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.

Dove Men+Care take on Gillette & Nivea with new shaving range

Dove_Men_Plus_Care_Sensitive_Shave_Foam_200ml_FO_8711600734050It’s one of the most fiercely fought male grooming battle of all but that’s because it’s also one with some of the richest spoils. Yes, I’m talking about the shaving prep market.

For years Gillette, Nivea, Wilkinson Sword  and L’Oreal have been slugging it out amongst themselves, with a spirited and successful challenge from King of Shaves. But just when you thought the fight couldn’t get any meaner Unilever have entered the fray with three brand new shave products from Dove Men+Care.

Complementing the existing Dove Men+Care body care range and recent face care collection their new Shave Care Range features a low-foaming Shave Cream designed to give skin extra hydration, a Shave Gel available in three variants (Hydrate+, Sensitive+ and Revitalise+) and a convenient Shave Foam (available in Hydrate+ and Sensitive+ versions). With formulations designed to keep skin soft supply and hydrated throughout the shave and with all of the products coming in at an affordable £3.49 the battle for shaving supremacy in the UK just got a whole lot more interesting.

 

Disclosure Notice: I received a free sample of this product for review purposes

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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The Grooming Guru Awards 2011

There are so many grooming awards these days that I thought, what the hell, why not have my own, with a few unique Grooming Guru categories thrown in for good measure? In fairness, I don’t think this year has been a stellar one in terms of new launches and innovative products but amongst the assorted lowlights there have been a few genuine highlights. The great thing is I don’t have advertisers to answer too so can reward who the hell I like and for what I like. So here are my awards, the ‘Gee Gees’ if you will. Who gets the gongs this year? Well, here goes…

MEN’S SKINCARE LAUNCH OF THE YEAR – Him by John Barrowman.

We may sneer at celebrity-endorsed ranges and fragrances but John Barrowman’s Him range for men, launched exclusively on QVC earlier this year, is a genuinely good- quality, well thought out and nicely-formualted range of skincare essentials for blokes. Sure, I suspect the people who are buying it are JB fans wanting to improve their men (or make them look like their idol) but that’s fine right? As John himself said at the launch the more well-groomed men out there the better. For more of my thoughts on the range read this.

BEST AD CAMPAIGN OF THE YEAR – Braun Oral B Pro-Expert Toothpaste


This advert has made me laugh and laugh and laugh and laugh. I simply never tire of watching it. It doesn’t just cross the line where bad becomes good it actually pole-vaults right over it into uncharted territory. As comedy goes, it’s certainly miles funnier than Come Fly With Me, making me think the Beeb should have just shown this instead and saved license payers a fortune in the process. A friend of mine is convinced that, like the cringeworthy Jenson Button Head & Shoulders ad and the laughable Just For Men Luis Figo one, it’s intentionally this awful so that people remember it. If so, it deserves the most fulsome praise I can give it.

NB: Alas Oral B have pulled this ad from YouTube now. They might be known for saving teeth but it looks like in this case they wanted to save face too!

BEST NEW GROOMING GADGET – Panasonic ES-LV61-K Wet/Dry Foil Shaver

Back in the summer, Panasonic launched this, the first wet/dry foil shaver, transforming the lives of guys who prefer foil shavers to rotary ones but who wanted the convenience of shaving with a traditional shaving prep or even in the shower. Losing my beard for a week to give it a whirl I was hugely impressed by the closeness of the shave and how beautiful it felt in the hand. Which is what matters most to us men right? The last bit I mean.

THE “I DON’T THINK SO” AWARD OF THE YEAR – Guylashes

Guylashes. Please. A couple of years ago the big story was men and makeup. I bigged it up myself. Did men buy it? Did they buggery. In fact, many companies launched cosmetic products for men only to quietly ‘retire’ them within a matter of months.  And if men aren’t going to use concealer (a genuinely useful product and one I heartedly recommend) do you really think they’re going to be fluttering fake eyelashes? Eylure, kindly collect your gong! If I was being cynical I’d give you another one for ‘Best way to generate publicity for your company by grabbing a headline in The Daily Mail award’ too. If I was being cynical.

BEST NEW FRAGRANCE – Potion by DSquared2

I have been to so many fragrance launches this year you’d think it would be hard for me to pick my favourite. Not so. Most left me decidedly cold with their tiresome top notes  bland basenotes. This one, woody and sexy with notes of amber and a host of ingredients actually used in magic, like angelica and gentian, is one I wear regularly. It’s not as long-lasting as I might like but that’s a minor flaw. Being the only fragrance that really cast a spell on me this year (sorry!) I’m proud to give it a ‘Gee Gee’ for Best New Fragrance.

