If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say…

Let’s say, hypothetically, that a blogger was sent a free product/service worth about $500 by the company who sells the product/service. There is no specific requirement that the blogger write about the product/service, but it’s apparent that that’s why the blogger was chosen to receive the product/service.

Now, let’s say that the blogger has an overwhelmingly negative opinion of the product/service. It’s not dangerous to the world or anything but the blogger would never, ever use it, based on its design/utility/etc.

Given that the blogger *would* write something positive if his/her experience with the product/service was positive, it is his/her responsibility to write something negative if the experience is negative? Going even further, if the blogger chooses to simply not say anything at all (out of respect for the niceness of the company who sent it) is that unethical?

46 comments on “If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say…”. Leave your own?
  1. Jack says:

    Maybe your assumption about the company could be wrong. Maybe they’d like to see a negative review out here in the wild? I think it would be interesting to tell them that you didn’t like their product and ask if they would be interested in seeing your (hopefully constructive) review posted to your blog.

  2. Ben says:

    I think it’d be polite to send your opinion back to the (completely theoretical) company so that they might have an opportunity to correct their apparent deficiencies.
    You don’t have to write anything about it publicly, but you should tell them so they know that you have looked at it and they haven’t just given you a freebie.

  3. That probably depends mostly how much care about the relationship with the company that sent you the product/service. I would say if you’re not going to write about the product/service and you didn’t like it that it would probably be the right thing to just simply send it back to them with an explanation of why you didn’t like it.

    It might give them a chance to improve it and make it better.

  4. Jaime says:

    That depends on the context of your blog. If people come to your blog for impartial reviews of “x” type of products and services, then you should write something negative. It’s the reason you get readers in the first place. Although it may be uncomfortable, you should write with extreme impartiality about the service or product, but if the company deserves kudos in their customer service department, or their delivery or implementation, use that to leverage the negative review. If your blog does not have to deal with impartial reviews of products and services, IMO you should not write anything and let the company know you won’t write anything because you disliked the product or service, but wish to do them no harm with a negative review. On the other hand if the company was in any way rude to you and/or you feel they don’t deserve neither sympathy or compassion, write all you have to write then my friend, just do so honestly and without taking any sides.

  5. sj says:

    Agree with Ben – maybe you can turn it into a consulting opportunity :)

  6. Robert Nyman says:

    Very interesting questions. I guess it depends on how the situation was initiated in the first place: was the (hypothetical) product/service delivered with no prior contact, or was it at some point accepted?

    If it was just given to you, just like that, , I’d say it’s fine just to ignore writing about it, since there are no obligations or connections to the provider. However, if you at some point did, in any way, accepted the offer (even though without the promise to write about it), it is a tough choice.

    At the end of the day, though, in such cases, in almost every instance I refrain from writing about it. I tell them I will take a look at it, and if I think it seem fit, I will write about it. But what if I hate it? I think there’s enough accusations/disrespect/whining online as it is, so no need to add yet another item to that pile.

    Moral obligations? Let’s be pragmatic: if it’s just a product, we know in reality that a lot of the coverage is, to some extent, sponsored. So, unless it’s a business doing something wrong against children/minorities/warfare etc, I don’t think you have any ethical reasons, that you “owe” the world to let them know about this.

    Obligations to the people who gave you the offer/benefits? As long as your straight up front with them from day one that you may or may not write about it, I think it’s fine to just not write. If they contact you and ask, be honest, behind closed doors. Good companies will appreciate the sincerity, and use the constructive parts of your criticism to make a better product.

  7. Bramus! says:

    Phew, guess I’m not the only one who got $500 worth of condoms :D

    That aside, you make some valid points ask genuine questions. I think the blogger should write both positive and negative. If he doesn’t feel like writing, then you can’t call him unethical.

    If he were to write something negative and then be forced to take it offline, now that would be unethical.

  8. Andy says:

    If it were me, I’d take the opportunity of having this product / service to review how the reality of it matched up to my expectations. I’d lay out in writing why I’d never planned to ever use it, then evaluate each of those preconceptions against what I actually found when using this review sample. The likliest outcome would be a review that said ‘this aspect was better than I expected but all these were as bad as I feared’.

    By doing that, I’d have approached it fairly and taken a detailed look at the product, which is what the company hoped for, while at the same time stating my generally-negative views. It’s honest, and it’s not bashing for the sake of it.

    Then, if the product / service were of a sort that would allow this, I’d either return it / unsubscribe from it, or offer it as a competition prize on the blog. Or give it to some charity that needs that sort of kit. Or something else that didn’t involve keeping it.

