vase of flowers

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?

blogging review tips: what to do when you're sent something to review but you really hate it?

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]

[No it wasn’t.]

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  • I think this is a really interesting topic, and I think it’s a case of a few ruining it for others. There are bloggers who will feature something / write a sponsored post and it just whiffs of it being accepted for the money. It’s usually pretty easy to spot something that’s been accepted for the money, and I think that then raises the question in people’s minds about whether every blogger is doing it just for the money, especially if that person is blogging for a living.
    I’ve followed your blog for about a year now, and I trust that you will only feature something that you genuinely like or that fits your style. There are no doubts here.

    January 10, 2016
  • Fran


    For what it’s worth, while the question was certainly not ideally phrased, I don’t think the commenter was accusing you of lying but rather asking a question which I think is worth debating, not because bloggers are inherently dishonest but because I think depending on the agreements they make with companies they might put them in a tight spot. I know book-bloggers who’ve had to negotiate very difficult agreements because of pressure from big publishers to give spots to their new highly publicised products or see important sponsorships pulled. Obviously you blog about entirely different things, you are established and savvy about what you do, but I think it’s worth it for beginners to see this discussed by the experienced bloggers. For example, while I had always assumed you would review only stuff you could actually have a use for, I didn’t know you got paid for the post until after it was done, which certainly helps with sending the product back if upon opening it you find it doesn’t fit. I also think, for what it’s worth, that it is courteous of you to not review it if you don’t think you’re going to like it at all. You’ve given plenty of negative comments on products you purchased on your own which were very helpful, but if someone is paying for a post I can see that it makes good professional sense to only do it if you can do it favourably. 🙂

    January 10, 2016
  • Erin


    Of all of the turned down posts I would have died to see you do, it’s the styling steel-toed work boots 3 ways. I actually think this could have been hysterical and useful in an odd way? Although you wouldn’t use them, perhaps there is a full-skirt loving construction working lady out there that needs help? (No! It’s not me, why do you ask?)

    January 10, 2016
  • really interesting. There’s some bloggers who I read and trust and know that whether they’ve been sent an item or being paid they’ll do a balanced, well-thought out review/post about it and there’s other, well… An example of a balanced review when it didn’t go quite right is by Forever Yours Betty here I think she got it spot on, you don’t have to go all in negative to be honest, it’s all about balance. It is, of course, a personal view so what works for one might not work for another but it’s blatantly obvious when bloggers are giving an overly positive review because they’re paid or getting a freebie.

    Some people are always going to be wary of sponsored posts, hell, they’re even wary of affiliated links. For what it’s worth I think your reviews are always well balanced.

    January 10, 2016
  • Good post! I don’t really think that not doing a review on something you don’t like is lying by omission, I think it’s just being fair! If something’s not your thing then there’s no point really doing a post on it. For example, I love big chunky work boots, but if I’d have read a whole post saying that you didn’t like them and all the things that look weird about them, it might put me off them. When really it’s just different tastes! So you’re perfectly right not to write a review on things you’re not sure about. In fact you’re pretty good to stand by your standards and send back things that aren’t what you expected 🙂 I can see how it’s best for you, the readers AND the company! xxxxx
    Jesska – Opal Soul

    January 10, 2016
  • Excellent post but you could send the steel toe company my way, I volunteer at music festivals and during set up I have to wear steel toe boots ( mine are pink).
    I do love how you have broken this down and explain the rationale so clearly, you are so correct in that thereare necessary evils and it is how we incorporate them hat matters. I wish there was a rule that as long as we loved the product that we didn’t have to say ad or sponsored because that does turn people off

    January 10, 2016
  • Veronica U


    I really appreciate your views on this! Thanks for taking the time to share with us. I totally understand that blogging is a job and often bloggers take sponsorships, but when I see a childless 24-year-old woman posting about how these incontinence products now make it so much easier for her to jump on the trampoline without worries (no joke, real blog post), it throws up a red flag for me. A) I’m in her age bracket and don’t foresee needing them for a while and B) When was the last time I felt compelled to jump on a trampoline? I think I was like 12 (no offense to people who do enjoy this of course). Thanks for your balanced view!

