Sex, blogging and why bad reviews aren’t the end of the world

round-rating-buttonsThe other week, over a tongue-slackening bottle of wine, I had a rather enlightening conversation with a PR regarding the nature of blogging. And in the process I had my wrists slapped a couple of times for, would you believe it, speaking my mind? Why, they wanted to know, would I bother to criticise a product if I didn’t I didn’t like it when I could simply not mention it at all?

That, I told them politely, is a little like turning a blind eye to an injustice and hoping someone else will speak out because you’re too afraid. I know, I know, the two aren’t entirely comparable but I had been drinking remember. The sad fact is, though, bloggers do have every reason to be afraid. I have, in the course of saying what I think, been blacklisted (after one critical post a company I’d been in regular contact with for over five years promptly removed me from their mailing list) and I’ve incurred the wrath of more than one overly-sensitive PR for a less-than-flattering product review. Worse still, on occasion I’ve simply had the silent treatment when I send emails to PRs, which is essentially the beauty industry equivalent of waterboarding.

As I explained to the PR I was discussing the subject with, though, to me a degree of objectivity is absolutely crucial for credibility. In print journalism (and I’m talking about beauty journalism specifically here) there is a convention that everything is wonderful. This lipstick’s gorgeous, that aftershave balm’s fantastic etc, etc. But then, when you have advertisers breathing down your neck how are you going to say something doesn’t work, smells rank or stripped a couple of layers of skin off your face?

The thing is, as readers become increasingly more sophisticated in how they consume information – and increasingly sceptical in the process – the ‘love all, hate nothing’ mentality so prevalent in the beauty industry simply won’t wash. Indeed, I strongly suspect it’s why so many people prefer to access product information via blogs rather than print media these days.

What I don’t understand is why some brands and some of their PRs freak out so much when they read a less than glowing review, why they can’t roll with the punches and why they can’t see the bigger picture. When a brand has a reality outage over a bad review I’ve written I often point them in the direction of a review of another of their products where I’ve been quite beside myself with adoration.

Don’t get me wrong, some do ‘get it’ (I often receive emails saying “we know you weren’t keen on X but are sure you’ll like Y” which is great – and perfectly reasonable – approach). These people understand that you’re bound to take a hit sometimes and that in actual fact, being critical of some things makes praise of others all the more powerful when it comes.

I’m sure lots of bloggers will disagree with me about being openly critical and there will be others, perhaps those just starting out, who are too nervous to upset big brands, especially since so many are now clamouring to “work with” us.  I  totally understand that, and that the beauty about blogging is that everyone can do their own thing. There are lots of bloggers out there whose aim is simply to alert their readers to the availability of a product and who leave any opinion at the coatcheck. And that’s totally fine. I read them and enjoy them, and as with news channels, there are times when not having an opinion is a good idea.

Personally, though, I like to hear what a blogger thinks about a product. One of the things I love about Amazon is the glorious array of conflicting reviews. Look up your favourite album and there’ll be people saying it’s the best thing ever recorded while others will say they hurled it out of their car window in utter disgust. What this array of opinions gives you is perspective. And you need that just as much if you’re thinking of buying a moisturiser or massively-hyped new fragrance as when you’re buying a new TV, car or home insurance.

So to all the brands and PRs out there who still flip out at anything less than a glowing product review I say this: reviews are like sex. Sometimes great, sometimes average, sometimes downright disappointing. But you should never write off a lover just because of one bad experience.

6 thoughts on “Sex, blogging and why bad reviews aren’t the end of the world

  1. Fantastic post Lee and I agree with every point you made! I have no issue giving a negative review, if that’s my honest opinion then that’s what I write. Not one product will suit absolutely everyone, it can’t, if it did there wouldn’t be a need for so many diverse brands / products offering different things.
    I’m I don’t like it, I say so, but I always try and say who I think it would suit best. I’ve been lucky so far and the PR’s have been grateful for honest reviews (to my face at least), but if it means getting wiped off a mailing list, I don’t care, I’ll just buy it myself then give my honest opinion then, no big deal.

  2. Great post.

    Really agree with what you say here, I’ve been wiped off of PR lists for writing negative reviews but I won’t say I like something just because it was sent to me, my responsibility is to my readers and to give an honest review.

  3. RobWales

    As a perfume buyer I read a fair number of the blogs. I very much agree with what you’re saying, Lee. But just as annoying as the all-glowing blogs are those that do nothing but criticise and wallow in negativity. Balance and perspective is what’s needed, as you rightly say.

  4. Dearest Guru
    You are spot on!
    It always seems peculiar to me that in fragrance especially, criticism is not so much held low but actually despised.
    If perfume has any pretensions after being an art, which it surely does, then perfumeurs and perfume houses must realise that the interplay between critics and creators is essential to its development.
    Fashion has finally started to realise this, and whilst no couturier welcomes a collection being received with carping comments, they are gradually learning to accept that this is the natural consequence of their work being taken seriously… no metier will ever end up being displayed in museums without being subject to critical and academic gaze.
    Informed comment is the price that artists pay for a stab at immortality.
    I fear the ‘beauty industry’, which is (erroneously in my mind) always bracketed with fragrance, is in reality much closer to detergent manufacture..
    They are both processes which seek to deliver ‘objectively measurable results’ and to closely wedded to the advertising grammar of doing a with be will result in outcome c ever to allow even the whisper of dissent.
    Bravo you though for raising your head above the parapet and speaking the unspeakable.
    Oh, yes, and quite right to compliment those industry PRs who ‘get it’, though they are lamentably few and far between.
    Yours ever, in fullsome support,
    The Perfumed Dandy

  5. Brilliant piece. All I ever want from beauty/grooming reviews is the *truth*. If I even so much as slightly feel that the writer is praising products because of loyalty to a brand or other reasons, I simply don’t bother reading that reviewer anymore.

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