October 13th, 2011
Article published in the Toronto Star today

Big brands are lining up to harness the clout of online moms

I could have filled an entire book with all of the things I had to say about this, but at least I seemed to have the last word in the article. Sadly I feel things have gone much to far to be turned around now, the article illustrates this perfectly, (though a part of me still holds hope for a smaller niche of mom blogs who do not believe in mixing parenting with advertising money). This supposedly democratic medium has already been eroded to such a great degree that I no longer trust in it. To be honest it has gone much further to the dark side than I ever could have imagined, (whole conferences dedicated to matching women up with advertisers and free stuff). I attended BlogHer several years ago and will never attend again, given the aisles of advertisers giving away free stuff so that you will talk about it on your site (even basted turkeys, yes it’s true). I have since turned down several of these “conferences” which exist solely to make money for advertisers.

I wish I could write here all of the things that didn’t get printed. I will try to find time to do so. But I have a little one who needs my attention. So for now the article will have to suffice.

I will still continue with my own little war against it. I do not attempt to win the war, but to exist as a voice for the opposition (there seem to be not many of us). My problem is really with our culture at large that values money over more important aspects of living (love, health, education, connection). Since giving birth to my children I have become more passionate about this than ever. What kind of world do I want them to live in?

I have a quote that says it better than I can right now:

We need to ask questions like ‘Why do we think that economic growth and high levels of consumption are so important?’ The conventional answer would be to point to the economic consequences of not having economic growth. But in deep ecology, we ask whether the present society fulfills the basic human needs like love and security and access to nature, and in do doing, we question our society’s underlying assumptions.

from Arne Naess’s 1973 paper “The Shallow and the Deep, Long-Range Ecology Movement”

It is the asking of questions that is important to me. I feel that is my important work now.

Oct 13 2011
10:01 am
Michelle Shopped writes:

keri,

i am loving the book of essays i’m currently reading called the new agrarianism which reinforces my core beliefs…it’s a reminder for me to pay more attention to my choices and how they align with my values, too —

totally digging your “mantra”…
patricia

Oct 13 2011
10:44 am
sonrie writes:

You have to put what you believe out there, not to worry about those that might not like it, but for those who might agree with you. Thank you :)

Oct 13 2011
11:46 am
kate writes:

yes . . . it all has gotten so weird. the innocent days of bloggers sharing for the sheer joy and audaciousness of it are gone. i put ads on my blog for two days and it felt so creepy i pulled them. and then recommended some herbs and included links to an internet site that gave me a small credit to my own account if people purchased. that felt creepy too so never did it again. there’s nothing wrong with making money. and we all like to hear about good, useful products. but something just plain wrong is going on, and you can feel it in your nerve endings. this ad free blog of yours always resonates with me . . . glad you keep standing firm . . . the light of the truth of it shines on . . .

Oct 13 2011
12:11 pm
Marsha writes:

I am right on board with what you wrote here. These days, I run away from anything with “mommy blogger” or “BlogHer” labels on it. If someone can make a living at blogging, good for them. But if that living consists of being a marketing shill…well, that’s sad. I was attracted to blogs as arenas for communication and community–things that are increasingly difficult to find in blogland, I’m afraid.

Oct 13 2011
12:18 pm
robynski writes:

I agree Keri. This stuff has basically ruined blogging. It needs to have a different name. If only we could go back to 2004.

Oct 13 2011
12:31 pm
Helen writes:

Great to see they sought you out, Keri, but in all honesty, it felt like the journalist’s token attempt at “balanced journalism” the way they buried it way at the bottom of the article, past the offensive “women writers undervalue themselves” bullshit justification for commercializing blogs. It’s interesting to me that even fairly well-educated and progressive friends don’t see a problem with the commercialization of childrens’ universe, don’t notice the ubiquitous branding of even necessary products, clothing, or food items. It makes me so angry because the decision to not have it in one’s family life requires almost superhuman discipline, more money and the perception that you are somehow marginal in your thinking. To me, a sure sign that we’ve lost control of our choices.

