The Price of Free Toothpaste: Mom Blogging and Brand Ambassador Programs
What happens when a giant, multinational corporation decides to pay brand ambassadors in free product and “fun opportunities”? A case study.
The back story:
I received an email a couple months ago inviting me to spend a day at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto learning about various Proctor and Gamble brands. Joining this “blogger ambassador” program would involve displaying a P&Gmom badge on my blog, writing and tweeting about the event and the products and regularly sharing news about new products and promotions and hosting giveaways.
The invitation closed with this paragraph, “As a P&Gmom, you’re part of our family. Throughout the year, you’ll be involved in unique programs, be first to try new products and have access to our experts. Our hope is that by providing these opportunities, you’ll share your experience with your readers.” How heartwarming.
Now, I’m not necessarily opposed to providing a brand with cheap publicity, if I think there’s something in it for me and if the brand is a good fit. I’m hustling for a freelance buck any way I can. So I replied to the email and asked for clarification. These future opportunities? Would they be paid? Even if I didn’t get paid for my time at the Four Seasons, I might consider joining the program if it meant a series of sponsored posts or some other form or payment down the road.
The response I got was this: “The P&Gmom blogger ambassador program does not involve monetary compensation, although involvement involves compensation with exclusive access to events, products and other exciting opportunities.”
But even if, hypothetically, they were willing to pay me, I still would have had a decision to make. They were asking me to become a brand ambassador, to link my name with their brands and to proudly display their badge on my blog. They were asking for an ongoing relationship in which I would be a mouthpiece for their brands. So even if they were offering to pay me (which they weren’t), I would have done a lot of research and asked a lot of questions before deciding if that was something I was willing to do.
I declined to join the ambassador program, but many others did join. And, honestly, I don’t judge. A day at the Four Seasons, for me, would mean a giant childcare headache, a subway commute downtown and then being home in time to cook dinner. If I was getting flown in from another city and put up in a swanky hotel for a night, it might have been a different story. Who knows?
And, full disclosure, I often go to brand events and throw up a few tweets with their hashtag in exchange for whatever experience I’m getting and I don’t usually do any research or ask any tough questions. If I am promoting a product on my blog or getting paid to do a sponsored post, I do a quick Google background check looking for any controversies or PR disasters I should be aware of. But I can certainly do better. My standards are mediocre at best.
There are a couple smart mom bloggers, however, who hold us all to a higher standard. Annie from PhDinParenting is one woman who doesn’t believe in giving brands a free ride – and certainly not giant, multinational corporations with whom we entrust the health and safety of our families. And when Annie starts asking questions, her 66, 278 Twitter followers and countless blog readers tend to listen.
So Annie got wind of the P&Gmom program (which is happening today, by the way), and started voicing some concerns. Here’s a taste:
And my favourite because Irene would totally eat these.
Moms have a powerful voice. Use it to ask tough questions and demand answers, not just to get free stuff. #pgmom
We’ll see what happens, but somehow I don’t think the P&Gmoms are feeling quite as special as they did when they first got the email that read, “We have scoured the Canadian blogger landscape to find the top 40 influential and upcoming bloggers and found you.” I mean, it’s flattering, it really is. Hey, I had an “aw, shucks” moment when I read that.
The lessons, so far:
Mom bloggers, if you are going to link your name and your blog to a giant corporation, you do have to be ready to answer tough questions (or at least ask them). I would love to see more bloggers standing up for their own worth and demanding that big, multi-billion dollar corporations pay them for their trouble.
Repeat after me, mom bloggers, “I will not work for toothpaste.”
Brands, you do get what you pay for. If you want spokespeople who are going to be able to respond to questions like Annie’s with poise and to deliver your message eloquently, accurately and effectively, you are going to have to really do your research, find the perfect fit and then make it worth their while.
Because Annie and others like her are not going to stop doing what they do. In fact, you should probably start listening to their concerns.
Cross-posted from my blog http://playgroundconfidential.com