06 June 2008

Marketers Vs Food Bloggers

As I sit at the computer
nursing Mr Stickyfinger's dying Siamese cat, I wonder how long she can hang on as she drifts in and out of consciousness. In this tiny old skeletal creature, the organs are gradually shutting down. I know not her pain, I have no idea what is going on in her mind, I just know that her time is coming.

A sad as I am,
I realise that this is also an appropriate analogy to describe the average Marketer's perspective of Food Bloggers. Marketers generally don't understand what motivates us but they appear to like us - as one might well like a friend's pet.

When talking to Marketing clients and advertising people, I find the word 'Blogger' results either in eyes glazing over or the wistful expression of looking at a friend's racehorse and thinking 'I could make some money if I got my hands on that beast'. Those in the latter group know our time is coming and seek to capitalise on harnessing Bloggers web content while most Bloggers are still innocent enough to give it away for free.

The online advertising dollar in the UK & USA is gradually cannibalising the once holy grail of advertising, Television commercials. Companies are getting more savvy about how to flog their merchandise by advertising online and by using clever cost saving techniques that are cheaper than - and give them better results than - epic mega-buck TV ads.

Should they also build a site around a product,
what becomes expensive is paying Professional Writers like myself to provide the large volume of content required to fuel a corporate website. Out of this comes the search for free content and the first idea that pops into the Digital Marketing head is to create an online community around a branded website where users are bombarded with product advertising - subtle or otherwise.

It's fair enough, after all search engines' highest sought items, after porn, are recipes. But not content to gradually develop a relationship with core customers and recipe hunters to fuel their site with forum chit-chat and recipe exchange, some companies seek to scrape blog content, sometimes by issuing flattering emails to Bloggers, while others ask for contribution in exchange for promotional products or the chance to win a competition.

Today, I received the following email from Kraft Foods and wondered whether Google - who own Blogger and Blogspot - had provided a list of their Australian Food Blogs and email addresses to the mega corporation.

Hi Stickyfingers,

Vegie Pourover Buzz
is an Ambassador website aimed at promoting balanced nutrition. It’s all about providing practical solutions to the challenges people face getting kids to eat Vegies. We came across your blog and thought you might be interested in what we're doing. We'd like to invite you to participate as an Ambassador in the program.

Kraft is about to launch a new product in Australia called ‘Vegie Pourover’ and Ambassadors will receive all four flavours to trial (absolutely free). Participants are not required to provide feedback or engage in surveys, most importantly we hope that a real-life community and resource evolves to support people faced with kids nutrition challenges. Plus there’s lots of great incentives for being involved.

We hope Vegie Pourover Buzz will encourage Ambassadors to experiment with the product and to share these experiences with other Ambassadors and friends.

Inside, there's lots of really useful information, including expert nutrition advice and great meal ideas. To register, visit http://www.vegiepouroverbuzz.com.au.

Thanks, we hope to see you in the Program!

In this instance, they not only want your thoughts for free to fuel their site, but they also want you to espouse their soon to be launched product, after playing with their processed pantry item in your kitchen. In return you will be recognised as an 'Ambassador'. Hopefully you'll even feature their products in some of the creations you post on your blog too.

The site is thinly disguised as promoting healthy eating by encouraging the consumption of vegetables. But this entails using a packet of sauce, which no doubt is full of unnecessary garbage. If you register with them you might even win a subscription to an Australian food magazine. Obviously they have no idea that many Food Bloggers eschew Food mags in favour of reading other food blogs.

My suggestion is don't give great chunks of your time, your thoughts and words for free to a corporation - that like Kraft - has a gross annual revenue in the area of US$3.48Billion. If you're advertising their goods, you should be paid for it, and don't be fooled or flattered into believing otherwise.

Have you been approached to provide content on a big brand advertiser's website or to promote a retail product on your blog?
Share your story.


grocer said...

Yes, I too received this email, and posted on it accordingly.

stickyfingers said...

In the past I've also been approached by various liquor companies who have asked me to write a post about their product - without even sampling it. Now that's audacity!

Anonymous said...

I haven't received that email (thankfully), but I have had a few requests from marketers. Urgh, it just makes my skin crawl.

I've also had a bit of marketing happening in my blog comments. One such example was Gingerboy . A pattern of rather glowing comments was received, and my bullshit detector went right off.

Also, I commented positively once on Alfajores, and had a couple of emails requesting free products for comments. I don't think so.

I've also been approached by a couple of marketing firms to blog everything from absinthe to a couple of new restaurants. Once again, I don't think so.

stickyfingers said...

