Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Integrity in the online universe

Happy intercalary everyone! (Apparently that's the official name of Leap Day. Who knew?) Long time no post. I don't have any excuses: haven't been especially busy, or even especially uninspired. Just seriously lazy. I have been called a slow gentle animal by some: don't know about the gentle, but the slow is definitely correct. I didn't feel like writing, and even read less blogs than usual. I did keep on following my personal favorites, though. There are some blogs I follow religiously: I never skip their posts and always look forward to updates. I think that gives me the right to consider myself a fanatic blog reader: I might not spend hours and hours reading what's out there, but I'm a very avid follower of a few carefully selected persona grata.

                                  Like these remarkable ladies.

The reason I keep reading these blogs is because a) I simply like them and b) I trust them. I trust their judgement; I trust they are highly intelligent people; I trust they are sincere. There are some blogs out there I like - the style, the visuals, sometimes the glamour - but have a hard time trusting. The reason? I feel like they're commercialising just a little too brashly.

Over the past years, pr departments have realised blogs have enormous marketing opportunity and acted accordingly. Bloggers took notice, too: IFB for instance responded with the IFB Fair Compensation Manifesto. Power to the people! Big bad brands should not be making money from bloggers' networks and expertise without giving something back. Right? Right. I don't think anyone would disagree. It's only fair bloggers should be paid for the added value they provide to brands.

However. Is that really what blogs should do? Provide added value to brands? Function as a cunning marketing tool? Everyone is free to disagree, but to me, something's gone awry. I read blogs because they are written by independent, freethinking people with a unique point of view. I don't read them to be bombarded with affiliate programs and commercials. I don't mind advertising in sidebars that much. They're usually subtle and non-obtrusive. I wish I could say I didn't mind plain old commercials disguised as a blog post, but I do. No matter how smart you write them, they're annoying and disappointing. They're still pretty innocent, though. At least you know what they're about. What I do mind is the sneaky kind of content that makes me wonder who exactly provided the subject.

Take for instance event reports. Tricky shizzle, this. I can't count how many times I saw blogs hyping pictures of hip and happenin' soirées, merrily posing with blogger friends and downing macaroons by the kg. I love a party as much as the next person, but to be honest, I'd think twice before I would go. These parties are courting you to write about them. It's free advertising, basically. I'm not one to turn down fizzy pink drinks and fancy patisserie - but honestly, I would feel like I'm being played. It's all good fun, but in the end, someone is just using you to attract attention.

Also, the the ubiquitous C/O-items. Short for "courtesy of", this means that a certain piece of clothing was a donation from the company producing it. I don't think there's a soul in the world who would object to getting things for free. I'd love to get free clothes on a regular basis, believe me. But these companies aren't handing out five loaves of bread and two fish. This isn't about philantropy - it's not even necessarily about them getting their name out there. It's about companies using a blogger's authenticity to brand themselves in a certain way.

Necklace: Médecine Douce (Available at Le Bon Marché or / Top: American Vintage. Courtesy of my credit card.

By using blogs as a marketing tool, brands are not only gaining notoriety, they're sponging off the blogs' integrity and authenticity. And you know what? I don't even care that much about it. I truly don't. As long as you're conscious of how the brand is using you, and what you might gain from that. But it should be a matter of careful consideration. Because when you're taking money or other compensation from companies, you aren't just selling ad space. You're selling integrity. Your integrity. (By this I don't mean you'll lose your personal integrity. Just that you're hiring it out. That probably sounded a little whorish, didn't it? Oops.) Blogging is such a personal occupation that I find the mixing up of marketing and blogging difficult to digest. Where do you draw the line between representing yourself and representing others? Ultimately, the question boils down to this: are you blogging as a person - or as a highly personalised brand?

I realise I'm probably not voicing a popular concern, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on this!


  1. Yes! Lichtjes unrelated aan de inhoud van deze post, maar ik had je nog willen mailen om de naam van dat juwelenmerk te vragen. Ik ga je nu schaamteloos kopiëren en die ketting kopen. Maar als iemand ze mij zou willen geven, sta ik daar volledig voor open :-)

    1. Goed plan! Via de website zelf kan je de juwelen niet kopen, maar wel via twee andere webshops. Ik zet de link erbij!

  2. You ARE actually voicing one of Incognito's concern. We haven't been approached by brands but we thought about the idea, of course, when doing benchmaking. Would we accept "gifts" coming from brands in exchange of a post dedicated for that brand for instance ? Like you said, which crazy fashion blogger would refuse a YSL bag or a pair of Miu Miu. But if it means protecting one's aesthetic and point of view, well... it'd be a tough one, haha.
    More seriously, my co-bloggers and I (Absolute B) kind of agreed that the most important thing would be our aesthetic. If we are invited to an event, we will not lie and show ourselves drinking cocktails if the party sucked.
    We have already written posts about events because we like going to events, we like meeting other bloggers or seeing exhibitions, fashion shows, meeting artists and understand their reflexion, see if we can ask question, grasp their point of view a little more. But we've make it a point to be honest and fully transcribe how we experience the party, even if it was disappointing.

