s been donated.

  22. Myrna_Minkoff says:

    @floraposte:
    And it’s not just fashion.
    I’ve worked in publishing for nearly two decades, and we had standing orders at every company to “support” and “remember” our advertisers when writing stories. Technically, we had a wall, but it was very porous.

    Just how much give and take there is between sales and editorial can vary, but I have had sales reps actually review/edit my stories at one company in order to make sure I was covering the topic in a way that would highlight a key advertiser.

  23. ScarletsWalk says:

    @floraposte: Oh, I know it’s about disclosure more than anything, but I got the vibe from some of the other posts that ANY freebies are bad.

    And isn’t that how Consumer Reports does their stuff anyway? They purchase it all-no freebies?

  24. Myrna_Minkoff says:

    @dragonfire81: I didn’t like it, but I was fresh out of school, broke and desperate for experience. You do what you have to sometimes.

    The larger point is that while they took it to extremes, most publishing companies def. do cater to their advertisers one way or another.

    Look at all the all the “buy this hot product” spreads in any beauty mag. It’s all unlabeled advertorial.

  25. donnie5 says:

    @Walking Scarlet: I bet a lot of it ends up in dumpsters or recycled. I have seen some video of how they test. Many times, it aint pretty.