Wednesday, May 9, 2012

You E-Mailed the Wrong Girl, Son

I hope what you're about to read bothers you as much as it bothered me as I read and re-read the dialogue to make sure I understood the implications. I'm going on year 3 of my YouTube "career" this summer and the beauty community is ever-evolving. But this, yes, this is a new low.

Many bloggers/vloggers get numerous business propositions weekly, sometimes daily. Everyone decides differently what they want to try, what doesn't fit their needs or what is just outright ridiculous. There's no written law on how we conduct ourselves in these situations. To some it's a hobby, to some a business and to others, somewhere in between.

Personally, I don't say yes to everything just to accumulate free beauty products. If I say yes to a product, I'm making an unwritten commitment to try it and give an honest opinion. Furthermore, I really do my best to put my money where my mouth is. That means, if and when it's reasonable, if I like something, I'll re-purchase it myself or buy it for a friend. For me, there isn't a truer testament to what I think about a product than spending my own money on it. Know full and well that I do this for you just as much as I do it for me. I say thank you for what you all have given me by honoring your wishes about what it is that you want to see. This is the crux of my relationship with my viewers: I create honest videos with pertinent content while making outrageous commentary; you masochists continue to watch.

So here goes. This is an interaction with an agency that represents a company interested in marketing through the YouTube beauty community, as well as beauty bloggers. Please note that the product discussed here is a skincare product. SKINCARE. Can you think of a beauty product people are more fickle about than skincare products? It's not a lipstick, a blush, an eyeshadow; it's skincare. Notes will follow.

Have me on board you will not. You see what I wrote there? I write that to all companies whom I decide to work with to make my intentions blatantly clear. And most will happily agree with me. Yes, Nur, please only speak positively of the product if that's what you truly feel about it; no obligation to make a video. I say no to 95% of free things offered and of the things I do say yes to, maybe one or two products (if that) make it in my videos a year . I'm tough. I do it for you, I do it for me. Capisce?

"We understand and appreciate your commitment to honesty, but we're specifically looking for a video of you trying out the product and describing your experience" is really just a nice way of saying "Hey, this is what we want, your honest opinion is somewhat irrelevant." Somehow, I imagine a video of me saying "Wow, this feels like utter crap on my face" isn't going to make the cut. The approach is manipulative and in poor taste.

The contract is below. I decided to censor the company name and product because this is an agency acting on behalf of the company. I would like to assume that the company knows what the agency is demanding, but I can't be certain. And if they don't know, they are going to find out from me. Furthermore, I haven't tried the product and I don't want to tarnish its reputation circumstantially.

The rest of the contract is the signatures portion. Yes, you're bound to make the video. I suppose I could sign the contract, try the product, like it and make a video. Or I may hate it and make a ridiculous video (because I have to) and it wouldn't be approved by the client and I wouldn't get my $150 gift basket. Poor me. If the latter were true, as funny as it is to think about making a satirical video, I have zero desire in wasting my time doing so. I have a tough time committing to one video a week (sorry, back soon!), let alone making a video I have little interest in, but doing so JUST to fulfill a contract. Yeah.........NO.

I know what some may be thinking. This is just a way for the company to guarantee that they're not going to send free products without a return on their investment. I understand, as it is business, after all. However, the cost to send free items to vloggers and bloggers who have an incredibly targeted audience is PENNIES compared to what it would cost to pay a celebrity to endorse your product. They would easily pay a few million to a famous face, but can't swallow the cost to send maybe a hundred products to bloggers and vloggers and let us decide if we'll do the video? And don't look at the retail price you mathematicians, we're talking unit cost...a fraction of retail price. The guarantee justification doesn't appease me. This is just the risk you take in this marketing platform. Trust me, it's not that high stakes. This right here is the same reason I don't have a problem with beauty vloggers and bloggers accepting money for videos or posts. "Sponsored video" has become such a revolting phrase, but if you stop to look at the whole forest as opposed to just the tree, it's not that criminal. If anything, the amount of money companies offer is rather comical (in an insulting way) compared to, again, what they'd pay for a celebrity endorsement. Beyonce Knowles in 2004 for L'Oreal Paris? A cool $4.7 million. Because she's worth it -_- By no means am I implying that I, or anyone else in social media, has the reach that a celebrity does, BUT again, we have a prodigiously targeted audience with whom we build an intimate relationship. The numbers are just not proportionate. An actress in a makeup commercial is just that. She's fed lines (and little else), digitally enhanced to perfection and written a handsome check. She doesn't tell you what kind of skin she has, what else she's tried, how this compares to everything else, etc. Guess what....she's s-p-o-n-s-o-r-e-d. How ironic. She has the best doctors and skin care experts at her disposal. And if you're still not sure, no, she doesn't use the product she pitches. That's for us commoners. What we do is valuable and you remind us all the time. And we're only growing. These companies are heavily capitalizing on the relationship we build with you and their bottom line is reaping the benefits. Now, with that said, where it gets ambiguous is with the trust issue (just like trust with everything in life....funny thing trust is). Are you reviewing it because you actually like it or because there's a monetary incentive? And if you do like it, do you like it more because of the paycheck? Obviously, we could dissect this endlessly. Some people dabble in it, some do not. What's important isn't the final decision, it's the decision-making process. And because we're not mind-readers, we won't ever really know. Sometimes, I'm not entirely sure I know what's going on inside my own head. [Insert joke about crazy Nur here. K, thanks.]

But I digress. Suffice it to say that the company represented here is not a neophyte company trying to find a niche audience through social media. It's an international entity whose annual report for fiscal year 2011 shows the profit at $132 million. Marketing expenses for 2011 at $108 million. Well damn.

The FTC does not require something of this nature to be disclosed. All we have to say is if we received the product for free and if we were paid. And good God, have you seen the ways bloggers and vloggers articulate their disclaimers these days? It's either misleading, full of fancy jargon (much unlike the accompanying video) or a brazen lie. But don't get mad at the FTC. If they don't protect consumers, we get angry. If they don't let content producers do as they wish, they feel constricted and yell 'police state'. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I am a firm believer in educated consumerism. Don't depend on someone else to protect your interests. And by "someone else" I mean the government. Read: FDA and the state of the meat and poultry slaughter houses in this country, anyone?

For me, this is a first. I have dealt with the less-than pleasant company that wants only a positive review. Or the one that incessantly hounds me for a video. Or one that even tried to bribe a positive review out of me after I've decided I don't like a product. But those are things that have ceased to amaze me. This 'sign a contract and to hell with your opinion' ploy is new and, well, unnerving. I'm going to ask for something almost unfeasible here and hope that companies do not start a trend with these binding contracts. Although, you and I both know that any sensible business person is going to see that contract and think it's genius, for it serves to protect their interests. And if you're reading this from the perspective of the company, I implore you, please look at this from the consumer's perspective. Companies don't need the protection, the consumers do. You companies can go ahead and get yourself into a financial black hole. The government has billions of dollars of our money they'd LOVE to give you! ZOMG, buy the jet even if you can't afford it mister CEO!

I'd like to think that my making this information public will guarantee that no company will ever send something like this to me in the future. But then again, the original message from the agency said "Hi Karina!".... while referencing my blog. Plenty of brain cells and no synapse. -_- So, template text and mass emails promise there will be much more where this came from. YAY! More fun for you and I. Lawd help us all.