  9. So uh, what Microsoft product was it?

  10. Sameer Vasta says:

    Non-hypothetical situation: I received a SmartPhone from Nokia a while ago with the same stipulations…say anything you want if you feel like it. Other than that, the phone is yours.

    The phone was, in short, horrible. I got rid of it really quickly. I wrote a short post about how I thought the phone wasn’t for “people like me.” I think that was fair. Let other people make their own decisions, but for me, the phone was a bad bad fit.

    I don’t feel bad about that at all.

  11. My personal take on either my own site or my film site (Filmstalker) is to be honest with my reviews. I always try and find something positive to say about the film/product/company and I’ll never just say negative things about them without trying to find something positive.

    That said if it’s a negative review and I’m either paid for it or it is from a small independent filmmaker, I’ll give them the opportunity to refuse the review first. I won’t change it, just let them see it and give them the refusal option. I also let them know all this up front.

  12. Chad Edge says:

    Jaime saved me from having to write anything – that’s the exact opinion I was gonna post. Whew, saved me a paragraph.

  13. Mike D. says:

    I would always write an impartial review, good or bad. The question is more “If I know the review is going to be bad, am I ethically required to write it… knowing that if it were good, I’d certainly write about it.”

    What I’m hearing though is that people really don’t think it’s a requirement to write it. And I do like the idea of contacting the company and letting them “reject” the review.

    In the end, if you take it to an extreme and say “There is a blog out there that makes it a practice to only review things the author likes” and you ask yourself if that’s an ok thing, I think the answer is absolutely yes.

  14. Personally, I say sandwich it.

    Give a nice intro, then your honest opinion, and leave off with something nice about it.

    Everything, no matter how bad, has something nice about it.

    I think said blogger has quite a few responsibilities (he can shirk on them, but it’s much nobler to fulfill them).
    One responsibility is to the company who sent it. Perhaps it was some jerk in marketing who sent it over looking for only positive reviews, or maybe it was someone who wanted honest feedback.
    Either way, said blogger has a duty to inform them of a deficient product, and what they can expect others to write, say, and/or experience.

    Said blogger a responsibility to their readers to keep them from buying junk, otherwise, what credibility do they have?

    Lastly, said blogger has a responsibility to themselves. Being honest, in good and in bad, and being open, are both benefits to the said bloggers overall life.

    Again, I think sandwiching it is the best option. Honest and kind are not antonymns. :)

  15. Mislav says:

    Don’t forget that the company knows who you are by reading your stuff. They’re reading this right now, and already know how you feel about their product/service. Still, don’t do a negative writeup of it. Unless only you of all people in the world know that it holds substance X that is deadly to humans, show some respect to the company in question and don’t explode in their face.

    Any person can have a negative experience with anything. I (for one) would never use a cell-phone, but could I open up a blog and write about it? The rest of the world seems perfectly happy with them.

  16. Emma says:

    you should either, send it back and write nothing about it, write your review, good or bad, then send it back.

    The other option is to ridicule the company for sending you it the first place in what is a blatantly pathetic attempt to garner positive reviews.

    The only exception is if it was a Mercedes SL55 AMG, then you can keep it, or better still, give it to me!

  17. roberthahn says:

    I think it’s important to publish a negative review. How would you feel if you knew you had the chance to warn us away from a $500 mistake, and we ended up making it?

    I don’t think it’s unreasonable. Here’s how *I* would like to see it play out: Write the negative review. Don’t post it. Tell those who gave it to you that this is what you’ve got written *so far*. Then give them a chance to make you a raving fan. If they come through for you, write it up too, and publish both the bad and the good. If they screw it up, write *that* up and publish it too.

    The only reason why most people here would say ‘don’t write about bad stuff’ is because they’re hoping to be the recipient of free stuff too.

    You were given a product/service by a company, whose sole interest is to make money, not friends. When people only publish good things about companies, and hide the bad, then those companies get a license to do whatever they want.

    But even if you’re going to do nothing about *this* instance, I hope you’ll have a sane policy to guide you for the next time someone offers you a free product/service.

  18. Saying nothing is a legit response. Responding at all, negatively or positively, gives the product some press and starts discussions around the product—which is exactly what the marketer wants.

    If I chose to write about a ‘gift’ given to be me by a company, I would absolutely disclose the fact they sent me a free one. Choosing not to respond might piss off the company sending you loot, but I don’t think its morally wrong. If the ‘gift’ was given under the pretense of being a gift, then saying thanks and not blogging it seems completely fair.

