Bloggers v Brands – Who’s Using Who?

by Katie on June 22, 2013

While there’s been much discussion in the social media hub re bloggers or rather, newbie bloggers (disingenuously termed by some as ‘blaggers’), solely taking to the keypad in a bid to gain free product from brands (often with unwarranted accusation, may I say), there’s little written about the process in reverse – when brands actively set out to take advantage of bloggers and social media.
Two key events this week have made me question just how far out on a limb brands or agencies will go to use social media and bloggers to further their own aims with little in it for the blogger/writer bar fun. As the Gwen Guthrie song goes, “Ain’t nothing going on but the rent.” ie. Fun don’t pay bills nor add to hard earned respect.
Thursday night saw Selfridges launch an ingenious marketing & PR ploy by staging what was termed ‘the first interactive ad campaign’. In short, a crowd of 300 bloggers and industry insiders were invited to a hush hush event (we weren’t told exactly what the format of the event would be beforehand and what or how many would be involved) to launch Selfridges huge new denim area via social media courtesy of a mass photo-shoot with Jourdan Dunn & Rosie Tapner. 
As spectacular stunts go for the brand it was pretty much a gargantuan win and a coup in terms of marketing and PR. Invite well-known social media users (by stroking their ego or telling them little) to a fairly low-cost event staged in an area you already own and by providing bells & whistles (manicures, food, beer, slush margaritas) and then, once they’ve signed away their image and usage-rights on the door, use their work not only as part of the campaign but actively encourage them to promote it to the brand’s benefit as well. Then, encourage the myriad of social media to blog about said event, creating even more column inches. Ingenious and inspired certainly, in terms of creating hype and using a media group to the brand’s aims. But was this way too one-sided? 
Readers, this is where it gets interesting. Ruminating on this ‘fun’ event later on in the evening, I can honestly say there was a slightly bitter taste in my mouth and it wasn’t the blue margaritas. I highly suspected I’d just been used – like a cheap date when you should have known better. In fact, I’d even go to say, I’d lost a little of my faith and trust in a brand I view as a market leader, whom I love working with and highly respect. But do they respect me? In fact, do they respect bloggers & social media or just regard them as cheap media fodder and as promotional means to an end? Can you really see the same thing happening with professional photographers or print media? No, me neither. As part of a wider appraisal on marketing techniques and campaigns aimed at social media, there appears to be an inherent lack of respect for the blogger and their value. Combined with lack or clarity or transparency of purpose pre the event in this particular instance (sold to the recipient as pre-event hype but in actuality, masking the reality), it all seemed one-sided to the nth.
It seems that bloggers are still viewed like downmarket supermarket own label goods with ‘value added’ commerciality rather than respected and lauded for their uniqueness, their originality, their tone of voice and content. But we have to take responsibility for our actions – choose when to say no rather than jump through hoops and let our hearts not rule our heads.

Cue my second example. At least Selfridges #denimlovers marketing campaign was truly ingenious, original and used as a means to an end – the promotion of the store’s new denim dept.

Today saw the powers that be at Regent Street use a similar promotional premise but in a much more obvious ‘hit-you-over-the-head-and-hope-you-don’t-have-any-sense’ manner.
Described as “a digital shopping event for professional bloggers taking place on 22nd June 2013. This one day event will bring these savvy social media influencers from across the globe together with Regent Street’s top fashion and lifestyle brands.”

Now, the fact that we are in the midst of sale season so this isn’t about promoting newness nor basing the event around a meaningful launch (whether advertising or a personal appearance etc) means that the context is skewed from the start. ie. There needs to be a valid reason for an event to feel legitimate. Add to that lots of in-store product promotions on regularly available product and we have to concur, what’s new to see that we haven’t seen before? Yet again, bloggers and social media are invited to a ‘fun’ day of trailing from store to store (on a Saturday no less) to create digital hype for the brands out of loyalty and little much else. Performing monkeys spring to mind, anyone? And all to free promote during a sales dip in one of our capital’s favourite shopping streets. I’m all for commercialism and promotions but not, quite literally, at my time & expense, thank you very much.

#RegentTweet is nothing more, nothing less than a marketing ploy and hype to boost like-for-like sales, midst recession. Good luck to them, but again, transparency is key. To sell a promotional ploy to a media group as an idea that will benefit them is nothing short of smoke & mirrors marketing with the benefit all one-sided to the retailer. Again, bloggers are seen as a cheap promotional tool who don’t, it appears, know their true advertising worth en masse. So why don’t they?

Bloggers, I urge you to consider your value and see yourself as a collective rather than an individual. We only have ourselves to blame if we submit to devaluing our work, our worth and ‘going with the flow’ for an easy life. As it’s not. We all have to make a living and earn our respect individually and that is what is being disregarded. Great PRs and brands recognise this and there’s a clear and fair trade-off on both sides.

Bloggers Beware. Professionalism and self respect is hard won but easily lost. You are your own brand so don’t sell it out so easily. What say you?

Please feel free to comment below, thank you.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Sara T June 22, 2013 at 4:50 pm

This is SUCH an amazing post! I fully agree, and have been ‘used’ by Selfridges myself, well done!

Off to share on every social media I can find!

Sara – Pretty In Pink

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Ondo Lady June 22, 2013 at 5:43 pm

From what I gathered bloggers were invited down to Regent Street (some were even transported in by Eurostar) and were given vouchers to pick up goodie bags from participating stores. On top of this they were treated to breakfast and dinner at various eatries. If you calculate the costs per head and the traction that each store gains I wonder who is benefitting the most. Either way if a PR invited me to an event where I was wined and dined, got to hear a top blogger speak and pick up loads of goodie bags along the way from great stores all in exchange for a few tweets and a blog post, I know what I would choose. Some PRs and brands do indeed take advantage of bloggers but I don’t think that the Regent Street event is an example of this.

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Katie Chutzpah June 22, 2013 at 6:19 pm

I disagree. It’s very loose marketing concept when creating an event around a like-for- like sales dip period (last year pre Olympics and a wet early Summer) when there’s no new product or no news in general to discuss. Social media are actually presented with ‘smoke & mirrors; or sold a lot of hot air to blog about when in reality there is no story. But we do all have to self regulate and ask, ‘why am I doing this?’ and ‘Is this news?’ That’s why print media were not targeted.

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Ondo Lady June 22, 2013 at 6:25 pm

I disagree. Social Media is not always about news, sometimes the aim is to create awareness about the brand and create hype about it. Journalism is about news but Social Media is not – it is a marketing tool.

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Katie Chutzpah June 22, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Personally, and as a long time big influential campaign marketeer, it both devalues the brand AND the people reporting it, if it isn’t actually a meaningful campaign to the consumer and the media.

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