On Sponsored Posts and Honesty: can bloggers really be honest if they’re being paid?
As most of my regular readers probably know, one of the methods I make money through blogging is through sponsored posts. A couple of weeks ago, I did one of those posts, and got the following question from a reader:
Hi, I have a question that might be kind of odd, perhaps you have said before, or maybe someone has asked. My question is; would you ever write a positive review about something you didn’t really like? Like say you didn’t like something about this skirt, perhaps the fabric on the inside was uncomfortable (hypothetically, I wouldn’t know). Would you still write that it is nice and not mention the uncomfortable part, because it is sponsored?
Now, my first reaction to this question was to clutch my pearls and say, “Why, of COURSE not! The very idea!” Once I’d thought about it some more, though, I realised a simple denial doesn’t quite cut it, because the fact is, no matter how nicely the person tries to word it, what I’m basically being asked is whether or not I’m a liar – and, I mean, if I was, I probably wouldn’t admit it, would I?
And therein lies the problem of blogging and sponsored posts: even when you’re telling the truth, some people just won’t be able to trust you, because you got paid. In those circumstances, it’s natural for people to wonder if what they’re reading is the truth, which made me realise there’s a wider discussion to be had here about how sponsored posts work, and whether or not you can trust the bloggers who write them. I can’t speak for ALL bloggers, obviously, but here’s how I handle sponsored posts…
First of all, I only ever accept items I genuinely like.
Agreeing to write about products/services I don’t like would not only kill the enjoyment I get out of blogging (I know it’s my job, but I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t also love it!), it would literally kill my blog: because you guys would know, wouldn’t you? You’d know I was lying, and you’d kinda hate me for it: and I wouldn’t blame you, either.
Here’s a list of sponsorship opportunities I’ve turned down in the past few months:
- A post about incontinence products.
- A post in which I was asked to style steel toe-capped workboots three ways.
- A post for a drinks company, for which I was asked to wear a comedy wig to promote a type of drink I don’t like.
- A post for a food company, for which I was asked to create a recipe (I don’t bake and have never created a recipe in my life) using a product I don’t like.
- Another post for a food company reviewing a food product which I REALLY dislike.
- Too many posts to count in which I was asked to feature clothes that aren’t my style, and which I’d never, ever wear.
In all of those cases, I was offered money to write about the items in question, and I turned them all down, because they were not the right fit for my blog: I either don’t use the products, don’t like the products, or wouldn’t wear the products, therefore I won’t pretend to like/use/wear them for money – it’s as simple as that. The fact is that it would be really damaging to my blog to accept money to endorse products I don’t like. Sure, I’d make a profit in the short-term, but in the long term I’d lose readers and basically kill off a business I’ve spent years developing, because people aren’t stupid. I mean, you guys know I’d never wear steel toecapped workboots, right? So if I suddenly did a sponsored post extolling the virtues of them, you’d KNOW I was lying, and you’d stop reading my blog. And then that whole ‘chimney sweeping’ scenario would actually come to pass, and you all know how I feel about that.
So, I only agree to write sponsored posts about things I actually like. BUT! What if I agree to do a sponsored post, and then, when the item arrives, I realise I hate it?
This actually happens on a semi-regular basis. Sometimes it can be hard to tell what an item will really be like just from a photo, so I’ll agree to feature something, only for it to turn up and be five sizes too small, a completely different colour from what I was expecting, or just plain hideous, really.
When that happens, I simply send the item back. Again, there’s just no point in my trying to feature something I know won’t look good on me, or which is a huge departure from my usual taste. Yes, I’d make some money from just sucking it up and doing the post anyway, but ultimately it would do me more harm than good to feature something I really disliked, so back it goes. A couple of months ago, for instance, I was approached by a brand I really like, who offered to send me a dress to feature. I agreed immediately, because I REALLY loved the dress… but when it arrived, it was miles too big for me, and looked terrible on, so I contacted the brand, explained that I wouldn’t be able to feature it, and sent it back. (I’m still gutted, actually.)
In this case I wasn’t being paid for the post, but even if I had been, I’d still have sent it back: I don’t get paid for sponsored posts until they’ve been completed, so I can always back out (and have done on many occasions) if the product turns out to not be what I’d expected.
Isn’t that lying by omission, though?
You could argue that the TRULY honest thing for me to do in situations like the one above would be to photograph the dress anyway, and talk about the issues I had with it. That would be honest and it would also be helpful, because I would be warning my readers against buying something that I personally didn’t think was worth the money.
It would also have been a bit rude to the brand, though, which is why I don’t do things like that. I realise some people will consider that to be lying by omission, but if a brand has sent me something to try, I just wouldn’t feel comfortable about accepting the item and then ripping it to shreds on my blog – which could potentially lose them business. I’m not saying I don’t think it’s EVER appropriate to post a negative review of something, and I have frequently talked about the issues I’ve had with products as well as pointing out the things I liked about them, but the idea of accepting an item and then trashing the brand who sent me it doesn’t sit well with me, and so it’s not something I would do, unless the circumstances were truly exceptional (i.e. if I felt the product could harm someone, for instance).
Just because I don’t like something personally, it doesn’t mean no one else could possibly like it, after all, and I don’t feel I have an obligation to “warn” people about every item I come across that doesn’t meet my expectations.
Aaaaand, that’s how I handle sponsored posts! Obviously I realise there are some people who will just never trust them, and that’s cool. But I’ve always been upfront about the fact that this blog is a business, and sometimes I’m forced to compromise on things because of that. For instance, if it was up to me, I wouldn’t have any ads on the site ever. I hate ads as much as you do, and I wish there was a way for me to make a living without them. But there isn’t, so that’s a compromise I have to live with – and ask you to live with – in order to be able to keep the site running. Sponsored posts are another one of those compromises: as I said, I’m not going to tell you that I will never do them, because the fact is, I HAVE to do them to make money. But I CAN tell you that I will never endorse a product a dislike, and I will never lie to you by saying I like something if I don’t.
Of course, there’s always a chance I’m just lying about all of this… isn’t there?
[This post was sponsored by AwesomeIncontinencePads.com.]
[No it wasn’t.]