    But if they say you can only keep it if you write about it—I would send it right back. That’s not a gift, that’s a payment—accepting it would be selling out.

  19. Josh B. says:

    If a company is foolish enough to send out a crap product for review, give it the Joel Spolsky treatment.

  20. Emily says:

    Mike, I swear to god if you keep your negative review of the iPhone from the world, you will be PROVING them all RIGHT.

    Freaking fanboys.

    (Tongue firmly in cheek! I promise!)

  21. Jaime says:

    Another small point I forgot to mention… It also depends on what your relationship with the company is / would be. If the company actually hears you out on your negative comments of their product, and treats you respectfully, I wouldn’t publish my review but give back to the company a thoughtful critic of the product… On the other hand, if the company has a overseas customer service where the agents representing the company don’t know proper English and lack the skills to properly operate a computer, I’d not only write a bad review, I’d pay you (I’m being sarcastic) to publish my review on paper and post it all around town.

    Note: I have nothing against foreign call centers. As a matter of fact I’VE WORKED AS A COSTUMER SERVICE AGENT. The thing is that on my group of say, 30 people, only 2 spoke proper English: some north American girl and myself (I’m central American). The rest had either 2nd grade English skills or just a serious pronunciation deficit. Don’t even get me started on how most of my peers couldn’t change WinXP’s default resolution, nor how to work the Avaya phones.

  22. adriand says:

    If the product is really that bad, sell it on ebay and move on. Why should a marketer with an advertising budget set the agenda of your blog?

  23. Don says:

    I think you owe it to the blogosphere to be honest about it. First always disclose when reviewing a free product that it was in fact free as someone else mentioned. Then if they sent it to you they sent it to five or five hundred others. So if only those who liked it write, then those of use trying to figure out if it is something good get a skewed view of it. Just be honest and be sure to point it out to them as well. Maybe they can tell you that you are missing something big about it or something that will change your mind? Maybe they will use it to reformat the product in the future, and maybe just maybe they wanted to see if it was good or bad. Be constructive though. Most important of all ask them to add me to their distribution list because the next $500 item might just be the bomb even if this one is not.

  24. Martin says:

    Note to self — don’t send Mike D prototype for Children Running with Scissors activity game for hopeful blog review.

  25. Dave Metcalf says:

    Something else to take into consideration: do you have a responsibilty to your loyal readers/FF opponents to warn them off an expensive piece of junk?

    Alternately, you could have a contest where the winner both gets the item in question as well as a guest posting on your blog with his or her review of said item. That should give you enough distance from any possible negative review while the company gets the association with you that it wants.

  26. Mike D. says:

    Dave: Funny you should mention that. The last time this happened (with this same company in fact), I suggested to them that I hold a contest for the product/service. They mentioned that the product/service was not meant to be transferable so essentially “please don’t do that”. I really, really like the idea of a contest though so I’ve just asked them again.

    I might even go ahead and do it even if they say no. :)

  27. Mike Rundle says:

    Dude, I told you if you wanted a Real Doll to absolutely not, under any circumstances, fall for the hard body looks of this one. Send it back, get the hot female one, then write the positive review so we can all sleep easier.

  28. Constantin says:

    The ethical question is why the blogger got it in the first place. He/She didn’t ask for it, if the item would have been turned down there wouldn’t have been no ethical issues…

    So, if blogger takes the item he/she wants to talk about it. But then he/she also wants to be fair to both readers and company therefore a honest opinion is required. Positive criticisms that the answer. Both reader and company will appreciate it.

    Imagine that blogger writes something positive on a bad item. One of the readers will buy it based on the review. Should the blogger be held responsible ? Should the reader come back to the site ? I let you answer these questions…


  29. Tom Dolan says:

    Slam it man, let’s hear it. They sent it to you, full welling what kind of ruthless mofo you are. What doesn’t kill them makes them stronger. They’ll make a better product next time, or at the very least learn a lesson in the perils of viral marketing. Bring on the flame job!

  30. Calvin Tang says:

    One question: Can I have it then?

  31. Rex says:

    So you got the camera too?

  32. There is no specific requirement that the blogger write about the product/service, but it’s apparent that that’s why the blogger was chosen to receive the product/service.

    Starting from here, I think that yes, the blogger could write about it.

    But the blogger could also take a different tack and communicate with the company about any issues. If the company is really interested in their market (whom you are, presumably, that’s why they chose you), then maybe they will work with you or take your advice into consideration.

    At that point a few things can happen. Maybe they actually do something about your suggestions, maybe they simply respond with some valid input, or maybe they don’t say anything. Given any of those scenarios, you could then write a post about whatever happened.

