Promotional Method: Sponsored Posts That Aren’t Technically Sponsored Posts
There’s a tactic for promotion in blogs that has been gaining popularity about which I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, it annoys the crap out of me that bloggers who do this assume nobody can connect the dots. But on the other hand I’m kind of impressed with their ingenuity, too, so I’m not above saying that maybe this is a good idea to do, given you have certain goals and certain priorities, particularly since so many brand/blogger campaigns seem to gain success from it. At this point, it’s tough to predict what the ultimate effect on trust capital will be, if there is any.
Here’s how it works: say you’re a blogger who has some kind of gathering coming up — a party, or a conference, for which you are soliciting sponsors. Or, maybe you already had the event, and you have a list of sponsors who were promoted at that event that you’d like to keep happy. So what you do is, you mention that brand in your blog (or blogs, if you write in multiple places). And the mention is sort of organic, right? Because maybe you actually use the product and actually want to evangelize about it.
Except . . . then the product shows up a few months later in a gift bag at a party you are throwing. Or, the company that makes the product ends up as a sponsor of your event. You can’t really say these things happened because you evangelicized about them, and you definitely cannot call them sponsored posts because it’s most likely no money changed hands for that particular interaction. But . . . still. It’s not exactly disinterested promotion.
Example No. 1: Tieks
For example . . . Tieks. If you’re not familiar with Tieks, they are a brand of ballet slippers that were given away to the attendees of the Mighty Summit last year. Except just a few months before that, in an ostensibly unrelated move, Tieks were mentioned on Mighty Girl, the blog written by Maggie Mason, one of the founders of the Mighty Summit. And just recently, Tieks were mentioned on the blog Laura Mayes (another Mighty Summit co-founder) writes for Babble, along with a coupon to get 15% off.
In both of these cases, there is no disclosure of a relationship between the blogger and the brand. And I don’t think there should be, at least according to the way the FCC rules work. But on the other hand, I don’t see this shit flying in the New York Times.
Example No. 2: OPI nail polish
Did you notice that Number 25 on Allison Czarnecki’s life list is to “Name an Opi Nail polish color“? I’ve always found OPI polish’s names kind of interesting — not sure I’d put it on my life list, necessarily, but who am I to judge? Except . . . the Social Luxe party (organized by Czarnecki) gave out OPI nail polishes in their swag bag last year, which is fine because maybe Allison is a huge fan of OPI — many people are. But what about the fact that OPI also appears in a gift guide (along with some Aveda products, which I also received in a gift bag last year from the Social Luxe party), and a mention of a new Fall line of OPI polishes also warranted a whole post. , and . .? Are the two things unrelated? And the fact that OPI was a sponsor of the EVO Conference last year (a conference that Allison Czarnecki is in some way connected to, though I’m not clear on the precise terms) . . . is that unrelated? You tell me.
By the way, there are tons of other examples of this — I am singling these out because they are the easiest for me to document, but I’ve seen this happen again and again in blogs recently, spread among a wide population of bloggers. And in nearly every case, this method of promotion is wildy successful — I’d venture to guess that it’s far more successful (and cheaper) than a traditional sponsored post campaign, in fact. There’s part of me that thinks that this is just how things are done. But then, I also wonder if it will have an effect on a blogger’s credibility long term if they lean too much on this kind of officially unsponsored sponsored post to promote their other projects.
What do you think? Am I being stodgy again? Is this just how things are done, and I should go back to my ivory tower? Does it bother you when you see this stuff cropping up again and again? Do you even notice it?