I received an email last week, from a third party marketing firm, with the subject “Collaboration with [Tool Brand] – We’d love to work with you!” Let’s talk about the brief conversation we had with them.
I’m replacing the real company name with [Tool Brand].
Update: I’m replacing the product type too, with [tool type].
Here’s what they said:
I recently came across your Instagram page and I loved your content!
I run the influencer program for [Tool Brand (link)], a new brand that offers premium [tool type] that will help you perform from daily tasks to the toughest activities (Watch here [Tool Brand] YouTube video ad (link))
You and your audience are a great fit, and we would love to collaborate with you!
Let me know if you’re interested and I can send you more details,
Have a good one!
I checked their website and saw an interesting product or two – even if not very innovative – and the brand says they make their gear in the USA. Brands that manufacture tools in the USA are always given a chance, and so I decided to hear them out.
I also watched their video, and it was viral-hipster-cheesy in tone, with one-liners such as “Once you whip that thing out, you’re not going to be able to stop playing with it.”
Thanks for reaching out!
The [Tool Brand] brand has some curious offerings – what do you have in mind?
It seems that [Tool Brand’s] flagship products are their [tool type], but I’d be very hesitant to review something like this due to [redacted].
The company has some other products and accessories that look interesting, and they might come out with other more suitable products in the future, but what they initially pitched wouldn’t be appropriate for review purposes here.
Here is their response:
Thank you for your interest in a collaboration with [Tool Brand].
We have an affiliate program we would love you to join. You can click here to sign up.
Once you are admitted into the program we will send you [Tool Brand] products, a discount code, affiliate link, and ready-to-use campaign content that will help you increase your conversions and commission!
We offer a 10% commission per sale. You would have the freedom to create the type of content you know it’ll work best for sales and at the same time that fits and engages with your audience and purpose.
For any questions about [tool type] please refer to brand-name-website/shipping-returns
Let me know if you have any other questions.
We’re excited to start working with you!
Sometimes an awkward first email paves the way for a better conversation, but that wasn’t the case here.
Affiliate links, discount codes, and review samples don’t sound all that bad. But ready-to-use campaign content? That seems a bit… eww. So do they want me to just copy/paste posts to get you to buy their products?
Oh, but it will help me increase my conversions and commission?
All of these things give a clear picture into the brand’s intent, or at least their marketer firm’s strategy. They don’t want to collaborate with me, they pretty much only want me to be a sales rep. Read over the quoted parts and tell me if you disagree.
They don’t say “here’s our story” or “here’s what you’ll like about our products,” they tell me I would be free to “create the type of content” that would allow me to sell their products to you.
Would you have expected me to say yes to any of this? Would you have wanted me to say yes to this? Would you want any blogger, YouTuber, or Instagram influencer to eagerly “collaborate” with this brand?
This is what all affiliates want from me, to sell tools and create revenue for them, and that’s fine. I know that tool brands and retailers want any relationship with me and ToolGuyd to lead to greater sales and higher revenue, but that’s their goal, not mine.
It’s also not my role to do a brand’s marketing job for them.
These emails are also missing any compelling reason why I should pay attention to this brand and its products.
I checked their website again, just to make sure, and while inoffensive, it looked to be a cookie-cutter storefront, with little more substance than their email. It also struck me odd that they’re already discounting their new products.
How many words did they write in trying to convince me to be an affiliate? And how many words did they write in telling me about their actual products?
There’s no hope in selling me on an affiliate program or any other type or collaboration or partnership without first selling me on the tools. I gave this brand a chance to do that, and they blew it.
Not every outreach effort will win me over, but this one struck a nerve.
Are you interested in more “business side” posts like this one? I like sharing such things because it can provide you with greater perspective about how I approach things, and partly because I often feel alone in my priorities.
These posts are interesting. I also keep some of them in mind when contemplating purchases since I suspect their customer service won’t vary too far from their marketing.
I wish he’d move the reply button out from underneath your left thumb while you’re scrolling so until then I’m replying to every comment I accidently open the window on.
And on the sixth day, the day of scrolling, God giveth the man a right thumb.
Just kidding. I happen to hold my devices with my left hand and scroll and tap with my right. So, please don’t move anything over there! I constantly hit those jump-to-top-of-page buttons some sites have over there.
I keep hitting the reply on the left side with my right thumb, so I don’t think which thumb you use is the problem.
