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Marketing's New Rage: Brands Sponsoring Influential Bloggers

Barneys, Gap, Coach and other big brands are collaborating with bloggers to create new, controversial forms of advertising.

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Jennine Jacob

Photo By Courtesy Photo

Federated arranged the Suave sponsorship for the community area on motherhood blog Dooce.com and a blogger series on innovation sponsored by Lexus. Fashion clients include The Budget Fashionista, among others.

Other ad networks and middlemen are springing up to negotiate the new relationships. Style Coalition and BlogHer, among others, sell advertising and arrange sponsorships for fashion bloggers. Jacob is represented by Style Coalition, which set up the campaign with J.C. Penney. Today, StyleCaster Media Group plans to launch a similar service called The Masthead (Wearethemasthead.com) with 10 bloggers in the areas of fashion, home and music, including Sea of Shoes, Atlantis Home, Behind the Seams and Owl vs. Dove. The Masthead brokered the deal with Barneys, which is the retailer’s first. Tavi Gevinson of Style Rookie also will guest blog in September.

“We’ve tried in the past to reach out to different bloggers, but it’s never been successful,” Kaminetsky said. Too often they said they would write about the store only in exchange for free merchandise, which Barneys didn’t want to do.

Fees can range from nothing or a giveaway for a very small site to many thousands of dollars on a site with a fairly large audience and strong recognition, said observers. While there are no rules and bloggers are reluctant to talk about fees with each other, a personal style blogger with a large following could receive anywhere from $500 to $4,000 or more to feature a product in her regular content. More complex sponsorships running over weeks or months can command fees in the many thousands of dollars, according to observers. But more typically, bloggers are paid in free merchandise or not at all.

J.C. Penney gave video bloggers $1,000 in gift certificates each to buy clothes and blog about it in back-to-school-themed videos, which are getting tens of thousands of hits after one month.

Ann Taylor is not paying any of the bloggers in its “The Little Black Dress Experiment Tours America,” but they get to keep their dresses. They are also receiving items from other sponsors to include in a look or review this month. The relationship is disclosed on Society Stylist.

Payments and gifts must always be disclosed, per the new FTC rules. Jacob contended that it is unfair to single out bloggers when glossy fashion magazines do the same thing, but fully supports the principle. Recently, she was moved to write and post a manifesto on the topic, called the “IFB Fair Compensation Manifesto.” It can be summed up as: If you are going to do advertising, identify it, and get paid for it.

“We don’t want blogging to evolve into this thing where bloggers are so starstruck by brands that they lose all objectivity — then they’re not the great thing people came to them for in first place,” she said. “Freebies may be OK, but we can’t just work for freebies and try to pass off promotional things as editorial content because it’s not fair to readers, ourselves or the companies.”

If the brand specifies how and when the blogger should mention the brand or its product, that’s an advertisement, she said.

Bloggers were not paid to place the Poppy game widgets on their sites, which Jacob criticized, saying the widgets are a form of free advertising for the company.

“You have someone producing really beautiful photos styled well day after day. It seems tricky to put a fair price tag on it both for the content and influence the blogger creates,” said Schroeder. “My uphill struggle is I am the model, the photographer, the stylist, postproduction. I am doing everything. You wouldn’t call up a team of talented people who know what they’re doing and offer them a pair of shoes. When you’re asking a talented person to function as a team, you should pay them for their talent.”

If a brand tries to hide a relationship, it can backfire, as Absolut found when it was widely criticized in May for demanding numerous posts and promotions from bloggers about the Brooklyn Blogfest, which it sponsored, and Absolut’s latest flavor of vodka, in exchange for a VIP pass to the event, a bottle of liquor and a Flip cam, without proper disclosure of the pay for play.

As long as a relationship is disclosed, readers don’t care, said Barneys’ Kaminetsky. “It’s business — just tell the user, and they get that,” she said.

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