Buick Offers Free Car, Room and Tickets

Nov 102009
 

6Remember an an earlier post about all the loot food bloggers receive, including offers of  a free car? It’s happening again, at the Northwest Food and Wine Festival (note home page promoting Buick rather than food and wine) coming up in Portland, OR.

Two well-known bloggers forwarded this email, which offers them not just a car but lodging for two nights and free tickets to the event: 

“Because we know you love fine wine and good food, we wanted to invite you to be Buick’s guests the weekend of the Northwest Food and Wine Festival, Nov. 13 and 14 in Portland, Ore. Buick is the official automotive sponsor of the Northwest Food and Wine Festival, and we think you’d enjoy experiencing a selection of the more than 800 Pacific Northwestern wines and 50 restaurants that will be offered there. 

“To get you (and a guest) to and from the festival, Buick would like to loan you the new 2010 LaCrosse. As part of the culinary adventure, we’d also like to pay for two nights of lodging in downtown Portland at the Benson Hotel and give you two free tickets to the Northwest Food and Wine Festival.

 Here’s what they’d have to do in exchange:

“In return, we ask only that you enjoy the vehicle, attend a Buick-hosted Tweetup cocktail party Friday, Nov. 13, participate in a ride and drive and lunch on Saturday, Nov. 14, attend the Northwest Food and Wine Festival Saturday evening, and if you are moved to do so, share your experiences.”

And then, at the end of the email, there’s flattery:

“Buick is offering this opportunity to only a handful of the most influential foodies on the West Coast..”

Buick makes no overt demand that these bloggers write about the car. That’s not classy. Instead, company officials hope that by the time these bloggers do the following:

  • spend hours at the cocktail party, where Buick will promote the car
  • attend a lunch, where Buick will promote the car
  • test drive other cars Buick promotes during the “ride and drive” they agreed to attend
  • and drive around all weekend in the car

…they might write about the vehicle in a Tweet, on their Facebook pages, or (heaven help us) on their food blogs.

If they do so, it’s a cheap way for Buick to get its message out to targeted car buyers, whom the car company has determined are also these bloggers’ audience. When influential people endorse a product, it’s far better than if Buick just bought an ad in a magazine. And most of the time, it’s less expensive, too.

If I got this email, I’d press the Delete key. I wouldn’t want to write about a car in my food blog.  No matter how tempting it is to save money on tickets, a room, and a rental car, it wouldn’t be worth all the time spent at Buick promotions when I could be enjoying the food and wine. I have no doubt, however, that many food bloggers will take them up on it.

And you? Would you mention the car in social media or on your blog, in exchange for these goodies? Or might you feel justified in taking the freebies, then not mentioning the car, since it’s not required? How would you work it, or would you?

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  10 Responses to “Buick Offers Free Car, Room and Tickets”

  1. Hi Dianne,

    First off, I’d like to thank you. I have a dog-eared copy of your book on my nightstand, and I still return to it frequently for guidance. In many ways, your book is responsible for improving the quality of my writing on my site.

    With respect to the Buick offer, I would see no problem accepting the car/room/tickets, but would feel absolutely no obligation to mention any of it. Buick obviously wants as many food bloggers as possible to attend the festival and, yes, it would be good publicity if they would write about it. I don’t really think Buick expects them to write an entry on their food blogs about the merits of the car – any more than one would expect a job applicant to, say, Google, to blog about the airline, hotel, and lunch spot that Google paid for in an attempt to woo them to join the company. If Buick sincerely thinks that food bloggers would devote entire paragraphs to a car, then that’s their mistake.

    I believe the controversy over blogger ethics is blown way out of proportion. Journalists, especially those who cover technology and gaming and music, have received complimentary review copies of merchandise all the time. Do you think Walter Mossberg pays for a new mobile phone to review whenever the latest and greatest comes out? Why should bloggers, who, 90% of the time reach a far narrower audience than the most popular print journalists, be subject to a different standard? If companies want to give freebies to bloggers who reach, at most, a few thousand people, then that’s their error to commit.

    I receive offers of free merchandise on a fairly regular basis. If I feel that the product would be of interest to my audience, then I accept it. If, on the other hand, the product is not a right fit (such as an offer of Broadway show tickets), then the offer is declined. In general, I advise each representative that I will only write about a product if I really believe in it and enjoy it – and if they don’t see a mention of it, that means it didn’t really do it for me. To me, there’s little difference between having the products come to you and visiting a trade show and taking free samples.