A little while ago Stuart added a black arrow to move the reply button over a little on mobile screens. It definitely helped! I still occasionally hit the reply button unintentionally too though.
Matt the Hoople
Dang it! I’m reading this, completely cognizant of the issue and, wouldn’t you know it, I accidentally opened this very reply window. Feel obligated to fill in the blank now.
It’s a work in progress. I can’t/won’t center it, there’s not much more I can do about shrinking its target size, and it can’t go above the comment itself.
I’ve indented it as much as I reasonably can.
Modifying the tap duration doesn’t seem to help much.
I’m up for ideas/solutions to try.
I think the problem is links normally don’t activate when you swipe to scroll on mobile, you have to tap the link. Something about how the site is made makes the reply button activate instantly when you put your finder down on it.
Yeah, this is exactly what I’ve experienced. It seems to be activated on the initial “down” touch, not a “release” of the touch (like you’d expect when you use a mouse).
Here’s the problem – the commenting system, threaded structure, and reply function is part of the WordPress core.
There have been tickets about this before, and apparently there’s no practical way to change how the reply button works.
There’s some flexibility in modifying it, but completely reworking things gets complicated really fast.
I can move it around, style it from a link into a button, indent it as much as possible, and minimize the target zone.
I don’t see any problem. I don’t have my thumb on the screen. I do have a case with a raised edge and that probably helps.
Glad I’m not the only 1 thought I was just had a case of fat fingers
I receive propositions like this (for audio products) several times a month — brands reaching out to SM influencers that are generating income for themselves by regurgitating marketeer-scripted content. I see the results of this craptastic marketing too often, and I immediately unfollow accounts that have obviously joined these campaigns.
I wish Stuart would just call them out by publishing their full info here. There are readers of this blog that will surely end up seeing their marketing and buying their products.
Calling them out, waving the flag and exposing their shady marketing tactics is the ONLY way this will stop. Otherwise there’s no risk approaching every single “influencer” and they spread like a disease, ending up with an army of shills on commission.
Other brands do similar, and so it’s best for consumers to question everything, rather than focus on just one brand.
I like reading about the inside world of the business with posts like this.
It’s such a murky world these days. I assume this type of influencer marketing is highly prevalent – it makes me highly suspicious when I see a product reviewed on another site or via youtube, complete with a link to where I can buy one for myself.
And yet, some of these campaigns can actually generate useful content. I recall watching a youtube video about some aluminium-polishing wheels for bench grinders recently. It was a well-done video where the fellow shared some helpful hints and tricks and showed a variety of products being used from a particular brand. I enjoyed the video, learned a couple things and even checked the link.
On the other hand, I was suspicious because there was no brand affiliation disclosed and the fellow in the video only mentioned one brand’s products. Digging into the website I found an affiliate program with terms not unlike you mentioned here.
I concluded the video was a sales pitch and a bit dishonest not to disclose the affiliation – yet I still think it was good and useful content. I would have trusted it more if there was a disclaimer at some point indicating it was sponsored content.
Are there any laws about revealing affiliations in YouTube videos? I do see some blog/web sites with FTC notices (like you do on each page), but I don’t see them on YouTube, or I just miss them.
It always interesting when you post these. Sometimes I wish you would out scoundrels, while other times I realize you don’t want to give them publicity. When it’s a big brand running afoul, I hope you’ll reveal who they are. When it’s a little guy just scamming for attention, like today, it’s good that you don’t.
I agree. The business side is interesting to learn and is helpful. No need to out companies like this. Helps me be aware of others in other industries and to teach my kids not to believe everything they see. Thanks!!
Everyone should disclose, but they don’t. A couple of people told me rules are different in Canada, but I haven’t looked into it.
It was Benjamen that convinced me to add the top-of-page disclosure. I don’t see myself as endorsing anything with affiliate links, which means I didn’t see such disclosures as required, but I came around.
This is a new brand, and they’re using 3rd party marketing. It wouldn’t help anyone, or the topic here at all, to name them.
I really appreciate the top of page disclosures.
I appreciate even more that I can trust your content regardless of your affiliations.
I’m New Zealand, and I only know this because I watch a YouTuber there, there seem to be strict laws about revealing affiliations, merchandise received for free and such.
I mean with all the infomercials, not sure the IS has many laws directly about it.
An aside- but somewhat related- the overhype nonsense people say is perfectly legal in the US. It’s called puffery. Say whatever you want in advertisements……… 50% more power, best sandwiches, etc. so long as reasonable people wouldn’t believe it, it’s legal.
