My Bad. I Took a Freebie

Oct 162009
 

At the BlogHer Food conference in San Francisco, I passed a booth where I could either take a free water purifier (and lug a bulky box around all day) or have one sent to my address.

My husband Owen and I discussed getting a new water purifier recently. Our old one was crusty from deposits in the water, and no amount of scrubbing removed the stains. So without thinking, I forgot about the third option available to me: keep walking. I gave the public relations person my address.

Back at the office the following Monday, going through cards and flyers, yet another company offered to send me a free chopper and grater. I thought about whether I could use it before acknowledging the truth: my site doesn’t review or mention kitchen products, and I have no business taking one. Then I realized I had no business asking for the purifier either. I felt my throat tighten.

When the  cardboard box arrived on the porch, at first I was excited by having a mysterious package show up when I couldn’t recall ordering anything. This must be what the big food bloggers go through everyday. Inside, wrapped in dark blue crepe paper, was the purifier.

I did not want to touch it. Owen immediately removed it from the box and set it up, delighted to have a fresh, new pitcher.

But I felt unsettled, and now there it is, on the kitchen counter, to remind me.  You probably think I’m over-reacting. Yes, it’s not that expensive, and the public relations person offered it with no strings attached. Besides, she reported to her client that she sent a purifier to another “food blogger,” and she is hoping for a mention or a giveaway. (I once did p.r. as a break from magazine editing, so I know how it works.) Well, here’s the mention.

There will be no giveaway. A Google search found almost 4,000 contests  (most closed) online, so I clicked around to see how much free press bloggers were willing to gave away for the price of a water pitcher. Here’s an example of too much at Katie’s Nesting Spot.

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 Posted by on October 16, 2009 at 12:05 pm

  20 Responses to “My Bad. I Took a Freebie”

  1. I love my purifier – though the flavor thing is a little weird, so I took it out. ;)

    • Stephanie, I certainly don’t mean to encourage anyone who has a free product lying around to post about it. That’s not the point. But all the same, I’m glad you’ll do so. Don’t feel guilty. It’s not worth it.

      Faith, thanks for pointing out the disclaimer and disclosure notice. I didn’t read down that far. Taking free stuff is definitely different from taking an ad if you’re only taking freebies because you want them for yourself, not because it applies to what you’re writing about.

      Stephanie, are you saying it’s okay to keep a freebie if you love it? Not sure.

      • I’m saying that I don’t have a problem keeping this particular freebie because I told them I couldn’t blog about it – it’s beyond the scope of my site. They gave me one anyways, though, so I don’t feel any quilt at all.

        It’s like when I went to Whole Foods the other day and the cheese guy comped a big block of cheese as a sample because I’d never tried it. He didn’t expect anything in return, and it’s nice when the universe occasionally gives you something with no strings attached!

  2. Dianne,
    I understand your discomfort — many bloggers turn down all offers of freebies to avoid the whole issue.

    While the post you mention does read like a press hand out, the blogger in question did post a very clear and specific disclaimer and disclosure notice at the end.

    My personal rule is not hard and fast and I find it changing as I go along (and I did lug the water pitcher home from BlogHer), but right now I’m comfortable with full disclosure and only accepting items I might be able to use in my blog.

    It is a tough call. Is it much different from taking an ad from Pur (and to be honest most food bloggers make only pennies from ad if that much), as long as you have published a disclaimer and disclosure notice?

    The ethics of blogging are pretty slippery. The constant advice from more successful bloggers to run contests to amp up your readership certainly plays into corporate America’s desire to influence and use bloggers as the opinion gatekeepers we can be.

    Thanks again for another post that made me think and reflect.

  3. Well I’m feeling terribly guilty now for the filtered water I’ve been enjoying with *my* freebie. I suppose I should write about it, so that it earns its keep. But I’ll be sure to mention what I think about the flavor options.

  4. How funny…back home, out of Brita filters…and was about to drag that pitcher out of the back of my car and now you’ve given me pause…I have no intention of writing about it (brand unknown to me) as it’s not on my “beat.”

    Should I have taken it? It gets tricky, doesn’t it? I ate the chocolate, and shared with friends. My kid loved the USB stick, until he promptly lost it. I donated the canned goods to a food bank, as many of us did.

    These freebies don’t impact what I write about but I wonder whether or not I should use that water pitcher. Your thoughts?

    • Hi Sarah, I suppose your other option is to give it away, if it makes you uncomfortable. Owen likes the flavored water (“better than I thought it was going to be”) so now he wants to keep it. I suppose that over time, seeing it on the counter won’t bug me as much.

  5. You know, I took one of those pitchers too and it never occurred to me that I would be expected to blog about it. I assumed that it was given as a product promotion just like many I’ve received at non-blogger professional conferences over the years. I’ve been using the product and my family likes it very much. In fact, I went out and bought two more to give as gifts.

    My feeling is that if something is given out freely to everyone at an event like a conference, then why shouldn’t I take one too. I didn’t think anything of it until now.

    On the other hand, I get many targeted emails from product vendors offering to send me free products and the implication is clear that they expect me to write about them. In those cases, I either decline or accept with the understanding that I will only write about the product if I genuinely like it and can work it into a recipe that fits into my blog theme.

    Maybe I’m being too simplistic, but to me the two are very different things. Although, now I feel kind of guilty for taking the pitcher! Sigh…..

    • Susan,

      Please don’t feel guilty. You are the second person to say so. I didn’t mean to guilt-trip anyone. It’s only a pitcher, and if the p.r. person is reading this she’s probably thrilled.

