the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Would I Have Blogged With Integrity?

About a month ago, I attended the TCM Classic Film Festival with Sophia.   We received VIP passes (which cost about $1000 each), and had access to a Buick LaCrosse for the week.

For years, I have been making fun of your sponsored posts and blogging with integrity badges, so I was expecting someone to make a joke at my expense.  But no one did.  I guess you get more people unfollowing you on Twitter for making a breast-feeding joke than pimping Buick all week with those annoying hashtags.  Apparently, no one even blinks, or cares.

I contacted my snarkiest blogging friend and asked, “What’s up?!  I expected YOU to make a sarcastic comment.”

But no.  Even mean bloggers are nice when it comes to blogging opportunities.

“I didn’t want to screw anything up for you,” said Mr. Not Nice Blogger.  “This was General Motors!  Big time!”

Before I accepted the tickets, I knew I was going to have to act professional during the event, so I promised myself to wait a month, and then reveal “the true story” to my dear readers, exposing the conflicts that I had with the PR bullies out to steal my soul.

The month is now up, but sadly, I have no gossip.   It was all a positive experience.  I was really lucky to get the gig.  I even befriended one of the GM people on Twitter.

I was lucky in another way.  The product was a luxury car.    What could I say bad about it?   It had leather seats and top of the line accessories, and it drove perfectly.  I certainly wasn’t equipped to put it through a barrage of road tests, or test it on icy roads.   I spend most of my time in the car sitting in slow Los Angeles traffic listening playing with the XM satellite radio stations, and trying to convince Sophia that we should “do it” in the back seat so I could blog about it.   And my neighbor was jealous of my “new car.”  What could be better than that?

The big question remains — what if the car sucked?   Would I have had the “integrity” to say so on my blog?   Wouldn’t you see me as an asshole to accept free tickets and a free car, and then stab GM in the back?  What would be the point?  Wouldn’t I just be blacklisting myself from ever working with them again?

I’m no shining beacon of truth.  I would have probably said the ride was  comfortable if I was given a rickshaw for the week.  I was lucky that I was able to be honest with my  statements about the car.   I don’t know if I would have the balls to say anything bad about any product if I was first wined and dined by the company.

And would my readers really care what I said?  Probably not.  They all know that it is one big game.  I think many of us are beginning to see corporate sponsorship as a sign of success.   Would I work with GM again?  Absolutely!    Hey, why not have Sony sponsor next year’s Christmahanukwanzaakah Holiday concert?   Would you want that?   Would they be OK with that one blogger who sings a X-rated Christmas song?  Or a song titled F-U, Sony Christmas?

And what does this have to do with writing?  Not much.

And that is the big issue.  Can all these bloggers monetizing their blogs by becoming brand ambassadors keep their position with these corporations if they honestly say something critical about that company’s product or policy?  Or is it all just a game?


  1. Lotus / Sarcastic Mom

    Please tell me nobody has dibs on singing “F-U, Sony Christmas” yet.

  2. Adventures In Babywearing

    I think the majority of people would still paint as pretty of a picture as they could, and I don’t think that is the right thing to do.

    If I promised my readers that I would let them know how it went, I would be absolutely honest (much like I was when asked how it was taking a baby to blogher. I told the truth. Different circumstances, I guess, but I think you are taken more seriously by your peers if you don’t fake it through. Because we all can smell a fake.)

    I also think this is important so that when it IS a good experience, they will really believe you’re saying so because it’s your true account, much like you wrote about yours. 🙂 So glad you had a good time!


  3. Neil

    Lotus, I’m holding you to a promise that you sing that song next christmas.

  4. Neil

    Adventures — Maybe that just means I would be a crappy brand ambassador. Not for the company, but for my readers. I would always put the company first.

  5. V-Grrrl @ Compost Studios

    Lukewarm reviews send people to the product to decide for themselves. From a marketing and PR standpoint, a lukewarm review isn’t a disaster. And many corporate sponsors aren’t looking for a true review from a blogger, they just want a user experience. They want visibility more than an endorsement. (Of course it’s different for tech or specialty blogs).

    So really Neil, this is a big non-issue. When corporations put stuff out for review, they know the risks and benefits.

  6. Caitlin

    This is part of why I think this is a business model that can never really work 100%. It’s great for the advertiser, but not necessarily for the consumer. It’s also one of the reason that I, as an advertising reviewer, am not allowed to accept product samples as part of my job unless they are under a certain value (I think the general rule of thumb is $20). It diminishes the value of the review. Because you’re right. Objectivity is impossible when you’re being “bribed” with fantastic gifts.

