Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

Will tweet for Crocs

Screaming pink Crocs
Crocs shot of the day

It’s amazing where a blog entry will get you. A little more than a month ago, I wrote about Crocs here on Thought Leader. Why, I wondered, did everyone hate Crocs? Why the need to be seen to be hating the brand? It struck me as rather theatrical, a form of metahatred than anything with genuine emotional content.

So when I visited Cape Town last month, one of the things I did, apart from delivering a seminar on the Digital Self at the annual SAHISA conference, teaching a class at UCT and asking The Hoff questions at the Loeries, was visit the Crocs warehouse in Gordon’s Bay. There I discussed marketing strategy and tried on shoes. It was sheer luck that my feet happen to be sample size and I walked out of there with eight free pairs.

I made sure that I repaid them for their generosity. Every day while I was in Cape Town, I wore a different pair of Crocs. Every morning, I would post a photo of the shoes as “Crocs shot of the day” (terrible pun I know; I’m going straight to hell) on my Facebook page as well as on Twitter. I discussed my predilection for Crocs with Kuli Roberts on the Loeries red carpet at the Cape Town International Convention Centre on the Saturday night and wore a pair of Crocs on the Sunday. Later, when my feet were too sore even for the Crocs heels, I changed into a pair of screaming pink flat shoes (the ones in the photo above) and still managed to get hit on by a much younger man at the MTV after party. I tweeted about wearing Crocs throughout, gaining the kind of coverage for them they would never have achieved otherwise.

Crocs don’t pay me but they did give me free shoes, so I’m happy to give them the publicity. For one thing, I get as much out of it as they get out of me. It may be a brand with an image problem but my own personal brand has always centred on a certain kind of ironic quirkiness so I can get away with it, and the attention I am able attract as a result is useful. As it is, I often speak in my professional capacity about the challenges of paid tweeting, so working to shift perceptions of Crocs as hideous gardening clogs is a real time demonstration of what I actually do for a living.

Leopard print Crocs
Another Crocs shot, so you have pictures to break up all of this text

I raise the point about my quid pro quo with Crocs because it relates to some of my other activities. Last week, it was brought to my attention that some people were asking whether I was paid by the Loerie Awards: why else would I be posting so much content about them on Thought Leader?

It struck me as something of a strange question. Why on earth would I need to be paid to write about the Loeries? For a start, I routinely write about media and marketing — I do work in the ad industry after all — and the Loerie Awards is the biggest event of the year in my industry by far. I wrote my PhD thesis on advertising and nation-building and this was a nice excuse to use material that would otherwise gather dust on a shelf. At the same time, I was running a Land Rover campaign focusing on the Loeries, so for over a week, the festival was my life. Over 10 days, I posted three articles that mentioned the awards directly — this one on the cultural significance of Riaan Cruywagen, this one on the ads I grew up with, and this one on how impressed I was with the way the Loeries was run.

Since you ask: no, the Loeries didn’t pay me. Though I’ve written a couple of freelance pieces for them in the past year for the Saturday Star‘s media and marketing page, they didn’t pay me this time, unless you count the Rockstar Pass they gave me. Here’s the thing: I bet that if I were a journalist, none of those who wanted to know whether I was being paid to write about an event that many other news organisations judged worthy of coverage would have batted an eyelid. Never mind that brands pay for the media to travel to holiday destinations, attend car launches or attend international tech fairs; readers seem to take everything that journalists produce on trust.

Crocs in Land Rover
Bag of sponsored shoes in sponsored car

I’ve always made it clear that I am sponsored by Land Rover and if anybody else was paying me in cash or in kind, I’d be upfront about it, as I have been in the case of Crocs here. This is the standard advice I offer when I am interviewed on the subject of paid tweeting: if you’re going to do it, be open about it. The questions about the Loeries simply highlight the problems faced by bloggers like me, who occupy a vast greyish landscape where the distinction between journalism and PR is becoming increasingly hazy (with all that churnalism floating around, it’s hardly surprising). We’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t: if I write about something, people assume I’m being paid by a client, and at the same time they’re offended if I mention names. Bloggers produce content free of charge, and the platforms for which we generate it make money off us through advertising, but apparently many of our readers are under the impression that we should have mastered the art of living off fresh air.

I’m very aware of the distinction between journalism and blogging, if only because I do both. When I’m blogging, I behave like a blogger; when I write for the Sunday Times, I do so under a slightly different set of conditions, mostly because they pay me per word. I spend a lot of time producing content at no charge, time that I could use for other things, like sleeping or having a life. That’s why the simple truth about blogging is this: seeing the odd mention of sponsors or clients is the price you, the reader, have to pay every now and then if you want to get me for free all of the time.

PS It hasn’t escaped me that there’s a certain irony here: that by complaining how much I wrote about the Loeries, the moaners have given me an excuse to write even more. I hope they find all of this deeply irritating.

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