      It is an interesting question, to ask why we shouldn’t take all the free stuff handed out at conferences.

  6. I don’t get what the big deal is. We paid to go to the BlogHer conference, hence all that ‘freebie’ stuff came with our ticket, and most of it was junk. There was never mention, to my ears, of having to blog for anything, mention anything, or otherwise do anything to receive this stuff.

    Like Sara I handed over the canned stuff to the food bank (why they didn’t just send directly is beyond me-seems like most people did the same thing), ate the chocolate, and similarly (how funny) my kids snagged the the USB stick before I opened my bag and I haven’t seen it since.

    The water pitcher is still in the box. I have no intentions of mentioning it all and will in fact probably give it away. But why all the fuss and worry? Where is the rule that says you have to write about something just because it is given to you?

    • Hi Nani,

      While there was no explicit mention of having to blog or mention anything, the message is implicit: We want you to know about our product. Marketers don’t hand out freebies to just anyone. At BlogHer, they targeted bloggers who reach potential buyers of the product, hoping they might write it up, or at least discuss it with other “influencers” in their community.

      There is no rule that says you have to write about the free stuff you take. But I was at the conference because I was a blogger and a professional, not because I was a consumer who just wanted free stuff for my own use. The conference was not open to the general public.

      You and Sarah mentioned the chocolate. What’s funny is that like you two, I just ate it. Strangely, I didn’t feel guilty about it. Why is it different from the pitcher?

  7. So clicking through Katie’s Nesting Spot she got turned onto the water kit via the product review place, which is basically a site where people go to pick up products to then write about hoping they are going to attract more people to their site. Seems like an easy out for big companies to avoid paying for ad dollars, and for those that like doing that kind of blogging thing-an easy attraction. Not my cup of water, at all…and don’t people have better things to do with their time? wow..

    Here’s the number 2 idea behind the product site:

    2. A place for bloggers to get added exposure for their reviews and because they put snippets up on the site, it should give click-thru to their blogs. It is also a place to learn about reviews and find pitches from companies/PR that need reviewers.

  8. Interesting that in France, where they don’t have these stringent rules and I doubt they ever will, since no one gives away anything for free. At the Salon du Chocolat, where I was “presse” I did get a reduction off an ice cream cone of 50 centimes (from 3 euros), though I didn’t ask for it.
    There was a “presse tasting” – I missed it :(
    Otherwise the chocolate tastes offered free to everyone required a magnifying glass to see – such tiny crumbs-hardly worth the trouble.
    I bought what I liked at the show – no other choice except in very few rare instances – Le Whiff (a no calorie sniff of chocolate instead of the real thing- who needs that?)
    The only stand giving away tons of chocolate to ALL attendees-Tokyo Chocolate and they sold a ton too!
    Cultural differences on freebies are interesting indeed!

  9. I think like Susan, if you go to any conferences (food or not) and they offer free stuff, I take it. It’s good for them because if you like the product you’ll buy more of it. I don’t get the big fuss over this right now.

    • Hi Helene, thanks for writing.

      Marketers are giving you the product because you are a blogger. They hope you will write about it positively and thus influence your readers to buy it. They are not giving you the product because they want you to buy more of it as a consumer, although they wouldn’t mind.

      I took the pitcher because I was acting like a consumer. I just wanted it for my kitchen. I don’t think that’s cool. I should have been acting like a blogger. Consumers were not invited.

      Does that sound reasonable?

  10. According to Nathan Bransford blog, book review blogs will not be affected.
    I shall rename myself Paris-book-breakfasts…Paris-breakfast-books…hmmm
    Wonder what you think of this blog..?

    • Hi, Yes, thanks, I read that also. What a relief! Thinking of writing yet another post about it.

      Re your blog, I love the visual feast and your sense of humor. It captures Paris perfectly.

  11. Eeep..thanks very much, but I meant Nathan Bransfords blog..

    To answer previous question myself – Yes I think he’s good because I found The Intern through his links. HA!
    http://internspills.blogspot.com/2009/10/publishing-observations-round-up.html

  12. Dianne, I know I’m late in the game for this post, but I’ve been rereading your archives because you are awesome and I had to miss out on actually seeing you at Chop Bar and Blogher…

    I’ve had this conversation several times in the past few months with P.R. folks, and the consensus is that there is just as much value in giving a product to an “influencer”, “connector”, “trend-translator”, (the slightly veiled synonyms go on), as to someone who will write about the product. Just having the product, I think they rightly assume that I’ll talk about it with my friends, they’ll see it in my house, etc. Which leads me to giggle that somehow P.R. thinks of me as a “cool kid”. Right.

    You know, and why not? Some of my favorite products that I use are some of the ones that I’ve had the opportunity to actually try, be it a promo, freebie or sample. I do see it the same as the cheese cubes at Rainbow – it’s not just a freebie but you are actually providing value to the customer by sharing something with them that they might not otherwise try.

    I’m still on the fence about the issue.

    There are actually times that I’ve solicited for products in the past (don’t do that anymore), received them, found them faulty, and begged the company to take it back, to no avail.

    • Okay, let’s discuss. Do you think they’re giving it to you primarily because you’re an influencer, connector, or trend translator? I think not. They’re giving it to you because you’re primarily a blogger. They just want you to take it.

      Keep in mind that p.r. people have to write reports to their clients to tell them which bloggers they’ve convinced, and the list needs to be large if they want to keep the account. That way, even if you never write about the product, the p.r. firm can demonstrate that they’ve tried by sending it to you.

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