    Derek
    The Best Food Blog Ever

  2. So, based on your earlier blog posts and new government mandates, would it be illegal to take them up on this? It almost sounds a little like buying into a “condo” share. They hook you with all these things you have to do, and then you get this, but not before that.

    Seems a little out there for sure, but is it any different than someone getting sponsored by a car dealer for a year, like a sports personality, for example?

    Boy-wondering who is getting these offers and what they will do.

    Nani

    • Nani, no, it would not be illegal to take them up on it. The only issue is if you endorse the product in writing. Then you have to say that you were given it for free. I don’t know how it works for sports personalities, but I suppose it’s not too different.

      Derek, you are most welcome, and I’m glad the book has helped you. Here’s the thing about taking the car/room/tickets: If I did so I’d feel compelled to attend all those Buick promo events. Would you? I wouldn’t feel right about blowing them off.

      Re Walt Mossberger, because he writes for a newspaper, there are very strict rules about what he can keep, return or purchase for his own use. I’m sure he’s very ethical about it, or he wouldn’t have lasted this long.

      Re whether bloggers should be held to the same standards as journalists, that’s been a continuing source of debate on this blog. As is the subject of bloggers writing only positive reviews, I don’t believe that’s a good idea, and have laid out my ideas previously.

  3. I really appreciate you taking up the freebies controversy. I started my blog on exploring Scandinavian food and culture just two months ago, and I just wrestled with my first freebie offer–whether to take it or not. As a former journalist who now does some PR work, it’s really interesting to where people are at on both sides of the debate. On one hand, gifts can be really bad, but on the other, free books, play tickets, etc. are just part of the industry norm for such reviews.

    It’s a tricky topic, and I’m glad you’re getting the conversation going.

  4. What do cars have to do with food? This one is easily disregarded…the subject of the promotion is so clearly unrelated to food, I can’t imagine why someone would accept it out of anything other than material desire. Now, if I was offered tickets to the event, plus an area winery tour & tasting (or behind-the-scenes tour of a food business), plus free lodging, I’d be tempted to consider it: it would extend my knowledge of a relevant topic. In that scenario, the deal-breaker is the structured promotional time, and implicit expectation that you’ll produce promotional messages on social media. (Maybe even at the Buick party? Ick. I’m envisioning a horde of bloggers, standing around, Twittering. What fun.)

  5. I’d hit the delete key, if only because if I’m going to a food and wine festival, why would I want to devote so much time to being around Buicks? I suspect that it’s this kind of insane, orthogonal marketing that got GM in so much trouble in the first place. (Killing Pontiac instead of Buick wasn’t such a bright idea either.)

    • D., Thanks. Yes freebies are the industry norm. I’m fascinated by how they affect blogging, since it’s the new game in town.

      Celeste, I don’t think it’s so easy to disregard. We’re talking at least $600 you wouldn’t have to shell out to attend the event. Kind of tempting, don’t you think?

      Howard, that’s my thought too. Why would I want to spend that much time at Buick promos?

  6. Thank you! You often write very interesting articles. You improved my mood.
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  7. I think Derek raise good points.

    At first I wondered, as Howard Baldwin did, would it be diferent if it was a food company? How is it different than a food company sponsoring recipes contest winners to go to a Foodbuzz festival + hotel room + car + all the food?

    What would I do? I turned down offers before, but the more I see other bloggers doing it, I feel tempted to do it too, as long as I don’t expose my blog and its readers to too much commercialism. I need to be convinced it won’t turn them away as I sometimes feel being sold to on some blogs that have turned to be more about promoting products than providing good contnet.

    • Good question. If a food company did it, you’d probably be a lot more interested and tempted. It seems easier to turn down Buick.

      As for whether you should take freebies, I don’t think you should, but each blogger has to decide what’s right for him or her. For me, it’s all about providing good content focused on the reader. I guess most bloggers who take freebies are convinced their editorial content doesn’t suffer, and that’s how they rationalize their philosophy. But since reviews online are overwhelmingly positive, I’d have to take issue with that idea.

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