    January 10, 2016
  • I already had a sense that this is how you handle sponsored posts, which is why I was attracted to your blog in the first place and became a regular reader. I read a lot of blogs… and it becomes REALLY obvious with sponsored posts with blogs you are really familiar with when it’s just about the money. There was that time that a whole bunch of fashion blogs started to shill tampons and I was left like, wtf is happening. Your sponsored posts always make sense to me, and are items that would fit in a regular post, even if you weren’t being paid. You seem to be a reliable source, and I respect that and in turn, trust your posts to keep reading. Which just makes business sense. With all that said, thank you for making a post about it! I know a lot of bloggers read your blog for information, so hopefully they will keep this in mind and follow suit. Blogging full time isn’t just about short term, it’s about the long term too!

    January 10, 2016
    • Haha, I know what you mean about the tampons. I also saw fitness bloggers all writing about pads and I was like…seriously. It made me lose respect for the bloggers who do things like that. Well integrated sponsored posts are one thing, but ads that stick out like a late night infomerical gets a thumbs down from me.

      January 11, 2016
      • It wasn’t just fitness bloggers. I saw those U by Kotex posts friggin’ EVERYWHERE. Lifestyle/fashion/style bloggers were writing those posts, too, and I don’t know that it really seemed to make sense for a single one of them. And it was also a level of “Yes, I know I read blogs about your personal life, but that is TOO personal.”

        January 11, 2016
  • Rebecca


    I’m torn about whether bloggers should only take products they love for review and here’s the reason. I agree that it’s not fair to a brand to take their product and then trash it BUT there are lots of bloggers out there that will take a product and write a positive review even if they hate it. This means that when the poor reader who has almost no money but has saved to buy something googles a product they won’t find any negative reviews. Only positive ones written by the less scrupulous bloggers. Which is really difficult and seems wrong.

    I also have to be honest and say that a lot of bloggers starting out feel a certain amount of pressure to keep PRs happy so they keep getting sent samples. Now, in reality if you get enough readers you’ll get stuff to review sent anyway, but if you’re just starting out and in particular if you’re young and can’t afford to buy stuff to review with your own money this can mean that you can’t easily get your blog going.

    I’m not sure we’re at the point yet where everything is as transparent as it should be (I’m referring to blogging in general NOT your site, I hasten to add) and I think it’s the industry as a whole that needs to work these issues out. When the advertising is for tv the rules are pretty clear and policing it is fairly easy, policing thousands of blogs to make sure they comply with a set of agreed standards is a whole other ball game.

    January 10, 2016
  • This sounds like a very reasonable way to handle things. I’m sure if you trashed every thing sent to you that didn’t meet your expectations, companies might get scared off from having sponsored posts from you at all, and then you are back not being able to sustain the blog.

    January 10, 2016
  • Myra


    You are an honourable blogger 🙂

    January 10, 2016
  • This is the eternal question. Well, if the blogger pay for an item sure an honest opinion is expected. If it is a gift same rules apply. You can not lie the person who give you a gift. You just like it. How about telling the truth for your friends but trying to not upset the one who pay for it? Just be nice!

    January 11, 2016
  • TinaD


    I’m with Erin–the steel-toed boots would have been a scream. I’m fine with the idea of a blogger only accepting things they like to review; it may “skew the numbers,” I suppose, but the blogosphere seems to be either sunshine and puppies or trolling and flaming, and not much in the middle, so I’m not sure I expect objectivity. It’s not like it’s a medical study. (The funny posts are when the blogger gives the pretense of objectivity–“it didn’t really fit around the middle”–and then snatches it back again–“but I’ll only ever wear a belt with it anyway, so it’s really really wonderful!”) Negative reviews I can get from Amazon, any time I like. In spades.

    January 11, 2016
  • Trudy


    Haha! It would be really funny if you lumped all those products into one blog post! Or is it just me who thinks that it would be a scream to see a blog post advertising steel cap boots and incontinence pads, while wearing a funny coloured wig? Anyway, thanks for keeping it honest!

    January 11, 2016
  • Cristina


    Super interesting read! I really enjoyed going through it. I think honesty is the best policy and I really enjoy how you handle things. So far I haven’t received anything I particularly disliked, but I admit that some things are just ‘meh’ and I’m torn. Now I have an idea about what to do. x

    Cristina xo // My Cup of Tea

    January 23, 2016