Don’t Bite the Brand That Feeds You

If you keep bashing brands you don’t like, even the brands you do like won’t want to work with you

by Stephanie Schwab |

There’s been a bit of a kerfuffle in the parenting/lifestyle blogosphere this past weekend, related to a brand’s blogger outreach program. The brand in question is KFC, and (from what I understand, as I wasn’t there) they invited a number of bloggers to an in-person event, with their children, to learn about KFC’s new kids meals.

I’ll disclose up front that I don’t ever eat at KFC because I’m sensitive to MSG and they put it in much of their food. This fact generally puts me in the category of people who think that KFC is unhealthy: if it makes me sick, it must be unhealthy.

But I also live in reality enough to know that there are untold millions of people, including many who live in my low-income neighborhood, who have very few food choices in their lives (we have a dearth of fresh food options in my neighborhood – called a “food desert” – as do many other urban locales, and we do have a KFC nearby, along with a half-dozen other fast food choices). While KFC could never be considered healthy on the whole, they at least seem to be aware that their kids meals need to have some healthful aspects, and they’re taking small steps in that direction. I’d rather see the kids in my neighborhood eat applesauce than mashed potatoes, and baked chicken rather than fried.Bloggers bashing brands won't get them anywhere. Be respectful.

And I unconditionally support KFC’s, or any other brands’, ability to choose how they market their products and to and through whom.

Look Who’s On the Playground

Yet, following the KFC event, the blogosphere erupted because a number of bloggers, none of whom were at the event, felt it was inappropriate and perhaps disingenuous for other bloggers to promote KFC, given that the company’s “healthy” choices are not really all that healthy.

A few of those bloggers bullied the bloggers who were present at the event (which was public information once the bloggers in attendance started sharing on social media about it) by attacking their food and brand relationship choices. The bullies also hijacked the hashtag with negative information about the brand, and generally made a mess of this brand’s marketing campaign. (I’m not going to link to the haters to give them any credit for bashing, so you can go search #KFCKidsMeals on Twitter yourself.)

Many of these bullying bloggers did those things while saying “it’s our job to correct misinformation out there.” Which I appreciate – truly I do – because thankfully, in our country, you have the right to protest against whatever you want, in social media or otherwise. But if you’re a “professional” in the blogging space (and by taking money for blogging, you have become a professional), and you’re going to launch a protest, you ought to do so respectfully, professionally and in a classy way.

My friend Robyn Wright did a beautiful job of summing up what I consider to be the right way to protest, in a tweet:

Robyn also wrote an excellent post about how to respectfully dissent, related to this controversy.

The Echo Chamber May Damp it Down

As a marketer first, my instinct here is to feel bad for KFC. As an agency person, I’ve put together my share of blogger programs, and boy would I be upset if my brand or clients were on the receiving end of this kind of vitriol and bullying. KFC is making an effort to improve their nutritional choices (however incrementally), and they invited well-regarded bloggers in to help them promote a product launch. If bloggers weren’t receptive to that message, I would hope that they weren’t in attendance at that event. (That would be disingenuous.)

Many of you who read me regularly know that I don’t have a lot of love for a certain tier of bloggers. I feel like the parenting/lifestyle blogosphere is overly junked up by reviews and giveaways, and a major echo chamber has developed whereby parenting bloggers are mainly writing for and being read by other parenting bloggers. As my friend George G. Smith, Jr. says,

“If you….talk to someone outside the community – they will look at you crazy like when you mention Motrin Moms, Maytag and Dooce, Walmart Moms [ed: previous blogger controversies]….They would just stare at you and you’ll realize – oh yeah. We’re kind of crazy in our own little bubble world.”

So on some level, maybe a bunch of playground bullies won’t really make an impact, and KFC and other brands will continue to work with quality bloggers and create blogger marketing programs even after this negative experience.

But If You Can’t Say Something Nice

You bashing, bullying bloggers: As with most other things, there’s a consequence to your actions. Many of you have had wonderful, and lucrative, brand opportunities come your way as a result of your blogging. Those of you who are fortunate enough to be presented with these opportunities get to choose which brands you work with. You use your own moral compass to decide with whom you partner up and which brands you decline. As do your fellow bloggers.

If you make it treacherous and scary for brands to create blogger marketing programs, they will eventually cease to do it – and you’ll see fewer and fewer paid opportunities available for you and all your friends. And that’s when I feel bad for the brands (certainly not for you), because it’s potentially going to close an interesting and creative marketing channel for them. And if you keep bashing brands you don’t like, even the brands you do like won’t want to work with you – the risk will be too great that you could turn and bash them.

Some of you bloggers have powerful platforms. Use them wisely and well. Be the professionals you become (whether you like it or not) when you accept payments for your work. Because otherwise, your profession (the paid part, that is) may someday go away.


About the Author

Stephanie Schwab

Stephanie Schwab is the Principal of Crackerjack Marketing, a digital marketing agency specializing in social media planning and execution. Stephanie is also the founder of the Digital Family Summit, the first-of-its-kind conference for tween bloggers and content creators and their families. Throughout her 20-year career, she has developed and led marketing and social media programs for top brands and has presented on social media and e-commerce topics at numerous conferences and corporate events. Stephanie writes about social media at CrackerjackMarketing.com, sometimes hangs out at Google+, and tweets @stephanies.