Crossing the line? LOFT barters gift cards for blog coverage

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An e-mailed invite from LOFT (also known as Ann Taylor LOFT) circulated amongst fashion bloggers last week with an unusually pointed -- and some might say, inappropriate -- footnote attached.

The invite was for an ‘Exclusive Blogger Preview!’ of LOFT’s Summer 2010 collection, to be held on Jan. 26 at the Industria Superstudio in New York. ‘Come take a sneak peek at LOFT’s Spring 2010 collection before anyone else!’ the flier urged, promising a special gift to all attendees and entry into a ‘mystery gift card drawing.’


But at the bottom, in small print, the company got down to business, stipulating: ‘Please note all bloggers must post coverage from our event to their blog within 24 hours in order to be eligible. Links to post must be sent to [address], along with the code on the back of your gift card distributed to you at the event. You will be notified of your gift card amount by February 2. Gift card amounts will vary from $10 to $500.’

So, essentially, there’s nothing mysterious about the ‘mystery gift card drawing.’ The mass fashion company is clearly bartering coverage of its new collection on blogs in exchange for gift cards. And -- from the sound of the sliding scale card values -- the bigger and better your coverage, the greater your reward.

It’s a footnote that would never appear on an invite to print journalists -- there’s a tacit understanding between clothing brands and fashion journalists that editorial coverage isn’t something you can buy or barter for. It goes against the rules of ethical journalism (which mandate that journalists cannot -- or at least, should not -- be influenced by money and gifts). Are the organizers suggesting that the new generation of journalists aren’t playing by the same rules?

Granted, in the Wild West environment that is the fashion blogosphere, the ethics of news journalism are often flouted. And it must be frustrating for brands when they invite a pack of indie bloggers to an event and see little-to-no coverage of it.

Still, this mixing of Church and State is promoting pay-to-play journalism, which -- at least in my mind -- is an insidious and worthless breed. If writers can be swayed by gifts, we can’t exactly trust them to be unbiased.

In response to requests for comment on the footnote, a LOFT representative e-mailed this:

‘Engaging the blogging community is a new way for us to communicate product information. We put a premium on the editorial media that covers our brand and we do not incentivize media for coverage. ... It is not uncommon for LOFT to offer contests, promotions or special offers in-store and through various online channels to our clients, similar to other retailers.’

-- Emili Vesilind


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