Oct 13 2011
1:33 pm
E. writes:

Hear, hear! Great post and fantastic quote. Ove the past few years I’ve been thinking about what values I want to help ‘instill’ in generations to come. I was a lecturer for many years and tried to teach my students more than just English linguistics. As I don’t have any children of my own, I longed to help build a society I believed in, a society that wasn’t just monopolised by those who only believe in money, competition, power, but one that valued kindness, originality, creativity and sensitivity. Although it seems like such an impossible task sometimes, I still believe in it and now that I’ve had to leave my job due to ill health I’m looking for a new way in which I can contribute. I think there’s much potential in the blogworld for this.

x E.

Oct 13 2011
1:44 pm
simone writes:

Yes. I’ve been a longtime reader of all kinds of blogs and I’m sad to say the list is getting smaller and smaller. It used to be about sharing thoughts, personal stories or projects, but now I feel like I’m window shopping. Some of the crafty blogs I’ve been reading for years have turned into “20 fall coats for under $100!” Visit this site, tell us your favorite, win a pretty necklace. Photos of pretty things, pretty rooms, click here. I miss the real-life, real mess kind of stuff (If I sound a little bitter, I am!)

Oct 13 2011
2:45 pm
mollie writes:

I am always questioning the truth behind all blogs. So much of what we absorb online today can be masked in a bit of the “is this for real?” feeling. Has anybody else noticed how an ad free blog is more visually appealing and restful to look at anyway (morality and politics aside)?

Oct 13 2011
4:33 pm
Lorraine Sommerfeld writes:

I read the article, and your sidebar was most welcome. I understand the frustration you can feel at not getting ‘equal time’, but Andrea is a good reporter, and your message was loud and clear.

You finally made me address the topic myself. I’ve been really uncomfortable with it for a few years now, especially as I’ve watched more and more manufacturers move in. Sorry to link like this, but I’d be interested in your opinion. http://blog.lorraineonline.ca/2011/10/are-mommy-bloggers-whores.html

Oct 13 2011
8:01 pm
kerismith writes:

Thank you all so much for these comments.

Lorraine,
It is my opinion that transparency is not enough. I believe that all ads devalue a medium by their very nature. I am a bit confused by your viewpoints on this topic as stated in your post as you have a corporate ad on your site. How do you see that your are not perpetuating the issue?

just curious.

Oct 13 2011
8:24 pm
kerismith writes:

Helen,
I agree with everything that you’ve presented here. Another argument I have heard many times is “how can you criticize them when they are just trying to feed their family?” You can use this argument to justify a lot of things, how far would you go with it? We all draw lines.

I too have had many well educated friends who don’t seem to see a problem with advertising, commonly I am told “I just ignore the ads”. I mentioned to the journalist that I see my mental environment no different than my physical one, I choose to only put things into it that nourish me. There is a cost for constantly “tuning things out”. If you wish to research this read “The Shallows” by Nicolas Carr.

I am also troubled by the response by many that I am somehow “depriving” my children by not allowing them to be exposed to these things (tv, mass media, disney products). I feel like it is the other way around, exposing your children to them actually limits them greatly, as they are a symptom of our homogenized, non-thinking, non-questioning culture.

Oct 13 2011
10:43 pm
kristin writes:

Easy for you to say. Your blog generates income by advertising your books. You’re not blogging for nothing.

Oct 13 2011
11:02 pm
caren gazley writes:

thank you, keri, for not allowing advertisements on your site. i so appreciate it. the amount of advertising everywhere we look is depressing! we can’t even escape the t.v. ads by going to the movies anymore… we get at least 6 ads whilst we are waiting for the film that we PAID for! arghh… it is so frustrating. i stay away from blogs that advertise. on principle. so, well done!

