How many social media mistakes can a company make with one event? Ann Taylor Loft may have been trying for the record with its “Exclusive Blogger Preview” event for the summer 2010 collection on January 26. To start, the company offered gift cards to the bloggers who wrote about the event online, causing backlash from others in the blogosphere for its stench of pay-to-play in the wake of FTC disclosure guidelines.
Blogs such as Gawker Media-owned Jezebel and Los Angeles Times' All the Rage called foul. All the Rage pointed out that the value of the gift cards wasn't disclosed until after the bloggers submitted their posts. True or not, one can't help but wonder if the most flattering posts received the biggest gift cards.
Despite the way these online brouhahas tend to spiral out of control by the second, the company only released a few statements, such as this gem from President Gary Muto. “We don't believe bloggers to be the same as the editorial community. We don't incentivize the press. We would never do that. They could write whatever they want. Obviously, there's freedom of speech.”
And we're going to exercise our freedom of speech: Big fail. Flawed concept and flawed response. A bid for online buzz resulted in online backlash that damaged the upstanding reputation that such ladies' retailers usually maintain. And didn't they just insult bloggers, too?
While companies will continue to “gift” bloggers, the burden lies with those companies to remind bloggers to disclose any payments, free products, lap dances or whatever else may have been handed over to garner coverage.
OK, they're not selling drugs and trying to ply suppliers with freebies (oops, that's another column). These are merely heels and frocks designed to keep today's on-a-budget gal “fresh and modern while still managing to keep the ‘relaxed' attitude,” to quote one blogger. But a girl has a right to know whether she's going to look Walmart- or Prada-chic, and now, well, those “airy ruffles” and safari-inspired looks are tainted.
PR Play rating:
3. On the right track