Thanks Mellie, hopefully on hearing your experiences we will collectively hone our bullshit Detectors. The negative impact of these careless Marketing tactics must have some knock on effect.

In Marketing theory you are supposed to understand your target audience before constructing your strategy, but I suppose that there as yet has been no reports profiling the Australian Food Blogger, and I think that we are underestimated.

Because it is still a fairly new phenomenon here, most Aussie Food Bloggers IMHO are certainly deeper thinkers than many of our counterparts in the USA. I'm presuming that Aussie FMCG/F&B companies are doing copycat strategies based on the US experience and are bundling us in with them.

I knew of a woman who encouraged her fashion client, Spencer Lacy, to do Stealth Marketing via the comments sections of fashion blogs. She felt that it would be a good extension of her PR plan and had a guy write them in the guise of a woman, even setting up a facebook group to approach people. God knows how much untold damage she did to the market's perceptions of the brand.

Anonymous said...

I'm regularly approached by companies, mostly in the US, to promote products. It's obvious from the approaches they haven't looked at my blog and know nothing about me - so it's obviously the result of googling or some blog marketing list.

The success of some internet campaigns have given the impression it's easy to market online. Get a few bloggers involved, get a clip on You Tube and you too can "go viral".

Is it laziness of naivety?

I also received the email you're discussing. Yes I have blogged about the importance of kids (and adults) eating more vegetables, but even a cursory glance over my posts would show I'm not a suitable candidate.

stickyfingers said...

WOW, Kathryn even a cursory glance at your blog would make it clear that you are not a likely candidate for flogging processed food products.

The number of approaches I have received from Marketers has risen sharply since signing on for Google Analytics, which leads me to believe that Google are selling lists to Marketers. Marketers should however consider that they should be asking for more targeted data than just a blanket list of Food Blogs.

Jackie Middleton said...

I got something else this morning...
"Hi Elliot

I have just stumbled across your blog and really enjoyed reading it. You have a great writing style incorporate some excellent photos.

I would like to invite you write on mytaste.com.au. This would be a great way to gain exposure for Eating with Jack as you are welcome to link back to it from myTaste.

My personal name on mytaste is Brent C. - if you have a look around you will see me there. Drop by and say hi. If you do end up registering on mytaste i will add myself as a fan of you and therefore be notified whenever you do a review.

If you like I can arrange to have all of your reviews imported into the site for you without you doing all of the copying and pasting – just give me the word. Thanks for the great dining tips.



7 June 2008 13:04:00

"Jack said...
Don't you hate it when the cut and paste lets you down, Brent.
My name is Jack not Elliot but I'm sure you don't care, as I bet this another company trying to steal bloggers ideas like Grocer and Sticky have been talking about...
oh...and no thanks

This is from the comments on my latest post. He even stuffed up the changing of the name on the cut and paste!!

Anonymous said...

Well! I'm feeling downright neglected. I haven't had any marketing spam like this. boohoo. I *have* had a few direct, personal approaches for things of varying relevance, plus a message from a company in Dubai asking about import opportunities (?!). Sticky, I use Google Analytics as well, so I'm not sure if that is the source of your woes. There are many other lists of bloggers which could be used similarly.

Pour on that veggie goop and be merry!

Anonymous said...

I think sticky that this might just be the tip of the iceberg. Pretty soon we'll see many more attempts like these to infilrate the market that reads these blogs.

GS said...

A bit late to this one but yes I got approached too. I've been noticing more and more this kind of thing going on. In the US at least savvy marketers are beginning to tap blogs for advertising and recruitment.

But on the local scene, did you get a comment from the recent buddhist/vegetarian event at Fed Square. They cut and pasted a few of us, perhaps targeting Melbourne based blogs with a vego bias. That was clever rather than offensive

Y said...

What, so you're not going to tell us all about the four flavours of Vegie Pourover? :)

I notice some bloggers get offered free cookbooks by publishers, to be reviewed. What are your thoughts on that?

stickyfingers said...

Duncan - I suspect that it is my being a Blogspot Blog on Google Analytics that put me on the database sold to Kraft.

Jack - Scraping seems to be becoming very popular, but what site developers like Brent haven't done is bother to get into the heads of a Blogger before approaching them. On the other hand, Duncan seems to have succeeded with a number of bloggers on behalf of borrowing content for I Eat, I Drink, I Work and I doubt that in the long term, any of them will benefit from advertising revenue generated by that site.