Oct 14 2011
12:55 am
Mouse writes:

I dislike intensely the whole blogging for profit bandwagon.
Yesterday my own blog was approached by someone who wishes to use me to sell something and I was rather offended, especially as I’d recently written a heartfelt post against such things.
The world has gone crazy when a woman can become so well-off and famous that she’s invited to the White House and placed on a list of influential women just because she is a blogger.
For goodness sake, there’ll be a Nobel Prize for Blogging next!

Oct 14 2011
5:21 am
Nina writes:

as of today, i am deleting all blogs that i (used to) read if they carry ads. Actually, i think the food/recipe blogs are the worst offenders. advertising on the internet has reached a tipping point where few are complaining or noticing anymore. And, i think it is very important to let bloggers know why they are being dropped otherwise it has little impact. Thanks keri. Totally with you on this.

Oct 14 2011
7:45 am
kerismith writes:

(in response to Kristin’s comment)
This is another response that I am quite tired of. Thank you for posing it so I can respond to it briefly. I see an artist promoting their work as a totally different thing than taking ad money from another company. For me to tell you about something that I made (and am passionate about) is not remotely the same as me taking money from another company to sell their product solely to make money. While this is a complex topic that I could write about for days I feel it is enough to say that it comes down to the energy attached to the transaction. One exists to share a creation/idea the other exists to make money.

I will leave it at that.

For future commenters, no anonymous comments are allowed on this site. And I already made my arguments clear in the FAQ on the Adfree blog site. I do not wish to enter into another debate on the subject. I would rather spend my energy spending time with my children.

Oct 14 2011
1:10 pm
Mouse writes:

Keri
I like your response to the other commenter.
I recently made my own blog comments open only to people with a Google id, that may not stop people from opening fake accounts but it will mean that I can track them and out them.

I love your blog. I love seeing details of your work. You are a true artist and a very inspiring woman.

Hope you’re having fun with your children, they are lucky to have such a mom

Oct 14 2011
2:07 pm
nina writes:

I remember your ad-free blog owl! I loved that owl! And I know your babies love you now, but they’re probably really going to be proud of you when they get older. What you put out there really has an impact. Thanks.

Oct 14 2011
3:10 pm
Roxanne writes:

Count me in! If everyone did a pinky finger of creativity and imagination that you produce Keri, we all just might transform the society. Heck, lets go!

I love this one… “What if imagination and art are not frosting at all, but the fountain head of human experience?” – Rollo May

I started an artist + mom blog in 2006. Never any ads. Never photos of my son. It was my space to freak out and figure out how to juggle life with my new title. Now shutting down that blog and starting one new one – still ad free – to encourage and empower artists. Making the work and communicating meaning and giving the most important things.

Oct 14 2011
3:20 pm
Allison writes:

I dislike how pervasive advertising has become in our lives. Blogs used to be a personal space and it now seems that once they are popular, they immediately become commercial spaces. I respect and admire your stance. I made my blog officially an ad-free blog some time ago after reading about it on your site. I have been contacted by advertisers wanting to “sponsor” posts or have ads on my site even though the ad-free notice is quite prominent. I loathe the use of the word “sponsor” in the blogging field because it’s a “weasel word”. It’s somehow supposed to be more participatory and nicer than an advertiser, but it’s indistinguishable in reality. I think the corporate voice both erodes the value of blogs as an authentic medium as well as exploits the authors.

Oct 14 2011
3:32 pm
Allison writes:

ps. I bet your children will be deeply subversive and ask difficult questions. I hope mine will too.

Oct 14 2011
8:01 pm
kerismith writes:

Allison,
I also take issue with the word “sponsor”, I actually spoke at length about this with the journalist but it was omitted. Let’s be clear about it, someone is paying for advertising space on your site. That is called advertising. If you rely on that ad revenue, you will not say anything unfavorable about that person/company, nor will you want to say anything that might offend said advertiser. Hence your voice compromised.

Even if it only impacts your voice slightly, is anything less than 100% true true?

Oct 15 2011
5:21 am
LilaLena writes:

I have only recently entered the blogger world and was rather shocked by the amount of money-making going on there. So, I sincerely thank you guys for your comments: Many of them express my thoughts exactly, and I don’t feel so alone with my opinion anymore.

