I’ve been sitting on this for almost a week now because I didn’t want to publish an emotional reaction, but rather some well organised thoughts. I have also been in bed for the past four days with a very sexy sinus infection and thought it would be best if I let the fever wear off first*.
Yet I’m still typing through gritted teeth because I’m more than a little annoyed.
Making It Big
You see, I’ve been blogging for more than five years and I haven’t made it big in any way – there hasn’t been a breakout post or a magical spike in traffic that lead to giant success. I’ve gained a fair amount of loyal readers, but by no means do I have traffic that is going to impress anyone. I’ve watched plenty of younger, newer blogs whizz past me on their way to the top.
Why? Many reasons, I guess. I have a full time job so I’m not super consistent. I’m not focused enough on the very pretty details that everyone seems to love. I’m not the most diplomatic writer/reviewer around, and that’s something that scares some brands a little (or a lot, in some cases). And which ever other reasons the wordpress gods have for deciding which blogs make it big and which ones don’t. But there’s one thing that I know that has cost me loads of money and opportunity – the fact that I stick to my guns.
How To Burn Bridges
I’ve declined plenty of paid blog posts and trolley loads of ‘free’ products because there was something involved/expected that I didn’t agree with. It can be one of many things – I may not have enjoyed the product or agreed with some of the claims that were being made. Maybe they didn’t want to pay me what I was willing to work for, or they wouldn’t allow me to disclose that it was a paid project.
This is, as you may be able to imagine, a tricky thing to do if you have a four year relationship with the brand manager/pr person and you hope to continue working with them – and also if you’re trying to make some extra money. But integrity is something you can’t get back once you’ve lost it, so I suck it up and explain it as well as I can and hope for the best. In most cases it turns out fine, but it has cost me some brand relationships. It’s not easy, but there’s nothing I can do about this – it’s the way I choose to roll.
I’m Too Poor For This, Apparently
So imagine my dismay when I start picking up loose ends of discussions where it’s suggested that reviews of press samples should be valued less than reviews of paid-for products. Don’t get me wrong – when I see rave reviews on the most mundane products that I’ve tried and tossed** and I see that wishy washy content shared over and over by brands and fellow bloggers alike, I get ANGRY. Like, probably too angry. But what baffles me more is that I am now being penalised (let’s be honest, mostly by fellow bloggers and influencers) for not being able to afford to spend a couple of grand on cosmetics every month.
There are two reasons I don’t spend much on cosmetics lately: I can’t afford it and I can’t justify it. I’m a (reasonably) responsible adult – if I have to choose between filling up my car’s massive diesel tank or buying a new eyeshadow palette, it’s obviously going to be the former. As much as I am obsessed with fragrances, it has to be a very special occasion for me to buy myself a new bottle because I own almost 50 and that is just excessive no matter how you look at it. I’m not going to go buy my favourite cleanser straight away if I have three options that are waiting to be tested – it just doesn’t make any sense.
I realise that blogging mostly from press samples can look like the greatest thing on earth but let me tell you, it’s not all that wonderful. Let’s start by calling a spade a spade – they’re not freebies. They’re products that are sent to you for consideration. Someone else ideally wants something from you in return for them. You don’t (or very rarely, rather) get to choose what is sent to you. The more things you receive, the more pressure you’re under because honestly, unless you regurgitate press releases for a living there’s no way you’re featuring them all.
I’ve tried to calculate, and I would say that I feature a pretty small percentage of what I’m sent – it can vary from anything between a quarter to a tenth. If the math sounds a little wonky, bear in mind that product type also plays a role – I may feature 70% of nail polishes I’m sent but only 10% of face creams, for example.
I am beyond the point of trying to find ways to feature products I’m on the fence about – for years now. I do not commit to featuring anything upfront. I don’t even test products that I think would be unsuitable – I will feature ones that look good in features like Beauty News though, because you don’t all have the same skin colour/hair type/makeup taste as I have.
I’m not trying to sound as if receiving press samples aren’t a cool thing – it’s obviously freaking amazing to rip open a box that contains the latest Chanel/MAC/Lancome makeup collection.
While there have been some temptations along the way, I’m proud to say I don’t write to keep brands happy – I write for whoever stumbles across (or subscribes to) my blog posts. I have some knowledge, opinions and wit on my side, and I’m not afraid to use it. Ironically this has made me gain favour with many brands that I’ve had long, mutually beneficial relationships with.
The Bottom Line
Yes, I do write mostly about products that have been sent to me – but I’ve never tried to hide that – see disclosure here if you haven’t yet. It doesn’t skew my view. It doesn’t make me feel that I have to say good things. For every one L’oreal/Dermalogica/Dove/Chanel/Lancome product you see on the blog there are three or four more press samples from the brand that didn’t make the cut.
I do not see featuring press samples as advertisements. It becomes an ad when I’m being compensated (whether with money or a gift of significant value that’s intended for me, not my blog) in exchange for featuring a specific product or brand. I’ve declared every single paid post I’ve ever done, and I’ll continue doing so even though I am under no legal obligation. I can’t tell you why some of my fellow bloggers decide not to disclose – that’s their business, not mine.
So. Do you agree with/accept my definition of what qualifies as advertisements? Do you need me to indicate more clearly which products are press samples***? Is there anything about the way I blog/or the way others blog that puts you off? I’d love to hear from you whether you’re a reader, blogger or both.
*Today is the day I plan to get up and get dressed.
**Just because I didn’t like it doesn’t mean it’s crap. But sometimes it actually is and you know it.
***It’s 90% of products featured on my blog
PS – I also wrote this post on ethics in blogging more than three years ago. Still pretty relevant.