Blogger Rumi Neely stars in Forever 21 ad campaign
If you remember the days of Livejournal, you know what the dawn of blogging was like. It was completely independent opinion, free from the constraints of sponsor reliability and advertisements that had become a part of every other form of media at the time.
As blogging got more sophisticated with platforms like WordPress and Blogspot, blogs got bigger. The cost of starting one was basically nil, you could sort of personally interact with your favorite bloggers through comments and sharing, and though not journalistically pristine, blogs highlighted something because they thought it was cool, not because they were assigned to cover it.
Then they started amassing huge followings. Thousands of people would read certain fashion blogs daily, and as they grew, they started seeing the same treatment as magazine editors: free stuff, quote requests and fashion week invites.
The reason brands started sniffing out bloggers in the first place was that blogs were regarded as uncompromised, wide reaching voices, and that you could get away with sending a blogger product samples and get close to the same coverage you would by buying ads or sending samples to editors. Have a real human being with a following promote your stuff is ideal, and so companies started essentially paying bloggers for cult status.
As blogging transitioned from being a hobby to being a full-time job, a lot of bloggers saw what they were doing as a perk of their job, without discussing it with their readers outright.
We have recently reached a point where it’s difficult to distinguish between bloggers who are mouthpieces for brands and marketers, and those who are actually enthusiastic about what they’re writing about for reasons other than they got it for free.
The important difference is this: a blogger in the front row of a fashion show has been invited under the expectation that they will positively promote the show. Even if it sucks. Even if they send a men’s rugby team wearing paper bags down the runway, it will be called genius by someone who has a few hundred thousand eyes on them.
This is brilliant for labels and advertisers; it’s not so brilliant when the critical waters are getting muddied by all of the indiscriminate “OMG I LOVE” out there.
There have been stories about brands bullying bloggers into writing glowing reviews about stuff that probably shouldn’t be written about, but for every blogger who discloses something like that, there are probably five who caved and wrote the advertorial.
But the question comes down to whether or not bloggers were ever really independent journalists in the first place?
In essence, sharing your opinion in the real world is as impactful as how many people you know.
Bloggers share their opinions on the internet, where the social webs are much broader, but any responsibility to their readers is something they set forth and adhere to themselves. So if they want to have a site that’s all paid promotional content, they can do it.
So when you’re reading your favorite fashion blogs, here are some things to look out for to make sure you’re not actually reading a big ol’ product pitch.
1. Growth. Click on back through the archive to their very first posts and take a peek at what they were wearing, where they were going, and what they wrote about. If the direction of the blog suddenly moved from H&M, local shows and getting coffee with friends to Valentino, runways and hanging out with Bryan Boy with little to no explanation, it’s a red flag that maybe somebody’s been getting sponsored without telling. Keep that in mind when they gush about products.
2. Look for a post about their ethics. Granted, not a lot of bloggers do this, but some do. They’ll tell you that they don’t accept unsolicited freebies or they won’t push a product without telling you where it came from. You can pick some of this up by checking out how they write and credit what they wear.
3. A crapload of giveaways? Probably a crapload of sponsors. Giveaways are lovely (who doesn’t like free stuff?), but they’re also a telltale sign that the blogger gets a lot of freebies in the mail. Though they certainly get points for sharing, keep your eyes open for those brands in future reviews.
4. Beware the advertorial. If all of a sudden there’s a post about a handbag that seems written in marketing speak and completely does not jibe with the rest of the blog, it’s probably the same as when you see those sneaky magazine-layout ads in print mags. Don’t trust ‘em.
5. If you think it’s an uncredited promotion posing as a review, say something. The beautiful thing about most blogs is that you can comment right on the page—so do it. A simple “This sounds a helluva a lot like an ad” would probably be sufficient to make most smaller bloggers think twice about trying to pull one over on their readers. And maybe it will help with those shifty advertisers, too.