Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Blog Tours and High Fructose Corn Syrup

If you didn't catch the drama last night, Twitter was all abuzz about a recent Mom Central blog tour. I've done blog tours for Mom Central-for the Flip video camera, Smart Boards, and most recently, I was asked if I'd like to participate in one for Cheerios. I had just accepted.

Blog tours can be fun, although in the last year I have become more and more careful about which ones I'll participate in, and if they have anything to do with food, I'm incredibly picky. Would I buy that food? Serve it to my family? Does it meet the Chasing Tomatoes criteria of as little processed as possible?

I have said before that I'm not for sale. I don't care what you offer me, if it goes against what I believe, what I stand for, I will not promote it. Which likely is why I don't get many pitches, but I'm okay with that. Blogging is, for me, all about writing and nothing about products.

So why did I do campaigns? They were fun and offered something for my readers. I thought it would give people some variety, and the giveaways were kind of fun. But from today forward, I won't be doing any more campaigns for Mom Central.

Recently Mom Central accepted a blog tour from the Corn Refiners Association. Mom bloggers were offered gift certificates, and in return they attended a webinar about high fructose corn syrup. At the webinar were experts who were, obviously, provided by the Corn Refiners Association. The bloggers participated in the discussion, then wrote about their impressions on their blogs.

Does anyone see what's wrong with this? We're not talking about a bag of chips. We are talking about high fructose corn syrup, which some people believe is the reason for obesity in America. This isn't Lays or Cheerios, it's a lobbying organization. What bothers me most is that I think Mom bloggers are used as pawns. Gather a few together, throw some gift certificates their way, give them a pile of scientific mumbo jumbo from experts, and send them off to write.

Experts that were paid for by the Corn Refiners Association.

See, I've been where those bloggers were once. For a long time I blogged, and my numbers weren't really going anywhere. Discouraged and frustrated, I couldn't understand why some people seemed to be so successful blogging and for me it just wasn't coming-or at least, not as fast as I hoped it would. Then out of the blue, things began coming together and suddenly in one small period when Jamie Oliver recognized me and the Globe and Mail noticed, my traffic took a colossal spike.

Shortly after that, Mom Central came a'callin with a blog campaign for Lay's potato chips.

CHIPS. Chips + Food Revolution Friday = Huge Hypocrite.

I admit, I sat and stared at the screen wondering what to do. It's just chips, right? What's the harm in that? I was seriously tempted-4 trips to Vancouver, free admission to attractions, wouldn't that be fun? Plus free chips? Who would care, anyway? I'd get traffic! It's a big campaign! Wouldn't that be cool?

We sat around the dinner table that evening; me excited, Hubs and Jake skeptical. It was pointed out that the $100 gift card wouldn't even nearly cover the ferry costs, and most of the attractions Jake has already out grown but still, I wasn't completely turned off until Jake looked me full in the face and said,

"Mom. You've worked SO HARD to get where you are. Finally, people are noticing you. Why the hell would you throw that away for some stupid potato chips? Don't you see? If you hock chips, how CAN YOU be a Food Revolution blogger? That goes against everything you are saying! And you don't even LIKE CHIPS! How could you do that just for some friggin' TRAFFIC?!"

Those words hit me like a bucket of cold water, and that's when came up with what I will and won't do on this blog.

Traffic, money, gift cards, products, mean nothing if you don't have your integrity.

Jake and I talked about the HFCS situation in the car on the way to school today. I love asking his opinion because teenagers have an amazing way of just cutting through the crap, never worrying about being polite or diplomatic, and just saying exactly what they think. He said that the whole thing reminded him of a scene in Erin Brockovich, where one of the mothers commented that the doctors had told her family that none of their illnesses were related. Julie Roberts stopped, looked at her calmly, and said,

"But PG&E paid for those doctors."

The Corn Refiner's Association paid for those experts. Of COURSE everything they say is going to be in favor of HFCS. The bloggers went back to their blogs (I will not out them here), and wrote their 'findings'. The odd thing? In the posts that I have found, they all seem to parrot the same ideas.

1. HFCS is no better or worse for you than table sugar, and the negative press is "hype" or "misunderstandings"

2. all sugar should be consumed in moderation

Isn't that what the commercials by the Corn Refiner's Association say?

Liz over at Mom 101 wrote a really great post that asked a lot of thoughtful questions about our associations with brands, and what we owe our readers, exactly. What made my heart sink was the last paragraph,

"This week, a whole team of bloggers got paid in gift certificates by a multi-million dollar lobbying organization so that when concerned parents hit the web and Google High Fructose Corn Syrup, they'll get a bunch of posts from "trusted moms" saying HFCS is just like sugar! Don't cut it out any more than you cut out honey! It's fine! It's NATURAL. Doctors told us so."

Mom Central wrote a rebuttal , which left me confused and wondering what on earth the writer was thinking. Comparing Liz, and those of us who agreed with her to borgs? BORGs? Mindless drones that are all part of the collective and can't think for themselves?

I am deeply insulted. DEEPLY. I am no mindless drone. I encourage respectful discussion, and from what I saw, that's the kind of discussion that was occurring. The irony of the situation quickly became obvious as I read further.

"As posts get pulled down under pressure, it’s quite a strident contrast to embracing robust, open debate and differences of opinion encouraged under our country’s First Amendment."

The post championed open debate and differences of opinion, but then Stacy Debroff pulled down any comments that disagreed with her and finally closed them altogether. The explanation now is that they were profane, but I was THERE. Despite my computer issues that night, I was on that site and read those comments. Not one was profane or attacking, but some disagreed with Mom Central's stance. I wanted to add my own voice to the mix but sadly, but the time I had a working monitor again, the comments were closed.

Some open debate and discussion, huh?

We bloggers have a powerful voice. Together, we can create great change. Why do you all think I tweeted at Jamie Oliver to get bloggers on board with his campaign? I know the power. I've seen it. We just can't let ourselves be distracted by the shiny things along the way. As Jake said to me,

"Just you wait, Mom. Something really good is going to come along. Something so much better than some bag of chips. Be patient."

That kid's advice was the best advice I've ever gotten from anyone. In the end, I just needed to realize that my voice is indeed powerful and can make a difference. I guess the real question is,

how do you want to use yours?

(Edited to add: The campaigns that I have been involved in have been with Mom Central Canada, which is a different arm of Mom Central and this is why the HFCS tour was never offered to bloggers here. I have never had any issues with Mom Central Canada and really do enjoy working with them, so it makes me sad to cut ties with them. However, after what happened I just can't justify doing blog tours anymore.)

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