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.

A five minute review of five new fragrances

men's fragrances2So many new fragrances have launched lately that rather than review them all individually as I usually do I thought I’d feature a clutch of them with (unusually for me) slightly more economical, incisive reviews. So here are my thoughts on these five -thoughts you should be able to digest in as many minutes…

Eau de Lacoste L.12.12 Noir

Another gourmand-style fragrance (when will this trend be over?) the latest addition to the Eau de Lacoste L.12.12 fragrance collection is warm, creamy and edible (look out for a hint of dark chocolate). A complimentary fragrance to the Blanc version it’s great for nighttime but I’m not sure the special time-release technology it touts as a special feature really lives up to expectations. It disappeared on my skin as quickly as dusk turns into night.

Diesel Fuel For Life Spirit

Diesel’s latest fragrance looks for all the world like a bottle of brandy which was the intention I think. Delightfully warming, it’s blended with grapefruit, cinnamon, iris and amber-wood and is the most striking of the bunch though to me there’s something faintly medicinal about it. In fact, I get a distinct whiff of Germolene, which is fine because I happen to like Germolene but if you’ve bad memories of being treated for a nasty cut as a child you may not be quite so enamoured.

Loewe Solo Platinum

“Life is full of small details” says the blurb on the box and the latest fragrance from the Spanish luxury goods company certainly delivers on that – with the bottle at least, which is full of little surprises – from the quirky, hollowed-out lid to the wrap-around metal name plate. The fragrance itself is leathery with a hint of black tea and improves the longer it’s on the skin. It’s not going to change the world but is perfectly wearable.

Ermenegildo Zegna Uomo

Elegant, sleek, slim and multi-textued the bottle for the latest Zegna fragrance is a lovely thing to hold. The fragrance inside mixes staples like bergamot, vetiver and cedarwood and throws in one of my favourite notes – violet – to create something that’s fresh and arresting but but the overall effect is disappointingly generic, a bit like when you mix lots of vibrant interesting colours with Plasticine and end up with…brown.

John Varvatos Artisan

Beautifully light, fresh and summery, this new fragrance by John Varvatos has a real sense of joy about it.  A delightfully uplifting mix of Mexican tangerine, mediterranean herbs, orange blossom and three kinds of ginger it has an irresistible, playful bounciness  I love.  What’s more, its bottle – clothed as it is in hand-woven rattan – is a real attempt to do something a bit different and if I had to recommend one of these five new fragrances it would be this.