I only have a little information to share. In fact, what I know about junkets could fill a thimble so I’ll graciously share my thimble full of mom blogger automotive junket wisdom with you.
The reason I want to talk about the Mom Blogger Automotive relationship is that while sitting in a hotel room last night I popped into Facebook and three of my private groups were busy talking about an article on The Truth About Cars that “exposes” a mom blogger as being a marketing tool.
I’m not sure that this was the best instance of exposure. Bloggers of every type long ago agreed to be part of a marketing machine with sponsored posts (certainly I’ve done it) and accepting swag, experiences and/or trips. I’ve done that too.
What The Truth About Cars does very effectively is demonstrate to us all, readers and writers, that blogging and journalism are quite often at odds. I’m not a journalist. I’m prone to hyperbole, I leave out information that doesn’t suit my agenda and my writing likely has both Strunk and White spinning in their graves like rotisserie chickens. I’m a blogger and people come to be for one sided arguments, opportunities to feel better about their own parenting and some tips on spending too much money. If you want fact checking, verified sources and literacy may I recommend the New York Times?
I’m often invited on blogging trips. Some of them are tech related, some food, some automotive. I decline almost all of them because they’re disruptive to family life and the past 18 months have been busier than normal at Mr. G’s office. Periodically I say yes because the opportunity is too grand to miss. I traveled with Oprah Winfrey, with Go Pro and NASA Scientists, with multiple car companies and most recently (three hours ago) with Continental Tires.
Caroline at The Truth About Cars doesn’t see the value in having mom bloggers or lifestyle bloggers review cars. She said it a little differently:
However, the issue here isn’t Xenia in particular, or mommybloggers in general. It’s the total misunderstanding that car manufacturers seem to have about digital marketing and the blogosphere. It would be hard to think of a worse way for Honda to spend the money they spent on this event. Even if Xenia and every one of her commenters had immediately purchased a Fit as a consequence of reading her review, Honda would still have wound up in the hole. What percentage of readers of her blog, or any non-automotive blog, are in-market car shoppers?
Well, I’m not sure that’s the point. If the only people the automotive industry marketed to were in-market car shoppers we’d never see billboards, TV commercials or hear radio spots. Car shopping isn’t done impulsively (unless you’re me and I won’t be doing that again). Car shopping is something that happens over a period of years. You get your first HotWheel and you know that you’re either a Chevy or a Ford person. You don’t know why you know it to be true but it happens. You pick a team.
Think of Volvo. What’s that I hear? A safe boxy car? Absolutely true. To be fair for quite some time Acura had a full line up of 5 star safety rated vehicles. Acura isn’t the car we think of when we think safety. Why is that? It’s possible that Volvo’s marketing budget in years past wasn’t limited to the automotive enthusiasts or in-market audiences. If they listened to Caroline’s logic we’d only know that Volvo is boxy and ugly, not that they’re safe. There’s a slow drip of brand affinity that everyone embraces at some level. Even folks who take the train to the office.
Ford has many successful programs with influencers, most of whom are not part of the automotive industry. One look at the Fiesta Movement should make it clear that digital marketing isn’t only about in-market audiences and that as much as Caroline may be expert in many things automotive she is not expert in marketing. Which is fine, few people are (I certainly am not).
I love The Truth About Cars. I remember meeting a couple of guys from TTAC at the auto show sometime around 2009 and being captivated by their enthusiasm and knowledge. When they said the industry hated them they were proud. They should be. We need truth tellers in every industry.
My site is not an automotive site. I don’t even know what it is anymore. People call me a mom blogger but I’m not sure that I talk about parenting a whole lot these days. I don’t have an editorial calendar, I don’t do many giveaways, I haven’t blogged about my last three trips and I forget to use images because I don’t think in pictures. I do know that when my readers are buying a new car (or new to them) they email me for suggestions. They read and reread my reviews and then they revisit my advice on vehicle shopping. I’ve had more than a few emails thanking me for my reviews. Men and women alike want to know about the experience of driving a car. The experience can be anything from having a lot of attention from rich people to getting snubbed by the valet. The experience of driving can be about a great navigation system, or a quiet cabin, the ability to get three car seats in the back or the strength of a rear seat air conditioner.
Driving experiences matter in languages other than those spoken in a pit. We all buy cars at some point.
Last weekend I was with Hyundai driving the 2015 Genesis. It wasn’t a mom blogger junket but it was a blogger junket. There were lots of tech and lifestyle bloggers and it was fairly evenly divided with men and women. Sites like TTAC would ask where the value is in the junkets and I would say that with a vehicle ready to hit the dealerships they were able to move nearly 100 reporters through their lineup in less than two weeks. With fleet deliveries a car is dropped off for a week at a time. They couldn’t possibly get that many folks in the 2015 Genesis in a good amount of time.
As to the tweeting and hashtags? Well here’s a snapshot of one day with the 2015 Genesis (which I’m not done talking about).
During the course of one day of bloggers playing with their vehicles #NextGenesis was delivered to more than six million twitter timelines. See the full report here.
People will try to tell you that blogger trips are OMG SO MUCH WORK. Do not trust these people. OMG SO MUCH WORK is what you’ll hear me say after my 15 year old has had 6 friends spend the night and I’m mopping the floor at 11pm. OMG SO MUCH WORK is what my husband sometimes says after working an 80 hour week. OMG SO MUCH WORK does not apply to a blogger junket. Ever. If having a few days alone in a nice hotel feels like a burden then they’re too tender for this world.
What does become sticky is who pays for what. I think it’s perfectly fair that I show up for the two days with a stick of gum in my pocket and somewhere around $50 for tips. The brands will arrange car services and they need tipping as do bellmen and housekeeping. Other than that I’ve never been out of pocket and don’t expect to be. These aren’t trips I’d take on my own it’s fair for them to buy my meals and pay for my transportation.
Typically when I check in at the hotel I leave a credit card for incidentals. Last week at Hyundai they didn’t ask for a credit card so in addition to the airfare, room and board I am indebted to them for a Toblerone from the mini bar that I ate in a moment of weakness. This weekend Continental gave us $150 resort credit which I spent on a glass of wine, a cheese plate and an eye pillow. There was money left over and I was offered it as I left the hotel by a newish employee. It made me want to go back and pay for my own cheese, booze and pillow.
Does $65 worth of room service make me less of a journalist than Dan Neil? Nope, everything else makes me less of an automotive journalist than Dan Neil. I’m not an expert in cars. I don’t have expertise writing. My expertise is limited to this blog. To writing about things I love (and things I don’t love, okay, hate), sharing experiences with you and periodically a recommendation. I have never worked with an automotive company and it’s probably the only industry where I will not accept a sponsored post. I love getting press fleet cars and I don’t have any affinity for one brand over another. I love Ford and Chevy (though Chevy’s not doing the right thing at the moment). I don’t want to endorse a car, a tire, a muffler or an aftermarket add on. I want to offer them to you as things I’ve tried and liked, disliked or found a useful.
The truth is that junkets make sense and not every blogger is the blogger you’re interested in listening to but when you’ve found a voice you trust it’s nice to hear what they think about a car.
Of note: if Xenia was befuddled by the Engine Start/Stop Button some of her readers might be too. Befuddlement has it’s place in blogging.