Four years ago yesterday, I wrote my first post on RedWineRunner. You can hop back then and have a look if you like; but the content isn’t great, I rather cringingly refer to ‘the blogosphere’, fangirl over US Healthy Living Blogs, and post far too many badly shot selfies. Oh the heady heights of 2010… a lot has changed about blogging since then, and after a while I like to think that my content took somewhat of an upward swing on the quality trajectory, especially as I realised quite how much bullshit those Healthy Living Blogs were full of.
After a while, I realised that these bloggers didn’t just love the products they were talking about; they were actually being sent them for free! This was before the days of the FTC guidelines on disclosure were made law in the States (read about this on Social Media Explorer HERE, and read the in-depth .pdf if you want more) and I felt betrayed and tricked by these bloggers. I began to view them in a totally different light, and like many critical readers it wasn’t long until I found my way to Get Off My Internets, where I found that I wasn’t the only one giving Healthy Living Bloggers the major side-eye and found out how many of these bloggers were manipulating and lying to their audience.
Fast forward three years and right now, I’m still in a love hate relationship with the blogging world. After I got fed up with the constant product shilling on US running blogs, I found a load of smaller UK running blogs which were far more relatable. I loved how reading these newer blogs was the absolute opposite of the American blogging scene; they were the real alternative to corporate publications at the newsagents with real runners writing about real struggles and gains in their training and diet, with no adverts, product placements, or sponsoring.
Oh, but bloggers. My dear bloggers. Where have you gone? Another couple of years later and 50% of my Feedly at any given time is filled with sponsored posts from blogs that used to be personal and a delight to read. We have now reached absolute peak sponsored content and I cannot keep a lid on my annoyance about this any more. If the majority of your posts are promoting products or sponsored content, then you’ve really lost the voice which drew your audience in in the first place. The whole point of your once-unique blog is being lost and blurred into an anonymous sea of advertorial vessels. I am unsubscribing and stopping reading left, right, and centre.
I have a folder in feedly entitled ‘uk running blogs’ and looking through the posts in the last few weeks, this is what is being pitched at me:
Nuun, Spogo, Nakd bars, Kinesiology tape, Oatmeal, Chia seeds, Coconut water, yogurt, fitbugs, hairbands, Unilite head lights, Nathan hi-viz gadgets, Juicers, Quorn cooking classes, Sweaty Betty, Concerts, Holidays, Broadband offers, Go Pros, Endless London overpriced boutique fitness classes, crackpot nutritional supplements, undisclosed free race entries, free race entries that are only disclosed right at the end of the 1000 word post telling you how great the race is, MORE free race entries, brand ambassadorships, sponsored advertorials, and of course the ubiquitous free trainers and tonnes of kit from brands that no-one’s heard of…but are sure to be #thenextbestthing. #runhappy #lightupyourrun #elevateyourrun #sweatpink #fitfluential #hashtagitoryoudontgetpaid?
To a certain extent, I don’t have a problem with the odd product review whether sponsored or not as it’s always interesting to see what’s new on the market, but when UK bloggers are carpet bombed with the same item at the same time it’s insufferable and I don’t read the posts. There’s also an issue with a lack of blogger integrity – if your blog is about running and fitness, why are you advertising something that is completely irrelevant to your topic? Everyone has a price I guess – I’ve turned down several paid product advertisements/giveaways because the product had nothing to do with running, fitness or a healthy lifestyle. But would I have done the same if I was totally broke? You’ve got to make your crust however you can, but you still owe it to yourself not to sell out your own ‘product’ for someone else’s benefit.
There’s also the issue of non-disclosure, or very veiled disclosure, which is totally boiling my blood at the moment. These days most bloggers are well aware that the requirements of the advertising standards agency means they must disclose clearly when a product has been provided to them for free, whether they have been compensated for the review, or whether the entire post has been sponsored. Keeping this clear upfront makes it nice and easy for me to decide whether I want to grumpily scroll past yet another review of Adidas trainers, but it becomes a real irritant when disclosure is hidden at the bottom of a post.
I refer to the CAP code:
2.3: Marketing communications must not falsely claim or imply that the marketer is acting as a consumer or for purposes outside its trade, business, craft or profession; marketing communications must make clear their commercial intent, if that is not obvious from the context.
If I’ve just read a glowing 1000 word review of a new race, or shoe and get to the bottom and see in tiny letters that the product/free entry was provided by ‘your friends at X’ then I’m going to disregard a lot of what I’ve just read, because hiding the disclosure like this is disingenuous. It is not uncommon for marketing team to encourage bloggers to hide disclosure or make it appear as if their product was not gifted, which devalues the whole product to me. Incidentally – they are not your friends; they are a team of marketing vultures hired on behalf of the company to make as much money for them as possible for as little money as possible.
This has been a hard post to decide to publish, because it’s a total hand grenade and I risk pissing off a lot of bloggers I interact with who might read it – but I know I’m not the only one who feels like this. This blog has sat in my drafts since September, but some gurning on twitter with some other disenfranchised bloggers yesterday made me think that it was worth posting after all. There is a time and a place for blogger/brand collaboration, but the saturation of the UK blog scene with product right now is just too much for me and I’m declaring that I’m out.
Why, to be a ‘good’ blogger these days, do we all have to be ambassadors for something? Or working ‘in partnership’ with brands? Or fill our pages with giveaways and freebies? If I want to read a magazine there are plenty out there and I yearn for when this trend wanes and we get back to talking about ourselves and our training constantly. Narcissistic perhaps, but ultimately more interesting.
The last time I did a review was over a year ago when Salomon, a brand I know and respect, offered me a pair of trail shoes to review when I was actually in the market for buying some new ones. I decided this fitted in with my blog integrity and I was happy to accept the product and publish a review. I haven’t accepted anything else since and recently updated my PR/media policy page to reflect this – I’m just not interested in partaking in this circus any more. I’ve built this blog up over 4 years of quality writing and talking about issues which relate to my readers. Under no circumstances do I wish to dilute this creation by changing the kind of content I create, so this is a public declaration that I’m out of the game. Redwinerunner.com is not up for sale.
I would LOVE to get some discussion going in the comments below – please leave me your thoughts if you have any as I know I’m going against the grain here. I’m also aware of the irony of the fact that I’m currently studying Digital Marketing and that my new chosen career area is responsible for all of this nonsense, however; the more I learn about the right way to market something, the more these slithery black-hat PR hacks piss me off…