Gobbler - you're right. There will be an increasing amount of approaches and some will be won on flattery, while others will win with the promise of feeding traffic back to the blog. Ultimately it's at the Bloggers discretion whether they embrace this. Personally I don't think that the big US brands are a good match to Ausssie blogs and I hate the notion that they think they can get free publicity from us.

Y - The book market is a hard one to crack in terms of advertising. I think Blog reviews of them are ideal, as long as the publishers are prepared to get some negative reviews in the process.

Bloggers should keep in mind that they must be objective in their review and not feel that they must talk up the book just because they got a freebie. They should also state that they were approached to review the book.

In terms of gifting items to be reviewed, if you are going to review something and give it publicity, getting the item - and more - for free would be the least the publisher/marketer can do for you.

It's no different to Fashion Designers giving clothes to celebrities for wearing in public. You too would be giving the book/product a red carpet outing to a highly desirable and select audience of like-minded people who are difficult to access with conventional advertising & PR.

Anonymous said...

I get these sorts of marketing emails all the time - they used to drive me batshit crazy but it's happened so much that it just doesn't annoy me as much anymore. Instead of ignoring them, I reply with my own form letter:

"Please be advised that I am not interested in receiving these sorts of unsolicited form letters. If you would like to purchase direct advertising, please contact me to discuss."

I figure it lets them know what I think of their promotional efforts and that if they want me to advertise their shit on the blog, they can bloody well pay for it.

Anonymous said...

hi, thanks for dropping by my blog ...

stickyfingers said...

Thanks Ellie & Duckie.

Ellie you are spot on with your form letter. If more bloggers did this, then a clear message would be sent to marketers about their advances being inappropriate.

stickyfingers said...

BTW my latest approach for free blog publicity came simply in this form:


I stumbled upon a food quiz that you and your readers might be interested in.

Its at http://www.menulog.com.au/quiz



Anonymous said...

Sticky, I hadn't seen your negative comment, above, about I Eat I Drink I Work until this evening. I really don't think it's fair of you to speculate about anything in regard to that site, as you aren't involved and you know nothing about the plans for its development. Unlike a number of other venues on the web, I Eat I Drink I Work doesn't offer inducements to come on board and has close contact with the very restricted set of bloggers who are featured. The site is doing something innovative and inclusive. (I'm the Commissioning Editor for the site, for those who don't know.) I'm disappointed you chose to disparage this project without asking me about these issues first. If you want to discuss this further, you already have my direct contact details.

stickyfingers said...

Duncan, sweetpea, perhaps you were tired when you read my comment? It was not disparaging - on the contrary. I praise you for understanding what makes Bloggers tick before approaching them on behalf of a third party that wishes to use their content on their site, unlike Brent.

Do you not recall that you also approached me in regards to using my content? I have sufficient understanding.

As an Advertising and Marketing professional, I am regularly immersed in the drama that companies have in trying to reach their exact target market. I am well aware of why many turn to sourcing content from elsewhere, as I have stated in the post. The point I make is it is at the discretion of each and every Blogger as to how they guard their intellectual property.

I merely warn that there should be financial compensation for PR solicited by multinational conglomerates who can well afford to pay for traditional media and online advertising.

For myself I have been approached by a number of sites to scrape some of my blog content. I have signed on with FoodBuzz, but have not had time to consider the other proposals.

I am not against it, but the sites I choose will ultimately have synergy with my own philosophies and allow me to continue to write under a pseudonym, which facilitates the demarcation between my blogging and my professional activities.

Anonymous said...

I do appreciate the clarification, Sticky, but the original sentence does read as though you're dissing the site's intentions. I wouldn't be involved in the project if I thought it were exploitative, and some bloggers are already benefiting professionally from their association. It just shows that not every approach (though perhaps most) is about abusing the IP of bloggers.

On a more pleasant topic (well no, not really, but about evil marketing...), the NAB has engaged in some interesting blog-spamming tactics recently. (It was written up on Crikey.com, but it's subscriber-only.) Apparently NAB regards blogs as fair game for any marketing spam they want to dump in your comments. Charming. Utterly shameless.

stickyfingers said...

Duncan Pet, I hope the wound will heal very soon. A cup of tea, a macaron and a lie down usually works a treat for me ;)

I have worked with NAB's Marketing team in the past on various facets of their business. But they are now with an Ad Agency that touts full service across all forms of advertising. However, my latest encounter with the digital company - that the ad agency purchased to facilitate their boast - showed that they had little savvy beyond building nice looking pages.

Your remark makes me wonder whether this digital team are aware of the privacy and spamming laws in Australia? Most of my clients are very wary, with lawyers involved at every step of the process - after all we live in litigious times.