    Like you said, it's a question of balance since every fashion blogger is in a way already advertising for brands just by wearing and showing their clothes.
    The only thing is being approached by brands should not be a goal and an end in itself. I guess it's normal to be willing to be contacted by brands but one should be writing in order to express oneself first. But yeah, it's hard to decide where to draw the line.

    Your post was really interesting to read anyway. And your credit card is so nice for giving you this awesome necklace as a gift !

    The Ladies of Incognito

  3. OMG! Thank you so much for this post! I have been thinking about this issue for a couple of weeks and wanted to write a post about it too. I am really sick and tired of IFB telling me to monetize and monetize and monetize my blog. When I created my blog, I didn't even think that it could bring me money or free clothes. And I still don't care about that. Sure I would love to have more readers or to collaborate with the brands I love, but I hate the idea of making my blog plain or too fashionable (a lot of my clothes are thrifted, so brands wouldn't be interested in me anyway).
    I am also tired of IFB and other fashion communities like Chictopia trying to trick me into buying from their sponsors or to make publicity for their sponsors. I am not against getting shopping ideas, but please don't try to make me buy stuff.
    I'm so happy you brought that up!

  4. Firstly, I feel very honoured to have been mentioned alongside your personal favorites. And secondly, I have read this article of yours twice now - having revisited for a second time to read and digest again, nodding to myself all the way through! I agree. I have looked into the 'monetising' thing and thought that I simply didn't want to compromise what I want my blog to be be about. I do sometimes (very occasionally) accept offers of items to style - but ONLY if I genuinely like them, and often on the basis of borrowing and returning, not necessarily being given. I want to be able to choose any designers I may want to write about and do so because I have elected to on the basis of genuine admiration for their work, not because I feel it is 'owed'. The two words you have highlighted in bold: integrity and authenticity are very important to me. And this brings me to the third thing I wanted to say which is thank you for your very thoughtful comment on my fru-gal post about ethical styling. I'm so glad you found the Lucy Siegle book informative and inspiring. It continues to have a reverberating impact on me too and has made me much more interested in sustainable brands and designers and changing patterns of production.

  5. I'm really glad you've wrote a post about this, I've being having similar thoughts for a long time but couldn't quite put it into context. Personally I do find the sneaky context just plain crafty, I don't feel like I can fully trust the blogger. Like when they have links in the actual post, it just ruins the experience of reading a good post! Would you mind if I put this in my March round up?

  6. Thank you so much for the kind mention! I'm really honoured and flattered to be included amongst your favourites...You raised a very interesting point and I completely agree with you. I've been thinking about how I would react if approached by companies proposing promotion or advertisement. I think that there is nothing wrong if you genuinely like their clothes/accessories, but this can influence your point of view. However, coherence/honesty, with yourself and with the readers, should always come first. And people can feel when things are made up or exaggerated.

  7. Hi, realy interesting opinion. and I think you're right. the blogosphere should be a speakers corner for individuals and less companies. I was writing my master thesis about the relevance of blogs..
    cheers :)

  8. Hey !

    I came on your blog to see if there was any update I had missed and I saw you added a picture with the banners of the blogs you follow. It's really an honor for us to be one of these blogs. Thank you so much.

    Also, I thought of your post the other day when Incognito was approached by a brand trying to give us clothes to try and advertise for the first time. We made the decision to decline the offer because the clothes just didn't meet our aesthetic in fashion but I'm not gonna lie, it was a hard decision. I mean, it's kinda flattering that a PR found our blog good enough to advertise their clothes and it could have been an interesting experience. But I'm glad we stayed true to ourselves.

    Looking forward to read a new post of yours =)

    Absolute B. of Incognito

  9. Ha ha! Loved this - especially because you've been brave enough to say what a lot of people are afraid to come and say about the often over commercialised direction fashion blogging has taken. Bravo!