I've had several people ask me my feelings on “sponsored posts,” which are blog posts that have been paid for by an advertiser. The short answer is yes, I accept sponsored posts. However, I turn down the majority of offers I receive because I'd rather not bore my readers to pieces. I don't think anyone coming to Someday I'll Learn really cares about “sexy nighttime costumes” or “the next big thing in MLM,” so I won't write about it (although I suppose it's possible that I'm mis-judging my readers!).
What I will write about is anything I find interesting. And on the rare occasion that I do accept payment, I ALWAYS disclose it to my readers. Sometimes I'll even point out if something ISN'T a sponsored post (like when I recently wrote about Wall Pops), just for the sake of being clear about it all. The majority of sponsored post requests I see are advertisers wanting bloggers to recommend a product to their readers in order to drive sales. Recently, however, I've noticed an odd trend in sponsored posts, with advertisers requesting that bloggers post press releases on their blogs verbatim.
A specifically rampant example of this press release thing is PBM products, who have been paying bloggers left and right to publish this article about how PBM has recently won a lawsuit against Mead Johnson, maker of Enfamil. Here's the back story: Enfamil released an ad campaign claiming that Enfamil brand infant formula provides better nutrition than store brands. PBM, who manufactures store brand formulas, sued and won $13.5 million. And now they're touting this win on any blog that's willing to publish it.
I remember a similar advertising phenomenon developing when I briefly worked in the magazine industry. Companies would take out large ad spaces and publish promotional stories that soon became known as “advertorials” (advertising + editorial). There was a huge conflict over disclosure and reader deception and integrity. Having also worked in the advertising industry, I understand the reasoning behind it. PBM sees that their store brand has suffered and they want to take action. I can hardly blame them. But now as a blogger, the whole thing makes me feel kind of…unsettled.
Sponsored posts, if not handled properly, can be really irritating to the reader. Many of us bloggers are choosy about sponsored posts so we don't alienate and annoy people. Even bloggers who aren't choosy about their sponsorships usually at least insist on writing a thoughtful post in their own words. If we all just start publishing mindless corporate crap all the time, why would anyone keep reading blogs? I'm sure PBM would say they're just trying to inform the public about this newsworthy event. But if people really want news, current events, or business updates, they'll read a newspaper (and yes, I know that newspapers may “sell” stories as well…don't even get me started on that). I'm not saying that any of it is implicitly right or wrong, or that one model fits every publishing media. I'm just asserting my hope that with our sponsored posts, our ad sidebars and our pay-per-tweet, we don't all devolve into a “he said, she-said, this company paid me that much” promo fest and smear campaign. I'm confident that most of us have more backbone than that.