I’d just like to add one more little thought I had when I read your quote of Arne Naess, Keri. This desire for growth in our society is exactly what I’m struggling with at the moment. (Why can’t we focus on and take care of what we’ve already got – like our planet for example…?) Naess’s work is one of the bases of the Deep Ecology Movement which adresses exactly these problems. It’s a very beautiful and appreciative view of the world and of people’s efforts to make it just a little better. Those of you who don’t know it yet might like to take a look at it. It gave me comfort. :)

Oct 15 2011
11:58 am
Kim writes:

I don’t believe that growth and advertising are bad things in themselves. Prosperity is a good thing, and many businesses are run by people just making a living. These people have as much value in our society as artists promoting their work, because without businesses both large and small, our society would be a much poorer entity. HOWEVER… We have to re-examine our society’s devotion to these things when prosperity only comes to the few on the backs of the many, and when economic growth becomes more important to us than personal freedom, preserving the environment, and all the other parts of life and society that don’t “make a profit”. Things have gotten out of hand: greed, ignorance, selfishness and hyper-individualism are running the world. I support you Keri, and all that you stand for, because you make more sense than the alternative.

Oct 15 2011
3:35 pm
Still wrecking writes:

My opinion is that your (and my) important work now is to be a great creative and loving mum for your two children and a great inspiration for the rest of the world. Fight evil (e.i. advertising) with good!! Good as in creating more books that fuel a creative mind. Our children will be a lot smarter than our generation. My 8 year old daughter played with caterpillars today, making a “hotel” for them in my parents garden. If we as parents raise our children with the deep values of love, friendship, caring for the environment etc., they will understand without further explaining how silly advertising and making money for the sake of money is. Our own life sets the example. Our own testimony wins people over.
Keri, I love your work and so does my daughter!

Oct 16 2011
12:34 pm
Ann writes:

Bravo, Keri! I so agree with what your ad-free stance. As you said in one of your comments, there is a cost to trying to tune all these ads out. I feel the overstimulation quite keenly myself and am tired by all the “consumer moments” that accompany my internet travels. Enough already!

Oct 17 2011
8:56 am
Nichola writes:

I agree Keri! I tried out some advertising on Wardrobe Refashion but felt so uncomfortable with it that i decided to not continue with the site rather than have that stuff on there, it went against everything the site was about.
I don’t read blogs with advertisements or posts dedicated to products, it’s not their real voice talking.

I do link to products and services i personally use on my blog for no other reason than i like the product or service. I’m not offered any kind of payment in return.

I do long for the old blogging days when there weren’t so many of us and we were all friends reading about each others lives and creative adventures. I feel like most blogs i visit nowadays are obvious advertising blogs or trying to trick me by posting about something i think is personal but revealing this post has been sponsored by one product or another.

sigh.

Oct 17 2011
2:16 pm
Deanne writes:

Keep up the good fight.

Oct 18 2011
2:06 am
Julia writes:

Thank goodness for you! You are such an inspiration.

Oct 18 2011
7:17 am
folkscallmejonny writes:

Ideas, pictures, games and stories are just more interesting than products and services. I think there is too much encouragement to be a consumer and not enough to be a creator. When you create something, that’s when the fun begins and anyone can do it.

Oct 19 2011
1:03 pm
Mara writes:

I used to love reading a very funny and popular mom blog but gradually stopped as the ads became more prominent. (I’m not a mom myself, but I am a psychotherapist, and she writes openly and courageously about her struggle with anxiety and depression.) The final straw was when she featured a video of her living room newly redesigned by an advertiser. Ugh. Keep up the good work, Keri.

