I have a lot of respect for Jim Horton, a longtime PR blogger who I have been reading since before I myself began to blog. Nevertheless, I disagree with his post this morning that encourages bloggers to take a pledge against accepting freebies.
Certainly if a blogger wishes to do this, he should be free to do so. But I would hate to see bloggers pressured into taking this position. It has been a common marketing practice to provide free product samples to target audiences — be it consumers, influentials, or journalists. Perhaps the most jaw-dropping example is the official Oscar gift basket handed out at the Academy Awards. Marketers vie for the ability to give away free samples to these celebrities and ultimately the value of the gifts in each basket is said to exceed $100,000.
Jim argues that “blogging is being compromised by freebies. It is getting so one can no longer trust what anyone writes.” He argues that bloggers should swear off such promotional items just as reporters largely did so in the post-Watergate era.
While I don’t know where Jim comes down on the Oscar gifts or other product giveaways, I would surmise that he would argue that bloggers should respect the standards of journalism, rather than celebrity.
I have argued in the past that bloggers are not necessarily journalists. If a blogger holds himself out to be a journalist, then perhaps such standards and pledge-taking would be appropriate and wise. But the vast majority of bloggers do not pretend to be impartial reporters of fact — quite the opposite.
Frankly I see little harm in freebies. I can’t believe that in the vast majority of situations the receipt of a free product sample would cause someone to write positively about a product that they dislike. There would simply be no point in granting false praise. As many companies have experienced, free samples do not guarantee positive reviews. And while I prefer to see full disclosure of such gifts if they are written about on a blog, I’m not convinced that doing so contributes much to the review one way or the other.
We all have our biases. Apple aficionados will tend to always say nice things about that company’s products even without freebies. Dell-haters are likely to dismiss new product offerings from that company regardless of free samples. Perhaps you had an outstanding or disappointing experience with a company in the past. That’s likely to influence any review as well.
Ultimately we as individuals or as bloggers should feel free to speak our minds. And marketers should be free to share product samples with anyone they like.
A blogger who chooses to take the No Freebie Pledge should feel free to do so, but those who do not should not be ashamed of that choice either.