At first, the Mom Blogger revolution was honest, and simple. People telling other people what they know. Now, like the second season of a reality show, the players have learned to manipulate the game, begging the question – is the system corrupt? Are blogged endorsements sell outs or sincere?
There are over 10,000 Mom Bloggers on line sharing advice on topics ranging from potty training and diaper brands to family get-aways and ideal cars. Naturally, corporations want bloggers to be touting the virtues of their products for a viral impact. So they send established Mom Bloggers – often unsolicited – corporate swag of everything from free trips, services and products to direct cash for a blog post. Bloggers with the larger audiences are the highest ROI targets for corporations. Conversely, many of the new- to- the- game mommy bloggers are getting savvy about soliciting freebies from corporate marketing departments in exchange for blog reviews. They want their piece of the action.
Marketing Execs know (okay, this is first hand experience ) that there is always a risk that a product review may be favorable or negative, but odds are good that a mom blogger will not bite the hand that feeds her. And there is nothing illegal about offering someone free goods in exchange for a blog review. Can it backfire? Sure! There are no shortage of stories about companies that try to make paid endorsements appear organic. I have also sent product out to bloggers only to have them review it and then say the exact same praises for my competition.
Should we feel for Moms who follow a blogger’s advice on a product, vacation, etc. only to find out that she is being paid to push the product? The sponsoring companies call it acquiring “a brand advocate”, but the bloggers audience may call it something else. A sell out. It just feels a little icky, especially for a system that was supposed to be so pure. Good Morning America’s report last week illustrated blog readers POV on this topic. I am a little less sympathetic than GMA, the readers could always consult a real friend, or a retail site where all options are rated with little star systems. But then how do we protect the integrity of bloggers who offer sincere, balanced advice?
In magazines, they have to print the word ADVERTORIAL above content that may look like an article but is really bought and paid for. I think that the same rule should apply for Blogs. If Mom Bloggers are compensated in any sense of the word, they need to declare it on their site. Then the blog readers can balance that declaration into their decisions, and the sponsoring company can “brand” that blogger as their advocate. I am also a proponent for having this transparency regulated just as TV and print are regulated. There, I said it – the R Word. ….but this simple solution could also preserve the integrity of bloggers as a legit communication channel.