  7. Kim

    As one who can barely be called a real blogger, I’ve never been asked to review a product or anything, but I’d love to. I would be honest without being an asshole, because I think that’s what the sponsor and the readers would expect. Oh and I’d try to not curse so much. : )

    Until a week or so ago I had never even fathomed or knew the experience of making money or getting something from my writing or posting. I actually made some money for a post I did at Craftastrophe and I was like “WOW so this is how it feels!”

    I can see where it could get addictive.

  8. Neil

    Caitlin… I should note that they didn’t ask me to review the car or expect me to do anything. Of course, I knew they wanted me to do it. But I think v-grrrl is right. It was more important to them to have brand identity than a car review. By me talking about classic movies and classic cars, it hopefully associated the word “Buick” with the terms hip but classic.

  9. Jack

    It can be done but whether it will or is depends on the blogger.

  10. Nat

    I was asked to review soap to clean sports clothing. It said it got the residual stink out. I found it didn’t and was 18 times more expensive than what I was using… and I blogged about it.

    I reckon as long as readers know that you were given free swag, and that you were asked to write about it… it’s all good.

  11. Kanani

    Well, I noticed you looked very good in the Buick LaCrosse.
    But I didn’t notice whether or not you had integrity. This escaped me altogether. Perhaps you should have had a “Check Box” on the screen as you were filming in the car. “Does Neilochka have integrity right now? Rate 1 – 10.”

  12. Rock and Roll Mama

    Neil, great question. And I love you for questioning yourself on this, as opposed to a simple hop on the gravy train.

    But my experiences with brands over the past year have been that more often, they prefer my feedback and insight than a specific shill of pimp of their product. (Or at least, they’re kind enough to not tell me to STFU and write on my lil blog.:) But by building those kinds of relationships, I’ve felt pretty satisfied (and well-compensated,as opposed to come opps. where ethically and FTC wise, I couldn’t accept money.) I hope your shenanigans keep taking you in whatever direction you want to go- I love to watch them.:) Holla!

  13. caron

    I wouldn’t be as concerned with how the companies respond to honest criticism, I’m wondering how you really felt writing those posts. You’ve only told how others responded. I know this is an issue you’ve wrestled with a lot, and I have to say I had an anxious feeling for you when I read them ’cause it seemed like something you didn’t really want to do. Though I thought the first part of that post didn’t feel as authentically “neil” as usual, you certainly made up for it by the end – which made me feel better for you.

    So maybe the question now is, was it easier or harder to write than a regular post? Would it cause an existential crisis every time you wrote for a sponsor? As long as your “Neilness” shines through and, you don’t have tacky flashing adds with automatic music (shudder) I’ll be here.

  14. Danny

    It was way easier than I thought it would be, helped by the fact that I truly was gaga over the luxury LaCrosse which was like riding in a heavenly cloud compared to my poor old 165,000-mile Honda Civic with no air conditioning. I couldn’t do such posts if I didn’t like the product, I think our insincerity would be quite evident. I did mention my one complaint about the LaCrosse (the narrow back windshield) and I got the impression that GM wanted to hear about the stuff we didn’t like. If only all experiences in corporate America could be that pleasant. Go to classic films all day and drive a gorgeous new car? Twist my arm!

    Now, when you start writing rapturous posts about guns, diapers, or cleaning products, I’m going to get very suspicious…

  15. wendy

    So…did you get her to “do it” in the back seat?

    who won that negotiation? that’s all I care about!

  16. headbang8

    I suspect that, generally, saying nice things will help you get more sponsored blogging gigs. They don’t even have to be nice things about the product.

    Now, if you were a car expert, or ran an influential motoring magazine, GM would have to submit itself to your hard-nosed scrutiny whether they like it or not. And be prepared for the consequences.

    But you were more a representative of the likely buyer, than of the motoring community.

    I suspect that Buick was delighted that you wrote about how kind they were, as much as about what the car was like.

    From a commerical point of view, blogger outreach is the purest, and nicest form of PR. Just be good to members of the general public, and the karma will pay off–someday, somewhere, in ways you can’t directly account for.

    I applaud the fact that Buick PR got back to basics, and didn’t let calculated cynicism get in the way.

    Hey, companies can get bad publicity for free. Good vibes, though, are precious–more precious than a whole lot of blah about the virtues and advantages of the car.

  17. Allie

    On the green site, we have an if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all review policy, so when people send us stuff, they know it’s not a guarantee of a mention. And we don’t feel pressure to say good things about products that don’t make the cut. But we are talking about smaller freebies. I’m guessing GM wouldn’t be thrilled to shell all that out and not get a mention one way or another. Although, I’m also guessing they wouldn’t open themselves up to blogger criticism with a product they didn’t believe in.

    I do think being given something alters perception a little Years ago, I lived near a second run theatre and could go to the movies for less than two bucks. I liked everything I saw there. Even an eh movie is worth two bucks. Most things are worth free. But I think most people realize that when they read a blog post.

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