Brand-Name Swag & The Skeptic in Me

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

If you haven't heard of Brand About Town, you're either living under a rock or not a blogger. Because I'm kind, I will give you the benefit of the doubt & assume the latter.

Brand About Town is a marketing company making its rounds in the blogosphere, reaching out to the best, brightest &, um, bloggiest of the bunch & asking them to be brand reps for a few equally bright & shiny big names. The Chosen Ones (the lucky bloggers, that is) are asked to host modern-day versions of Tupperware parties - instead of being asked to buy plastic dishware, they're instead given swag (that's "stuff we all get," the best acronym ever) from the brands they rep.

The two brand names that seem to be kicking off the Brand About Town trend are Nintendo & GAP, & both have hit the DC blogger circuit with full force. I was invited to LiLu's Nintendo Girl Gamers party, where every attendee sipped champagne & chowed catered goodies before receiving a free (bedazzled!) Nintendo DS. - sadly, my trip to Ohio prevented me from attending. As much as I love the Buckeye State, I was not pleased about this one. Tomorrow, I have the pleasure of attending DC Princess' GAP party, where a few of us will review the brand's upcoming line of jeans. She & other GAP reps have all blogged about the pre-party swag they've gotten - lotsa pretty snazzy stuff, & because love the GAP, I'm really looking forward to seeing how this goes down.

Here's the thing: I haven't seen a single brand rep say a single even-remotely-negative thing about her experience as a rep or the product she's repping; same goes for party attendees. And while I wouldn't expect them to after being given a bunch of amazing free shiz, I've got to believe that each of these ladies has at least some gripe, no matter how small, with the products they've been given.

Full disclosure requires me to admit that I enthusiastically applied to become a brand enthusiast. And though I've not been asked to become one, I like to think that if I were, I'd make clear that my blog is not for sale - & that includes payment in swag. If I'm going to review something, I'm going to review it - the good, the bad, & everything in between, no matter how fun the party that gets me to it is. With brands as pre-existingly baller as Nintendo & the GAP, I can't imagine, honestly, that too much negative exists, but that's not the point. The point is that I wonder how much Brand About Town & its corporate partners bank on swaying us big-cities-&-small-wallets blogger gals into being so thankful for gratis goods that we then say only nice things about their products.

Does gratefulness at being the recipient of otherwise-expensive free stuff negate the willingness to be totally honest about a product, especially when that honesty may include less-than-totally-stellar reviews? Marketers, of course, want to see positive reviews of their products. But aren't reviews most effective for everyone involved when they're completely & totally honest? And do glowing, positive-as-punch reviews hold any water when it's clear to their audience (in this case, readers of blogs) that they're written as the result of thanks-for-the-free-stuff gratitude?

Just something to think about. Let's see if I feel so gung-ho about journalistic (bloggeristic?) integrity when I return home tomorrow with a new pair of jeans in tow...


  1. I just got the stuff, literally, TODAY so I haven't had a chance to review anything. I'm going to see how things go tomorrow, how much people enjoy the swag and see what you guys say about things.

    My review blog will definitely be interested but I'm really kind of excited about it :)

  2. so far i've only been involved in the DSi one, and i've got to admit... i'm kind of smitten with my DS. which sort of pisses me off because i feel like i must be under the free swag spell, except honestly? i, uh, accidentally seem to play it every single day. i'm sure i'll find something to complain about w/the jeans, though! yeah!

    also, that vlog was adorable.

  3. I think what these marketing people need to understand (and a lot of them do) is that when you do outreach like this- you have cannot ask for anything in return. Sure a blog post is courteous but that's the least they can ask.

    They need to be prepared for negative blog posts as well as good ones. PR/Marketing folks need to know that when you reach out to Bloggers they are going to write whatever they want at the end of the day.

  4. This was an interesting post. I understand where you're coming from, it seems like there's been no negative feedback whatsoever. But then again, people are getting free DS's and free GAP merch, so what's there to complain about? My experience w/ Brand About Town and the GAP so far has been wonderful - so nothing to complain about! But I have done reviews that weren't great. I once got a book to review that was ehhh, and I also got a Nokia phone that I didnt review because I just didn't use it and it wasn't something I wanted to promote on my blog if it wasn't something I was interested in. So I think it just depends on the product!

  5. I hear ya, but honestly, the party they threw for me was freaking awesome. And they gave me a toy which is really pretty cool. And the ladies who were our hosts were super kind and kept us full of champagne and good food... I'm sorry, but there just really ain't anything to complain about.

    Or you can BET YOUR ASS I would have. ;-)

  6. Full disclosure I was brand enthusiast for Wii Fit through Brand About Town, but I have to agree LiLu.

    Brand About Town (BAT) represents fantastic companies and does so with such style and thoughtfulness (really developing relationships with bloggers) that once the enthusiast event happens, the match of blogger to product is typicall a raging success.

    Never once in my dealings with BAT have I been asked to say anything about the product I received (a Wii and Wii Fit) and I have definitely never been asked not to say anything negative (How could I? The Wii pretty much rocks.)

    I understand what you are saying about not hearing negative comments, but I think that speaks more to the companies BAT represents and less about BAT as a PR firm. Frankly, I've cited BAT (and Graco/Converseon) in a number of places online an example of how blogger relations should be executed. There are plenty of other "PR folks" who don't take the time to get to know bloggers and set up product reviews that don't make sense. And I've called them out online too.

    In the end, the onus is on each of as bloggers to be transparent in our dealings with product reviews and to not support (or be willing to go to a party for a free product) those bloggers or brands who are not authentic.

    Just my two cents.

  7. I worked with Brand About Town as a Method Maven and have communicated with them on various matters since. Regarding your thoughts above, I think there are two general things going on:

    First, Brand About Town is very selective about the brands they represent -- they align with great brands and also ones who "get" or are willing to trust their outreach plans in this (unfamiliar to many brands) social media space.

    Second, I think bloggers naturally gravitate towards campaigns/brands that are meaningful to them, so at some level there's probably some self-selection that contributes to the happy experiences and posts that follow. HOWEVER, Brand About Town does NOT require bloggers to post about their experiences -- I would have never signed on to host a Method party if they did. I did post about my Method party because it was truly awesome -- informative, unusual, and just all around cool.

    Similar to MammaLoves, I have cited Brand About Town as one of the agencies that really gets it right on outreach...they take the time and effort to build meaningful relationships with bloggers (e.g., they actually read blogs, not just flood with generic pitches) and they think hard about interesting and out of the box ways to connect bloggers and brands.

    Ultimately, the issues you address tend to be at the blogger -- not agency -- level. Unfortunately, this issue is not new and we've seen that it is not safe to assume that all bloggers are disclosing properly or sharing true reviews, but I can only hope that things will move in the right direction in the future. If you haven't seen it yet, Blog with Integrity ( recently launched as a way to connect bloggers around these matters.



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