There are a lot of companies spending a lot of money to get you to buy their stuff. I suspect you are probably thinking, “Duh, that’s called advertising.” But this blog entry isn’t about traditional advertising.
During the last few years, we’ve seen the rise of personal celebrity in the woodworking world (and the knitting world and the Kardashian world…). And it’s different than what it used to be. Years ago there were a few celebrities – Norm Abram, Bob Vila, Scott Phillips etc. – and they endorsed products or they didn’t. So the world bought Porter-Cable routers, Craftsman’s semi-useless wrench gizmos and spray finish in a rattle can.
But the relationship was simple, transparent and obvious.
These days, anyone with 50,000 followers on Instagram can become a celebrity, endorse products and make money doing it.
What, you say you haven’t seen this happen? Well, I’m sure you have. You just haven’t been paying close enough attention.
I’ve been approached time and time again to participate in these schemes. They work like this. A manufacturer gives you tools for free. You post your feelings about them (amazingly, most woodworkers seem to love free tools). And you get to keep the tools. If the response to your posts is strong, you might be asked to write some sponsored posts where you get money for simply stating what you like about the tool.
Another scheme involves you wearing boots, pants or hats in your posts from the makers of boots, pants and hats. You get free clothes, and the maker gets free exposure on a well-trafficked website or Instagram feed. If you make hay with your posts, you might get paid for your posts where the world can see your awesome footwear. Or the person is an affiliate and receives a cut of the sale if you click their link and buy the tool.
Is this bad? Well if people followed the law, I’d say no. It isn’t terribly bad.
The problem is that most people don’t fully disclose their relationships with the companies that give them free stuff. The Federal Trade Commission is pretty clear on how this should work. You can read the full regulation here. Have you ever heard of a woodworking celebrity being cited for breaking this regulation? I haven’t either. That’s because there’s little enforcement in this area.
So if you get a free drill, blog about how awesome it is and fail to disclose the fact that you got it for free, the chance that the feds will come knocking on your door is about equal to getting hit by an asteroid blasted from your toilet.
Why Am I Writing This?
As I’ve said before, problems such as this are minor in the grand scheme of things. Our world has about 100 million things that should be fixed before dealing with the world of woodworking celebrity scofflaws.
But being aware of it might immunize you against it so you don’t fall prey to it. When someone crows about a tool over and over and all their tools look really new, I’d ignore the crowing. When the attractive dude is wearing the same stylish apron, sweatshirt or hat over and over, I’d stop wondering who made it and just accept they are shilling it.
Most of all, if you are looking for unbiased information on tools or equipment, know that that information is dang hard to come by. There are marketing-based companies and engineering-based ones. Knowing the difference takes a lot of research and difficult digging. I wouldn’t rely on the people in your Instagram feed to help. I’m afraid that these days the burden is on you.
— Christopher Schwarz
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