By Marlys Harris | Nov 22, 2010
Could the blogger next door be accepting dough from big companies to shill their products?
According to Kara McGuire, a staffer with the Minneapolis StarTribune, the answer is literally ‘yes.” Her recent story, “A New Recipe for the Web”, described General Mills’ efforts to promote its cake mixes and cereals by courting bloggers. To win good will — and possibly kind words, the company treated 30 influential homemaker bloggers to an all-expenses-paid trip to Minneapolis to tour its campus, cook in the Betty Crocker Test Kitchen, taste new goodies, like snickerdoodle cookies — that’s the dough part — and go for a dinner cruise on a nearby lake. Although the company doesn’t pay bloggers or require them to say anything, much less anything nice, the investment paid off. Many of the invitees, according to McGuire, delivered rave reviews, even while disclosing that the company had underwritten the junket. Marta Darby of www.MyBigFatCubanFamily.com, for example, reported to her readers, “General Mills paid for my entire trip and treated us like royalty. Even if they hadn’t, I would still gush about the fabulous treatment and I am still a huge Betty Crocker fan.”
That mommy bloggers may be shilling for Big Cookie doesn’t bother me. The worst that can happen is that the public pigs out on flour products — which it’s been doing pretty well without bloggers’ help for decades. But what happens when Big Pharma starts to use bloggers and other social media, like Facebook and Twitter, to push its products? Hearing from your friendly neighborhood blogger that Meridia is great for losing weight — never mind the high blood pressure that might occur as a side effect — could be much more persuasive to than any TV commercials or magazine ads.
It may be early days yet, but drug companies are considering and being urged to get with the whole social media program. As an example, Tom Schwenger, global managing director for the Life Sciences Sales and Marketing practice at Accenture, the consulting company, points to Merck’s “Take a Step against Cervical Cancer” spot on Facebook which is designed to promote Gardasil, the controversial vaccination given to teenage girls to protect against human papillomavirus (HPV). In addition to presenting some basic information about the drug, the site invites women to become “Awareness Ambassadors” who will inform others about the dangers of the disease and the virtues of the drug. Additionally, Merck offers a sign-up sheet that sends reminders to patients to have their second and third doses.