Maybe I used some puffery in my description; but you get the idea
Keep doin’ what you do (and not doin’ what you don’t).
I love these behind the curtains posts. It’s the World Wide Web being used by the dopiest of “marketing” lowlife. Or at least bottom feeders.
I’m glad none of our clients have ever stooped this far. Certainly not to my knowledge.
Keep up your regular reviews and previews and if there’s time and urgency by all means share these tacky schemes as well.
It’s all great fun. At least for me.
You are a rarest of breeds in the social media/internet/www world: an objective reviewer. Your clear and accurate reviews of tool products and brands reflect no bias and you are transparent whenever you mention a sponsor’s product. It is wise of you to avoid a scam pitch like this knife/tool vendor is promoting. Keep following your formula.
Thank you, I appreciate it!
To be clear, this wasn’t a scam pitch, it’s just one that doesn’t at all align with my goals or how I partner with any brands or retailers.
That’s strange I just bought a tool from [Tool Brand] and they had the best [Tool Type] I’ve ever owned. I especially like how the [Feature 1] allowed me to [Benefit 1] without any trouble. Sadly I lost he bookmark when I accidentally swallowed their [Tool Name] and the heavy metals in their product cause minor brain damage. Good news, I believe I can buy a replacement brain at that amazing pop up store I just saw with 81% a 8 pack of replacement brains. But what do I know, I have my thinking contracted out to [Redacted].
If you’ve noticed that I left the T off of “the” and the D off of “Caused” maybe you can do my thinking for me. Please contact me at [Email Address].
Since you asked – please keep doing these posts. Your transparency about who you are, what you know (and what you don’t know) is a large part of why your site is required reading. These “behind the scenes” posts help enhance your credibility.
I very much appreciate posts like this and your analysis and thinking. What I’ve concluded of late is the level of both expediency and intellectual dishonesty is rampant. I’ll cite 2 recent examples. I recently purchased an unusual duffle bag-it was the holy grail I had been searching for except the handle was poorly designed and cut like a razor when held. I gave it a 3. The retailer made the review disappear. Even more recently a major ‘unbiased’ consumer review organization sunk even lower. I purchased a $400 water filter based solely on their review. It was for a summer house where the water quality is poor. I arranged to have our plumber receive and install the filter before our next visit. Imagine my shock to learn that the filter needs to be disassembled and cleaned with bleach after 10 days of non-use-chlorine being the key item we were filtering. And the inconvenience. Perhaps it works if you wear an ankle bracelet. My review and comments were never published-the comments system weren’t working properly they claimed. Not true I checked. More like they don’t want to cut into affiliate revenue even for this leading organization which i now deem untrustworthy. So keep doIng what you do. There are very few left with integrity. Almost every source is now a pod person.
These are very useful as they help us identify when it’s happening elsewhere with other influencers.
Keep spilling the beans, Stuart. I love it. “Influencers”. My lord, everyone of every generation, tripping over themselves to be a sell-out corporate bitch douchebag all for the sake of validation from strangers.
First time posting. Been visiting this site for many years.
You are admirable for your integrity. However in defense of these companies that you have been calling out in haste lately for marketing practices you don’t agree with, you have been giving away too many details. I was able to pick apart details from what you wrote above and with in 2 searches online found out the company is [tool brand].
In their defense and other companies, particularly start ups, this is the norm for marketing created by and targeting Millennials and Gen Z. Campy, cheesy, hipster videos and marketing. Anyone can go to youtube and watch the [brand] videos and then go watch a Dr. Squatch Soap video… See what I mean?
Most of the time when they reach out their messages are overly excited and hyped up in almost a way that comes off as being phony. This is the way they are taught and trained to correspond. How can you be excited about their product if they are not?
Unfortunately this is the way marketing is done today and where the marketing dollars are being spent. “Influencers” youtube channels, blogs, websites, instagram and twitter followers. People start a website or youtube channel talking about subjects they love. They start acquiring followers who are passionate about “tools” as well and are looking for reviews, comparisons, user feed back, and testing to make future purchase decisions.
For marketers this is the ultimate targeted advertising in the digital era. Take the deals and give honest reviews. The users will trust your input and if they decide the product works for them and want to make a purchase, they can support your work and buy through your link. If the manufacturer doest like the review they go always go somewhere else. I would argue that they would likely be more responsive to criticism and feedback from sites such as yours, and others like it, due to the followers you have.
