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.

The curious tale of the Red Bottomed Pumps

cl0414_1When I first started blogging, several years ago, I used to find spam comments a real nuisance. As time has gone by, and the comments have become increasingly unintelligible, though, I’ve grown to love them. In fact, I rather look forward to them. And today I received one that makes Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky read like a road sign…

Comment: “I acquired vintage choclate red bottoms pumps round A couple of years before, resulting in Two months after my best digital went through the the very best. This coat experienced worn off the very best plus my best digital fell apart by way of.

Therefore, My partner and i went back them along with an exciting new set at zero cost. At present, My partner and i convey all of these books any time that carries a lot additional alert.This red bottoms pumps are so very fashion, and I’m intending to receiving a further set very quickly! They will do marks a little, thus is red bottoms pumpsest moistening them ahead of making them.”

Indeed.

Nice products, shame about the name

mancaveTwo products have found their way on to my desk this week that manage to both delight an infuriate me. The first, is a rather good concealer (nice texture, colour and coverage and at £6.99 a great price) and the other is a new grooming range priding itself on its natural approach to skincare that smells great and is free of all the petrochemical industry’s natsy leftovers.

medium-shadeSo what’s my gripe? Well, for me, both products are let down by their names. Given that we now live in a positively post-metrosexual world, where using some kind of skincare (even if it’s just a face scrub) is pretty much part of most men’s lives it’s a shame that some companies still feel the need to heavily man-brand their products.

I know that blunt sign-posting is often necessary if your product is going to sit on a crowded supermarket shelf but surely Mancave can only be aimed at the ever-shrinking number of men who still think skincare is for sissies and need to be reassured that it’s still a butch –  nay, Neanderthal –  pursuit. And Mancealer is as daft a name as Guyliner, except the latter rolls off the tongue better.

I’ve personally always found the ‘man’ prefix superfluous and silly (though I still think the “For Men” tag has value for brands like Nivea, Clinique and L’Oreal who need to differentiate their men’s lines (often reformulated to suit men’s skin and its unique needs) from women’s. So come on guys, don’t spoil your perfectly good products with thoroughly daft names okay?

For more info about the Mancave grooming range see mancaveinc.com and to buy yourself a Mancealer go to manza.co.uk

Mansome: new documentary, same old (boring) subject

The other day I received an email asking me whether I’d like to share some of the grooming tips from Mansome, Morgan Spurlock’s ‘tongue-in-cheek’ documentary about the explosion of men’s grooming, with my readers. The short answer is nope. I base this on a. having seen the trailer and b. because of the film’s gut-wrenchingly awful name. And this, even though I love the name Morgan Spurlock, which sounds for all the world like a Medieval porn star, especially if you sandwich le between fore and surnames.

Seemingly, the documentary itself explores the “funny world of male grooming.” Quite why using a face scrub, beard trimmer or slapping on a face mask now and then is a source for hilarity thesedays I can’t quite fathom. Unless you’re the kind of person who finds Michael MacIntyre amusing, of course, in which case I guess it might well be pant-wettingly funny.

Personally, I find the trailer eye-rollingly awful and the subject matter – a deceased horse even C4 have long since ceased to flog –  fantastically old hat (or in Morgan’s case old wimple perhaps). If it had been released in the early 90s it might have been interesting I suppose. But, really, is the ‘sensation’ of men taking care of their appearance really, well… a sensation in 2012? Given that I know men who treat ball-shaving, eyebrow threading and spray tanning like a trip to the footie (indeed, quite often as preparation for a trip to the footie) I think not.

Come to think of it, was it ever? I mean, it’s not as if men taking care of their appearance is a remotely new thing. Did men in Tudor times not wear drop-pearl earrings and fiddle endlessly with their codpieces? Did Georgian men not wear wigs and powder their cheeks? And did Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes not wear more make up on his wedding day than his model wife Julie Anne?

So really, male grooming as sensationalist rib-tickling documentary making? Please. It’s not clever and it sure ain’t funny.

Why I love Amazon’s review system (and why I won’t be using Veet on my balls)…

The great thing about Amazon selling beauty and grooming products is that, unlike the world of magazines – where everything is fabulous and works a treat  –  people pretty much tell it as it is. And here is a beautiful, if eye-watering, example of that honesty in action, brought to my attention through a tweet by Beauty Magazine for whom I provide male grooming features. So without further ado…

 

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So what does make a good perfume critic?

The other day I read a great interview with Francis Kurkdjian on the excellent Persoliase blog. It’s a fascinating insight into the mind of a true artist but it’s proved somewhat controversial too because of some of the comments Mr K made about how fragrance is reviewed.

One paragraph in particular has attracted some attention – and understandably so. Asked what he thinks about perfume critics, the master perfumier says: “They’re so boring. And the reason why they’re so boring is that, to prove their legitimacy, they try to drop ingredient names, chemical names, just to prove to their readers that they have the know-how…people are trying to critique perfumes without knowing what it is to critique a perfume. They don’t have the knowledge.”

Understandably, these comments have stimulated quite a debate on Persolaise’s blog about what exactly ithe right way to critique a perfume and who amongst us has ‘legitimacy’.  I commented there briefly myself but wanted to expand here with my take on the matter.

To be honest, I hate the idea that you have to be knowledgeable before you can critique something. When artists in any field believe this it’s a sure sign they’ve not only caught sight of the ivory tower but have booked the removal van so they can take up residence on the top floor.

Yes, expertise brings depth and an added dimension and it most certanly has its place but it’s not the be-all and end-all. This is especially true, I think, when reviewing products. Sure, I known what parabens are and what nano-technology is and I’m more acquainted with a tonka bean than any man should be. But hey, so what? The questions on most reader’s lips when it comes to a new product are: is it any good? Does it work? Will I like it? Is it worth the money?

The whole issue of expertise has come up before. I remember one Beauty Editor having a pop at beauty bloggers several years ago because she didn’t consider them expert enough to comment properly (the very same person now has their own blog of course but is an industry expert so that’s okay). This attitude riles me beyond belief, partly because many experts (especially those on magazines) conveniently conceal the fact their recommendations are influenced by advertising. I’m a journalist. I’ve been there so I know the score.

To me, the opinion of a beauty blogger who smells a fragrance in a department store is just as valid as that of someone who’s been writing about fragrance all their lives and gets sent one for free by a PR. In fact, I sometimes think more so because the blogger takes time, effort and often spends their own money to explore what’s out there.

Personally, though, I don’t care whether someone wants to write a 2,000 word forensic ‘expert’ review, simply list the notes (and on that matter ingredient names are also dropped on the official FK site to give customers a steer I notice) or just wants to say ‘to me this smells like creosote mixed with roses and custard powder.’ What’s important, surely, is that people remain passionate enough to write about fragrance in the first place?

The fact is, reviewing a fragrance is as much a nebulous, imperfect and subjective art as creating one is. To me, having critics approach the subject from all different angles, with different spins, expertise and opinions is the only true way to build up a rounded picture of something. If a new fragrance hits the shelves I want to hear what the beauty editor of Vogue thinks about it but I also want to know what my favourite bloggers think about it, what the readers of basenotes.com think about it, what my mum thinks about it and what the woman who sells it in Debenhams thinks too. Fragrance is deliciously multi-faceted – that’s why it’s so enthralling right? So why should fragrance criticism be any different?

To read the interview that sparked this post on Persoliase click here.