You're wondering what you're looking at, so I'm going to tell you before I go into the meat of today's post. Scharffen Berger Chocolate was one of several BlogHer Food sponsors, and in conjunction with pastry chef Elizabeth Falkner of San Francisco's Citizen Cake, they set up three huge chocolate boxes filled with a crazy assortment of ingredients: corn nuts, cake, marshmallow, pretzels, and about 573 other things that sound completely incongruous but actually created a pretty tasty, if disgusting looking, concoction. Attendees were handed latex gloves and encouraged to scoop up the mess and shove it in their mouths. It was kind of like being a doctor during the world's most bizarre proctological exam.
That's Marla of Family Fresh Cooking, an adorable little woman who went at it shamelessly. I was worried she might fall in the box.
Anyway, this leads to the topic of today's post: corporate sponsorship.
I hate, hate, hate being marketed to. I switch radio stations when commercials come on, mute ads on TV, and can't stand blogs that serve as thinly veiled PR pitches. But the issue isn't as clear as "pitching products is always wrong."
Consider how I opened this post. With pictures of a cleverly created advertising campaign from Scharffen Berger. Because SB is savvy -- they created a fun, unique, interactive, and edible exhibit at a big foodie convention to showcase their brand and get people talking. And I like SB chocolate. And the pictures came out well. So, there, I posted about it.
But in so doing I also feel dirty. Dirty because I am giving free press to a large, wealthy company (SB is owned by Hershey), and what am I getting in return? A scoop of chocolate with corn nuts in it. The trade-off hardly seems fair. And yet the alternative -- that SB would pay me to endorse their product on my blog -- is even more distasteful, because then I would be doing a disservice to you, my readers. So it’s an uneasy relationship. Yes, they helped defray the cost of the conference, and I am grateful as an attendee, but it still makes me uncomfortable to put up a giant link to their site on my blog.
I'm not above this; I'm struggling with it.
Elizabeth Falkner is another story because she is, presumably, a paid corporate spokesperson. She's a pastry chef. She's very likable. I enjoy her cupcakes. So for her to work as a spokesperson for a high-end chocolate company makes sense to me, especially if she actually uses their products. She also came to the after-party at BlogHer Food. And though I enjoyed meeting her, I couldn't help but wonder: was she contractually obligated to be there? Was she chatting with me, and other attendees, because she was paid to? I honestly don't know.
What bugged me about the Smocco Disclirito thing was that it felt so incredibly inauthentic. Here's this very high profile celebrity chef, and now he's hawking frozen food and telling us, wide-eyed, that he really, truly believes it is the Best Product Ever. At the same time, on his Twitter account, he writes things like "I have eliminated all white flour, rice and sugar and anything that has a high glycemic load." I just don't know how that jibes with being a spokesperson for frozen pasta.
So here are my questions for you: How do you feel about corporate sponsors? Celebrity-driven ad campaigns? If you’re a blogger, do you think twice before endorsing someone’s product? Do you sometimes feel like a marionette, one whose strings are subtly manipulated by deeper pockets?
If you’re a non-blogging reader, please let me know how you feel when I link to a product – to a cheese, or a cookbook, or a brand of rice I use in my recipes. Does it piss you off, or provide a service?