Just my “long winded” 2 cents!
Thanks – I stripped away the remaining part about the product type to avoid giving away too many clues. I didn’t anticipate anyone seeking out the company and thought I masked enough about them.
This particular email exchange struck a nerve because it rolled a combined a bunch of annoyances – bad outreach, a detachment from the product and too strong of a focus on sales conversions, and millennial-targeting viral-hype in a way that seemed forced.
Part of the motivation behind a post like this is to give readers a glimpse into what’s going on behind some of the hype they see in social posts, but I also have hopes that marketers will tighten up their game. If my sole goal was to rant or complain, I’d have new examples for posts like this every single day.
If I were very interested in the products this was all about, I might have had to have said yes if I wanted any media relationship with the company. An increasing number of brands are unable to separate PR and media communications and support from influencer marketing these days.
That’s the thing – how do you know who to trust when relationships like this aren’t readily disclosed? Reviewing a product that you are financially incentivized to recommend always creates a conflict of interest, which is why disclosures are so important. I can tell you that a lot of people don’t readily disclose brand ambassador and affiliate relationships like the one proposed here.
I recently turned down a sponsored review opportunity, mostly because the product was disagreeable. That example stands out to me because they sent a form-type email, and it was clear many others were offered the same or similar terms. I have since seen a lot of reviews of that product, with ZERO influencers disclosing that they were paid for it.
In a perfect world, every consumer would ask “are they being paid to sell me on something?” with every review, introduction, plug, endorsement, or product coverage they see online or in social media.
Some brands are open to feedback, others aren’t. With a post like the one above, I can share feedback to more marketers. Maybe the pitch above is a very successful one, and it just doesn’t work for me.
If I’m very interested in a brand, I might persist, and this can turn out some very positive results. Or, I simple close the email in my inbox and move on. But also, firms looking for influencers to sign on as ambassadors or affiliates aren’t usually interested in individual or distinct relationships, and it would be fruitless for me to hope for this unless there’s the potential for a bigger effort or an actual collaboration.
I prefer for brands to approach me in a traditional media/magazine type of way, but many prefer to go the social media and influencer approach. A lot of times these are brands who don’t have long-established PR efforts, or who partner with younger marketing firms, and I have been adapting, but I allow myself to kick and scream about it on occasion.
That’s true too, and part of my frustration here, as there was no excitement about the product at all. It’s like going into a car dealership, and the salesperson is more interested in talking about financing options than the car you’re asking about.
Longtime reader here — Just want to say thank you for your integrity and commitment to quality of content. You’re one of the few “real” ones out there in a world where everyone’s an “influencer”, “brand ambassador”, or otherwise getting a kickback from someone’s marketing firm.
I support a large manufacturing facility on the R&D side of things, and I’m constantly on the lookout for new tools and ideas for our staff, and I check this website daily.
just curious, what is your reasoning for not divulging the name of the tool company in question? If I tool company is engaging in scummy practices shouldn’t we be able to avoid buying from them? I ask because now there is a chance I am going to bump into this company on my own, and possibly make a purchase. something I wouldn’t do If I knew about their underhanded tactics.
I find it disagreeable, but technically there’s nothing unethical about their approach or what they said.
I don’t have to help a company like this, but there’s no reason to hurt them.
Agreed. That is just a normal occurrence across any industry but the email did come across as a lazy, automated attempt to recruit you to sell their wares. Plus, “outing” a business is never a good idea. The second email failed to address your questions specifically or even generally. It’s probably automatically generated to work for______ . I understand your old fashioned preference of one on one or direct contact relationships/partnerships. I’m more likely to respond to someone who is carving out a piece of their time to contact me as it lets me know they are serious and not just spamming my inbox
i think it all has to do with the integrity of the reviewer. I honestly don’t think you would advocate for a product if you didn’t think it was any good.
It is interesting to read some of this behind the scenes kind of stuff. I think this is more egregious on the YouTube side of things. Some of the people touting things seem to get hyped about things that i know are not good and i wouldn’t waste my money on them. It really makes one wonder if the only reason people are touting something is they get some financial consideration out of this.
It also goes to reviewing style. I am increasingly less impressed with some of the “pure numbers” style of some reviewers a la Project Farm. (not that i have any issues with the methodology of Project Farm and he takes NO compensation) Its just that sometimes the small difference in performance is immaterial to me.
