So, recently I’ve been approached by a few people asking me to do sponsored posts or flog their thing. Is it selling out to do a sponsored post on something or posting in exchange for a free product?
There was a well known saying in the early ’70s, when many of the hippies cut their hair and bought suits and got jobs “working for the man” (which was something they’d claimed to be against). When those who had chosen not to do this accused them of selling out, their response was, “I’m not selling out, I’m buying in.”
I’m not sure how I feel about that, and wanted to basically ask you guys what your opinion was.
Here’s where I stand at the moment, as you can see, reasons don’t carry equal weight:
1. I don’t make any money off Amazon Associates because I only link to them when I feel it adds value to a post, not when a post can add value to my Associates account. I’m considering doing things to promote Amazon more but not at the expense of content or if it will cause my posts to be a biased sample of items. I’m still a minimalist. I have control over my Associates account and say what I want, and I don’t flog things with it to make money, so why would I want to get paid to do that?
2. I don’t know how people can trust what I say in a review if someone’s paid me to say it, or given me something free to specifically talk about that thing. Even when people say “all opinions are my own” there’s still the inherent sample bias of drawing attention to a product that you didn’t already have and didn’t pay for – it’s like those “sponsored” search results getting to the top of Google – it means that other products that didn’t have the budget (to pay someone at their company to spend hours approaching bloggers, as well as the budget for samples) don’t get a look-in. That seems unethical.
3. I don’t want to write about products people have contacted me about for free. That’s just skewing the sample AND not even for monetary gain, it’s just being a cog in the consumeriarchy. This isn’t PBS.
4. Additionally, I don’t often blog about specific products or services, preferring to do comparisons of loads of products, such as my very popular lash serum review, or my rabbit hutch inspiration post. I know these come from the right place because I’ve done similar posts with non-products such as mountains. When I do talk about a specific product, my goal isn’t to get keyword density and click through, it’s more likely that I want to talk about an experience I had where the product (for example my car) needed to be referred to as a detail rather than as a focus of the article. I have a few exceptions to this such as my Citroen Xsara Picasso Car Camper review, but the goal there was to inform people about how you don’t need an enormous car or bus or truck to make a camper conversion, and also was one of two articles (the other is in the next link) targeting a hole in the current knowledge on whether a Picasso was big enough in the back for people to sleep in (it is). It’s a model of car that’s no longer in production and I have absolutely no interest in whether people buy one or not (but if you do, you now know how to car-camper it).
5. As a person who sometimes gets paid to write articles and books for other people, I don’t think it’s fair to take money for a sponsored blog post for two reasons: First, you’re basically exploiting your fan base and grooming them to become good little consumers for your own gain. People can dress it up that “they’re honoured” to work with company X and “they never expected” this to happen, but in the cold light of day, whatever you call it, it’s exploiting readers as prospects. Second, you’re undercutting copywriters and paid journalists and taking away their livelihood for a free lipstick or whatever. Third, there’s the ethical consideration of not being able to write a fully balanced article. People always say “opinions are my own” but they generally play down the negatives or don’t mention them at all, or only talk about very inconsequential negatives, and they defer responsibility for the consequences of this to the company and “the media.” Darling, you are the media.
6. I hate reading obviously sponsored posts and obviously sponsored youtube videos that are flogging any old crap. There was a cringeworthy video that a very well known Youtuber did recently and it spurred me to do a comedy version because it was like watching a car crash. It cheapens the platform as a whole and if I wanted to see somebody do that, I could watch an episode of Only Fools And Horses.
7. Readers and viewers for the most part seem unaware that 95% of beauty and lifestyle blogs are doing this and that they are being taken for a ride by someone who seems so personable. There’s a name for this: Confidence trickster. Even when they state that it’s a sponsored article or free sample, people don’t seem to understand the causality – the person starts a blog, gains your confidence (and readership), takes that to PR firms (if they don’t get approached), then spend their tenure exploiting that. It’s not cool in politics so why is it cool in “personal opinion” land?
1. But the reason I’m considering it at all, is that due to my recently-diagnosed-but-had-it-all-my-life bipolar disorder, I go through periods of unemployment, punctuated by periods of employment. As time has gone on, the unemployment has been for longer. I’m very good at getting jobs, but as I get older the depressions are lasting longer meaning I can’t go out to work while I’m in that state and I need a more sustainable income. I worked for 10 months of last year, of which 6 months was part time minimum wage, most weeks less than £100 per week, and I’ve worked for 3 months of this year so far, of which 3 weeks was £50 a day single days per week. I don’t want to keep dreading 7:45am when the HSBC Overdraft Alert Text Message gets sent to my phone threatening charges if I’m overdrawn, and I don’t want to keep borrowing money from my husband to pay our bills when he’s working far too many hours to pick up the slack.
2. So writing things seems to be the way to go in order to get money, because I can write things in my sleep, but I don’t know if I’m happy with making Invoke Delight into a space where people can’t inherently trust the content when I talk about products or services. Content is king. That’s exactly why I don’t use my Associates account very much – I don’t want to write an article for the sake of selling someone else’s shit, even if it makes me money. I’m not a copywriter.
3. It seems like everyone else who does lifestyle or beauty blogging is doing this at the moment. If everyone else is doing it, would it make a difference to the overall balance of product reviews on the internet if my “corner of the internet” was 100% bias-free? Would it make these people feel threatened if I vocally didn’t do it because it’s openly challenging their way of life (hey, isn’t that why people get shitty at vegans and minimalists and outsiders in general)?? How does that make me feel?
So when I look at my reasons against doing this, it’s a total no-brainer. I should just not do it. Morally, it’s the right thing to do. But when I look at my reasons for doing this, I think, is it as clear cut as it looks? For my personal circumstances, the money would be great. If I consider it from a religious point of view, I don’t know if these opportunities are God providing, or if they’re a temptation I should avoid because they just look so unethical. When I read the “about” pages on blogs that do sponsored content, it always looks like they’re trying too hard to justify it to their readers, always using the same reasoning as each other, but I wonder if they’re really trying to justify it to themselves.
I don’t know if I could morally take that money. I think I’d just feel that my going rate was 30 pieces of silver.
What do you think? Would you care if you knew that everyone else was doing something and profiting from it? Even if you knew it was wrong? I feel like it’s only become a moral dilemma because I’m being tempted by greed, but should I just give myself a break?
Note: All links in this article are to my own content. I purposely didn’t use this opportunity to link to Amazon.
Update: Through the process of asking the question, I found my own point of view and answer, which was “no sponsored posts here thanks but I’d do advertising or affiliate links as long as they weren’t insipid (definable only by me for my own blog).” Interestingly, I posed this same question on Twitter as well and The Minimalists responded with the following:
It seems so clear cut now. I’m hoping they don’t mind me putting their point of view on here, I know Leo Babauta has gone so far as an “uncopyright notice” which I think is awesome.
Minimalism helps me to de-clutter my brain so I don’t want to lose that for a quick buck.