Oct 19 2011
1:41 pm
Ladybird writes:

Hi Keri,
Funny enough, comments section to this post gave me much more food for thought than the actual article.
I like your work very much and I have been reading your blog with pleasure for quite a while. But reading the exchange between Kristin (whoever she is – I’m saying that to point out that I’m not defending my buddies here) almost made me remove your website from my favourites list.
I could possibly be persuaded that there’s a difference between promoting your own work and promoting somebody else’s (because this is what it boils down to, isn’t it? Even an awful China-made rubber duck IS somebody’s work), and I do admit that your blog is mostly about ideas. But when I see ‘My new book just got published, you can buy it here’, I automatically put it to the drawer marked ‘Ads’, even if you add how much it excites you. I did read your FAQ section on adfree website and could also add that space on somebody else’s blog is value too (just as your art), and if it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be paid for.
Let me just mention, (so that you don’t think I’m a complete monster:) that I’m not very fond of ads (in whatever form) myself and I try to fight the trend in my own little ways.
Nah, my upset stems from the final part of your reply to Kristin. Which, on the whole, looks like ‘if you agree with me, great, let’s spend some time together, if you don’t – I’m sorry, I have better things to do’.
Ouch. What’s the point in starting a discussion if you don’t wish to talk to the opponent?

Oct 19 2011
5:59 pm
Deb writes:

I too don’t carry ads or write any sponsored posts. Occasionally I will do a book review with a book sent by a publisher but generally these are books I would have bought anyway (they let me pick from their catalogue). Thinking about it, maybe I’m compromised too, though I do review lots of books I have bought.

Ads/sponsors etc has all gone a bit mad in the UK parenting blogging world. I see a lot of mummy blogs starting up now with PR/disclosure policy/review pages in place and you get the impression they’re in it for the free stuff. Why would I care and why would they give over precious words in their creative space to talk about washing powder?

I don’t want to encourage people to consume more so don’t carry ads. Although some will think me mad in this economic climate.

And while I too hate the word “sponsors” what about those taking ads from small family businesses. Is that somehow more noble or better? To me it’s all the same but I’m curious what others think.

PS. Love your work and blog Keri.

Oct 20 2011
9:39 am
kerismith writes:

Ladybird,
I am sorry you seem to be upset. While this debate may be new to some of my readers (as they are constantly changing), it is not new to me and so I find myself repeating my standpoint. I was stating that I do not wish to enter a debate as for the most part it comes down to a philosophical argument, on in which many of us must ‘agree to disagree’. I did not say “I have better things to do”, but I do have a newborn which, yes, to me is more important than this argument right now.

The basic roots of it for me are this (this is just one aspect of my issues with advertising):

Scenario 1: I am an artist who creates a piece of work. I sell it in some kind of forum. I tell people about it. I get paid for the work I create. This interaction has been occurring for thousands of years.
Scenario 2: I have a website on which I write. A company has a product. They pay me to tell people to buy it. My income now depends on this money so I become a “provider of advertising”. Because I depend on this income I will not say anything that would impact my paid relationship with the advertiser, therefore my voice is impacted. Over time, the content of my website begins to exist to ensure that the advertisers get some value for the money they are paying.

Being an artist and telling people to buy my book is different in that there is nothing to impact or alter my voice in any way. To me there is a HUGE difference in how it impacts personal integrity and society. Advertising is not the same thing as promotion. The exchange of money alters the energy. I am not saying “I think So-and-so’s work is great! Go buy it.” I am now saying “So-and-so has paid me to tell you that I like their work and you should buy it.”

You are welcome to disagree with any of my statements. But as I would ask of my students I would like you to explain your argument.

Oct 20 2011
9:43 am
kerismith writes:

Jonny,
I couldn’t agree more!

Oct 20 2011
10:44 am
Ladybird writes:

Keri,

Thanks for your reply, it was very much appreciated. I know many blogs on which my comment would simply have been silently removed and I’m glad you not only let it stay, but also took time to reply to it.

I basically agree with you re authenticity of sponsored voices. I could go philosophical and try to defend ads (one could, in theory, only advertise products that they truly admire etc.), but one quick look at what’s happening on the web shows that money has amazing ability to make people admire items picked by the sponsors – so yeah, I see your point there.