Case in point, i was just going to buy a new chain saw to take down a tree and cut it up + other yard cleanup. I own a Poulan Pro (that i hate) and seem to have problems probably stemming from the fact i might use this 2 or 3 times a year so maybe not go Stihl or Husky. I decided to go with a battery chain saw. I saw the Project Farm review and of course DeWalt came out on top with cut times etc. I was leaning that way until i saw some other reviews talking about the single point of attachment on the DeWalt and way that tensioning was done and what that might mean for long term durability. There were one or two unbiased reviews that really sparked my biggest concerns about the DeWalt model and that was off the table. It seems now like there are a ton of people making battery powered chainsaws (Greenworks, Sun Joe etc. ) in the end because i had some of my own selection criteria (like already owning a particular battery platform) i ended up going with an 18″ Ryobi chainsaw (40v). In addition i had already owned some Ryobi 40v OPE and it has server me well for a few years.
This is something maybe to be mindful of. In reviewing tools especially power tools or OPE what is the long term durability of a product? Maybe difficult to assess but if i see a reviewer and they seem to know what they are doing and they have problems right out of the box then i maybe want to steer clear.
IIRC, AvE took apart a Dewalt chainsaw and …it was junk. But Dewalt might have revisioned it a few times since. I think the Makita 16″ cordless is better. Husqvarna also makes a good 16″ cordless. But then, there are now 18″ bars and even soon to arrive 20″ bar cordless out there (Echo has a 16″, EGO has 18″, Stihl has a nice 16″ but its costly).
The Ryobi, 18″ 40V is also rated well and I think you’ll do fine with it.
I’ve seen those Project Farm videos and think the guy makes more on ads then on practical advice-some of his tests, like the screws driven in wood, were not really practical examples. Comparisons of features, use, runtime,… heck there was a fella from Ontario that does youtube videos on firewood…until he got to demo an EastonMade splitter. That thing was nice but also, cost prohibitive versus most splitters. Anyway…
The thing about some of these cordless products, is that folks get locked into “battery family” and that makes it simple but also restrictive. Buy two, or three batteries, and use one brand, interchanging with the batteries. I use Greenworks but I have older 40v and the newer are 80v. And I had bad experience with their (junk) polesaw breaking. But, they sent me a new one, (after I got a Stihl gas powered) so even if the quality is poor, customer service can make up. And so, I am looking into their 80v 18″ chainsaw. But I am keeping my gas-powered Stihl polesaw and gas powered 24″ Husq chainsaws. The 18″ will rule the roost till I need felling power.
AS with all, taking influencers and reviewers with some skepticism is healthy.
Not sure about anyone else’s feelings on youtube influencers but some just irk me. You have a fella, that sells custom furniture. And some are in the thousands of dollars range. Within a year, the youtuber upgrades shop location, and gets dozens of tools, and several sponsored placements (Sawstop, Nikon, etc) with some tools in the thousands of dollars. That is great, but I guess the attitude there is, “See what I got…for free…because of you, my subscribers. Oh, did I mention I am starting Patreon?”
I may seem jealous, but I feel that the underlying “influencer” puts out one video a week, or two. Has gained millions of views, and then after amassing a youtube audience, uses that to influence marketing to give him great products. Doesn’t seem sincere compared to some youtubers that will buy the items, and do honest comparisons. And even call out the quality, etc. Oh well. We all like free stuff, but when its in the thousands, I wonder if the tax man might consider it … income. 😉
I always appreciate your insider insight Stuart, Thanks for sharing it.
I’m a very spiteful person and consumer. If I was in Stuart’s shoes, I would name names, and tag other companies that tried it, and inform them that as of “The Date of Publishing” they can now watch where their sales drop because I named names, and why their marketing department needs correcting.
By holding their purse strings with your integrity of publishing, you may not get as much free stuff or sponsorship, but you will certainly be understood as a journalist with intelligence and integrity, not a corporate third-party schill.
But… That’s me… Stuart is a far better human being than I am. If I held genuine influence over others, I would remind the fakes and trend-followers constantly, that they can watch their sugar-daddy sponsors drop off the stock market for supporting them, rather than get huge sales boosts for using them as a mascot. It would literally lock companies into supporting integrity in marketing, and quality control in production. Otherwise… They can watch their profits go by the wayside.
Aren’t you glad you’re not me, Stuart? I swear… SUCH a better human being than I am… ACTUAL integrity… Not hindered by Spite… No wonder we keep coming back here!