Beauty Blogs Come of Age: Swag, Please!
By KAYLEEN SCHAEFER
TWO years ago, when beauty bloggers called makeup companies to request free samples, many calls went unreturned.
“Bloggers’ inquiries for products started out as an annoyance,” said Alison Brod, whose namesake public relations firm represents the Laura Mercier and philosophy brands. “It was a cost for our clients. It didn’t seem fair that anyone could say whatever they wanted about a product and have an audience.”
But in the last year or so, as more women turn to blogs for advice on bronzers or facial scrubs, and magazines like Allure and Glamour have started their own beauty blogs, the cosmetics industry has stopped seeing bloggers as bottom feeders.
“It would be foolish to ignore them,” said Ms. Brod, who recently hired an employee whose job is to get bloggers to write about clients.
The same bloggers who once begged for samples are now being sent the latest lip glosses and perfumes, all the free makeup they want and, in some cases, what many beauty editors commonly refer to as swag — luxurious presents to keep them happy, like designer purses or all-expenses-paid trips to Paris.
For years, beauty editors at many magazines took perks, and some still do. Others must follow ethics policies, corporate limits on how expensive a gift an employee can accept. (The cap varies from $50 to $500.)
Nadine Haobsh, a beauty editor turned blogger, said, “Christmas this year at my apartment, giftwise, was reminiscent of the old days.” Cosmetics companies sent her purses, overnight bags, fashion books, gift cards and perfume for mentioning their brands on her blog, Jolie in NYC.
In 2005, Seventeen offered Ms. Haobsh the post of beauty editor, then rescinded it after finding out about her blog, and how she bragged about accepting lavish gifts. Now that she blogs full time, she receives from 20 to 50 products every week. And recently, the chief executive of a beauty firm in San Francisco called to invite her to lunch in her office overlooking the city.
“She wanted to meet me in person because her office was buzzing about my support for her brand on my blog,” said Ms. Haobsh, who recently agreed to promote an anti-aging skin care line called In An Instant in an infomercial.
It’s unclear to what degree bloggers single-handedly boost sales, but publicists say their opinions matter. For instance, when Lancôme sent Kristen Kelly of BeautyAddict and http://www.pomega5.com/ dozens of other bloggers a limited-edition lipstick created by the designer Behnaz Sarafpour before it reached the shelves in 2006, their approval made it an immediate hit. “They might have inspired the first waiting list in the history of Lancôme,” said Kerry Diamond, the company’s vice president for public relations and communications.
In the last six months, beauty companies have also begun to plan trips and events specifically for bloggers and online editors. Chanel flew 15 of them from all over the world to Paris for a meeting with its master perfumer, Jacques Polge, and a tour of Coco Chanel’s apartment at 31, rue Cambon.
Matrix, a hair care brand, held a gathering at the Royalton Hotel in New York for about 50 bloggers, sending them home with as many shampoos and styling gels as they could carry. And Space NK, a beauty apothecary, had a party in New York, treating the 40 attendees to $50 gift cards.
There is no reliable way to count the number of beauty blogs, said Julie Fredrickson, a founder of Coutorture, and the friend of http://www.tzerah.com/ a network of 240 beauty and fashion blogs and Web sites; she estimated there are thousands.
Before choosing which blogs to target, companies consider whether a Web site has a fresh look and frequent postings as well as comments from engaged readers. Misspellings are considered a blemish.
Generally, beauty companies are not stingy with the $200 face creams they distribute. Ms. Brod said her firm sends products to about 50 bloggers. Ms. Diamond of Lancôme said they work with “dozens and dozens.”
The bloggers may sound as if they’re staging sit-ins at Sephora while waiting for the next eye shadow palate from NARS, but they are likely to be at home anticipating the latest U.P.S. delivery from a MAC publicist.
“Most of the bloggers call themselves beauty addicts, and maybe they were, but that girl quickly realizes that this is about notoriety and freebies,” Ms. Fredrickson said. “Maybe before people started sending out products, it wasn’t, but that’s not something we should romanticize anymore.”
There is a danger that, as more bloggers are treated to five-course lunches by Prescriptives, the unbiased product reviews they once weren’t afraid to publish could disappear.
Already, “people get really scared,” said Ms. Fredrickson. “I get e-mails all of the time from bloggers saying: ‘I tested this product and I don’t like it. What do I do?’ ”
Some bloggers refuse to bite the hand that gives them perfume. “If I don’t like a product, I try to approach it sensitively since I don’t want to defame a company’s good name or hurt their business by slandering their product,” said Ms. Kelly, whose blog gets 3,500 unique visitors daily.
Others simply censor themselves if they find that a face cream makes them break out. “If I hate it, I won’t write about it,” said Tia Williams, who writes a blog called Shake Your Beauty, which has 2,500 visitors each day.
Air-bombing the sites with samples can result in similar-sounding posts that smack of promotion. “In the last couple of weeks we all covered Prevage Anti-Aging Night Cream by Elizabeth Arden and Allergan,” Ms. Kelly said. “It’s pretty clear that the samples were sent out by the company.”
Ms. Kelly, who is a marketing manager for a consulting firm and keeps her site as a hobby, was overjoyed in 2006 when she first received free samples. Since then she has met with representatives from Estée Lauder, L’Oréal and Lancôme. After attending a Lancôme party in New York, where she had her eyes lined in blue by a makeup artist, she posted a post-makeover picture of herself hoisting a flute of Champagne.
Like most beauty bloggers, Ms. Kelly said she does not identify a product she reviews as a freebie, and does not have a policy about accepting swag from publicists. Still, she said she tries hard not to lose the relatable tone that made women turn to her for advice.
“I don’t want them to perceive me as someone who is better,” she said. “I would never want to do one of those posts where people write ‘I got this huge goody bag and I’m dancing around my house and so happy about it.’ ”
Some bloggers aren’t as humble. After Victoria’s Secret paid for Ms. Williams to fly from New York to Los Angeles with a planeload of other bloggers and online editors for what was billed as a “Supermodel P.J. Party,” she posted a breathless account.
Ms. Williams used to be the beauty director of Teen People, which forbid employees to accept gifts worth more than $500. But as a blogger, she was not obligated to decline the free silk pajamas or her stay (paid for by Victoria’s Secret) at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
Marjorie Asturias-Lochlaer, who reads four beauty blogs daily, including Jolie in NYC, didn’t realize until about a month ago that many bloggers don’t buy the majority of the makeup they test. Ms. Asturias-Lochlaer, 35, of Grand Junction, Colo., learned how widespread the practice was when a Lancôme publicist commented on her site, My Inner French Girl, “We are in LOVE with your blog!”
Ms. Asturias-Lochlaer’s blog isn’t even about makeup, but, according to the representative, it appealed to Lancôme because of its French-girl theme. Ms. Asturias-Lochlaer ended up accepting about $500 worth of Lancôme goods but disclosed this windfall to readers. “The last thing I want to is destroy their trust by transferring my loyalty to a corporate entity,” she said. “I’m not a beauty whore.”
Freebies are inspiring — you guessed it — more women to start blogs. After reading about Kristen Kelly’s glamorous evening at that Pomega5 party, Christina Yang Hull, 27, a parenting-products publicist in Norwalk, Conn., started Bonbons in the Bath, partly to get makeup samples.
“It seemed neat that Kristen was going to these things and getting her makeup done and being part of this world even though she didn’t work at a magazine,” she said. “She wrote a blog.”