Your statement ‘advertising is not the same as promotion’ made me feverishly search for a dictionary and here’s what I’ve found:

advertisement – a notice or announcement in a public medium promoting a product, service , or event or publicizing a job vacancy

promoting – the publicizing of a product, organization, or venture so as to increase sales or public awareness

The above taken from Oxford dictionary.

I admit I’ve picked definitions that show my point best :) My point being that, particularly from a reader’s point of view, promotion and advertisement boil down to the same thing. As I said in my previous comment, to me ‘buy’ is ‘buy’, whether authentic or not. But I might be going too far towards philosophy here :)

I wonder, is it possible that you don’t really mean to fight advertising itself, and strive for authenticity instead? If so, I’m signing up to your army, because authenticity is something worth fighting for.

I would love to touch on a few other aspects as well, but I’m already going on epic proportions in commentology :) so I’ll leave it at that.

I wish you, and your family, all the best.

Oct 20 2011
8:06 pm
kerismith writes:

Ladybird,
Thanks so much for sharing your viewpoint. You bring up some very interesting points, more philosophical food for thought. I love it when this happens!

Definitions aside, I still believe that the two acts are very different in that one involves a middleperson and payment, while the other does not. I also disagree that from the reader’s point of view promotion and advertising boil down to the same thing. It makes a big difference to me whether the writer has received any form of compensation to mention a product or not. It seems obvious to me that one is someone sharing their opinion while the other is someone trying to make money.

I will agree with you on thing, advertising in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing (if it had some limits placed on it). But yes, authenticity, integrity and honesty is what I strive for in myself and seek out in the world.

I would love to write more about this subject too. And I will at some point. But I must go nurse my babe.

thanks again for sharing your thoughts. they are heard.

Oct 23 2011
2:51 pm
Lorraine Sommerfeld writes:

Hi Keri, I just got back here now.

I do have a corporate logo on my site – the company that lends me camera gear for my work in the auto industry. No money, just loaner gear. It’s also the only link I have.The paper I write for is strict. I’ve never been anything but forthright about it.

I’ve been writing for years, and I’ve never monetized my site. That’s my choice; if others want to do it, have at it. I just don’t go to sites covered in ads and pop ups. They’re irritating, and the voice is diluted.

We’re on different subjects here, perhaps. My concern is with bloggers blasting onto the scene and being romanced by the offers of free stuff and free trips. There’s a seduction taking place that is undermining not just the people who are taking part in it, but the entire movement that the original article you were quoted in was about. If ‘Mommy bloggers’ (ugh) have power, why are they willing to trade it away for a gift basket and a facial?

Anyway. I think we’re on two different topics. I’m just talking about transparency.

Thanks for your reply.

Oct 24 2011
4:10 pm
chiqui writes:

hi, keri. i started blogging with the primary aim of earning some money. I guess I have progressed n no longer care about the money. Let me share my journey:http://chiquibaylon.net/2011/03/housewife-makes-it-big-in-blogging-biz/#more-2430

Oct 29 2011
12:59 pm
Kate writes:

I would liken an ad-free blog to highways that are billboard free: When I take a ride in the country I want to see trees, meadows, critters out prowling, and the big blue sky. I get time to THINK. for myself. A clean ad-free blog lets me focus on the content and reflect on it; the content isn’t blocked by distracting ads.

Don’t get me wrong: I love great advertising. I just don’t want it entering every darn tootin aspect of our lives.
Thanks Kerri for sticking your neck out and speaking your truth.
It’s a breath of fresh air!

Oct 31 2011
12:31 pm
Mary writes:

Sorry I’m late to this discussion. I’m missing something. because I can’t figure out who would even read these mommy blogs. The writing is formulaic and the subject matter boring. What’s frustrating to me there are many great artists, poets and musicians out there struggling to get noticed. I dislike the idea of someone getting paid for tapping out a few paragraphs about how she spent the morning with her toddler.
I’m so appreciative of your voice. Yours is one of the few blogs I check up on. I always learn something from you, Kerri. You are a fabulous teacher.

 
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