BEST BUDGET GROOMING BUY – Montagne Jeunesse’s face packs for men

Sure I like a bit of luxury but like all good working-class lads I can do cheap-as-chips grooming products too and my favourites this year were these face masks for men. Costing just over a pound each (except for the eye one which is wallet-busting £1.99) they’re practical, effective and (best of all) great fun to use. I challenge any man not to enjoy using the peel off one.

BEST INDUSTRY BLOG – British Beauty Blogger

Okay, I’m slightly biased because British Beauty Blogger is what you might call my ‘Twitterwife’ but even if I didn’t happen to know the person behind it I would still give it my vote as Best Industry Blog. I read it religiously –  and I have absolutely no interest in make-up or the beauty side of the industry whatsoever. And yet, it’s still utterly compelling.

In terms of providing an honest insight into the (sometimes ludicrous) workings of the industry it’s unrivaled and as a window onto the turbulent and much-maligned art of blogging it’s an absolute must-read. If you’re a blogger, journalist, PR or just a beauty junkie who wants to know what shade of blusher is hot this season it should be your very first port of call. Best of all it’s a BS-free zone. To check it out click here.

MOST GOBSMACKINGLY DESIRABLE THING  – Tom Ford’s Neroli Portofino Collection

When I first clapped eyes on Tom Ford’s Neroil Portofino Collection in its entirety I had a glimpse into how Howard Carter must have felt when he first peered into Tutankhamun’s tomb. Revealed to me in Claridges by the PR, the range, when seen in its entirely, is gobsmackingly lovely.  It costs over £500 – well out of the reach of most of us – but thankfully we can all buy into a small piece of its delicious luxury. Oh and it smells bloody fantastic too.

BEST NEW MASS MARKET SKINCARE PRODUCT FOR MEN WITH BEARDS OR STUBBLE – Nivea For Men Sensitive Hydro Gel

Okay, so it’s quite a specialised award buy hey, it’s my blog so I can do what I like. This inexpensive non-stick moisturiser (for want of a better description) is just brilliant for beards. Why? Because it’s lightweight and hydrating but doesn’t make your facial fur all sticky like some things can. It’s also great for preventing beard dandruff so for that reason alone I am giving it a much-deserved award.

Best Home Fragrance – Jonathan Ward Russia Collection

I’ve been on something of a mission this year to get men to invest in scented candles for their homes. There’s nothing girly about it. Scented candles rock. As does having a house or flat that doesn’t smell of last night’s curry. Jonathan Ward’s Russia Collection, launched late this year, impressed me for being decidedly man-friendly, delightfully complex, beautifully conceived and reasonably priced to boot. Besides, two wicks are always better than one in my book.

Tuberose Criminelle by Serge Lutens – the 13 word review

If I have a fault as a writer it’s that I’m a terrible waffler so in a rare attempt at brevity I am going to try to sum up the exquisite Tuberose Criminelle – the new fragrance by Serge Lutens in just one sentence. And here it is…

Tuberose Criminelle: as if a rose were standing above you brandishing handcuffs and a whip. There, job done.

A limited edition unisex fragrance with notes of tuberose, jasmine, orange blossom, hyacinth, musk and vanilla (amongst others) Tuberose Criminelle is available from Liberty from 3rd October and nationwide from 17th priced £78 for 50 ml EDP.

Clinique adds ratings and reviews fuction to website

clinique copyLet’s face it, if there’s one thing men like doing it’s expressing their opinions. So if you’re a fan of Clinique Skin Supplies For Men you’ll be thrilled to hear that the company have just added a review and rate function to their website.

Already a staple of other online grooming retailers like Amazon and Mankind, rating allows customers to pass judgement on their favourite products (and, so long as no heavy-handed censoring is involved, on their not-so-favourite ones too).

It’s a sound move in more ways than one since a new report by PR agency Weber Shandwick suggests that a quarter of  UK consumers make their purchasing decisions based on ‘online advocacy’. That’s an even greater influnece than friends and family.  Highlighting the declining influence of newspapers and magazines the survey also discovered that only 12% of people turned to these traditional media outlets for advice about buying products.

So next time you’re shopping online take a couple of minutes to give your opinion on your purchase. Just remember, though, that “smells like shit but delivers a supersmooth shave” might not get through.

To review and rate your Clinique heroes go to www.cliniqueformen.co.uk

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