    I guess I see this as more responsible. Simply bashing the company because they contacted you with the product is getting a bit old, imo (you pwned them, dude). They are opening a line of communication to their market, why not try and respond in as positive a way as possible so as to encourage more companies to do the same?

  33. Jason Beaird says:

    As much as I’d like to hear what you got and what your opinion of it is – I’m skipping the hypothetical here – I think letting the company know you’re not happy with their product first is the most ethical thing to do. Perhaps they’ll take your feedback, apply it, and send you another one. If, on the other hand, they’re jerks about your dissatisfaction, go ahead and let us know!

  34. Dan Jallits says:

    It is my belief that if an unsolicited product/service is sent to a blogger for their review by a company, it is the bloggers right to write a negative post of the product. Company’s know, or at least should know the risks that they are undertaking when interacting with the blogging community.

    I would also like to note that negative posts can be made in a professional manner and is respectful of the company. Dan over at SimpleBits does a nice job of this in his April 05 post.

  35. Mike, assume you write a negative or sandwiched review. If it’s a sandwiched review then we will know that you’re making an effort to be positive. In any case, if I come back here in x days and find a product/service review, I will immediately assume that it is about said terrible product, even if you give it a positive spin.

    I think that you’re between a rock and a hard place in terms of this specific product/service. If anything, you have inadvertently already written the negative post that you’re trying to avoid and if you write a follow-up post, it will be marred by this post.

    Whatever you chose, I think next time you get in this situation, you should just write an impartial review. :D

  36. Jason says:

    So my guess is that if they follow your blog, they got your opinion :)

  37. Fazal Majid says:

    It depends on what expectations you have set with your readers. Some blogs, e.g. Kevin Kelly’s “Cool Tools” only recommend great products you may not have heard from. Readers don’t have the expectation that there will be negative reviews there, so it would be entirely ethical for them to omit a review (but they should still send back feedback to the manufacturer out of common courtesy).

    If on the other hand you have ever published a negative review, then your readers have a legitimate expectation of straight talk. I personally write only about products I either absolutely love or absolutely loathe, seldom about medium ones that are so innovative that they merit mention even if their first incarnation is half-baked.

    Negative (or mixed) reviews are far more valuable than positive ones because PR and marketing departments are always there to promote the positives, but there is no competing interest pushing for balance. By omitting a negative review, or sugar-coating it, you are doing a grave disservice to your readers and betraying their trust. Their needs certainly outweigh any moral obligation you may have towards the manufacturer.

    This does not mean you should be cavalier about it: make a good-faith effort to find out if you got a defective unit, give the manufacturer the opportunity to respond to your concerns privately before you publish. On the other hand, do not delay publication indefinitely, and the worst possible thing you could do is post a review that glosses over the problematic points until you have confirmation or feedback from the company: the review should be published as a whole.

    Last but not least, your question is flawed: if you write reviews people trust, even if they are not paying to read the reviews it is unethical to accept gear with the implied assumption you don’t have to return it. Therefore the premise begs the question. I’ve only been offered once (by the makers of a product I actually like, but then again PR people are not stupid or gluttons for punishment) and refused. There is such a thing as selection bias. That’s why Consumer Reports insist on paying themselves for the items they review.

  38. Chris says:

    Write as honest review. Even with a negative review, the company will have had $500 dollars worth of advertising and someone will still make a purchase. Then sell on Ebay or offer as a competition prize, or even give it away to someone worthy in Seattle.

    I would love to receive all sorts of goods and I promise to review them!

  39. Eric says:

    I believe you should write the review either way. Lets pretent for a moment that this is a hypothetical “cell phone” that you have some negative feedback – the company is actually looking for that. As a power user they may be looking to get the type of feedback that they can use to improve future products. Perhaps the goal of your article may be to write in an unapologetic way saying heres what was done right, and here is what was done wrong. This way, the team responsible for compiling the results can use this feedback. If you figure that the majority of people getting this product will write positive reviews, they will actually be getting the benefit they want from them – while getting usable feedback data from you.

  40. gleuch says:

    think about it as if you were a design student (way back in the day). when any of your fellow classmates would ask for your general opinion, they normally want to hear what is working well, not necessarily what needs improvement. however, if you did give them any negative criticisms, it would usually be taken as constructive criticism. parallel to the blogger dilema, a company would asking you to give an opinion on the product, and are giving you the resources necessary to evaluate the product. a student too is giving you the resources necessary to evalute, however insted of giving away a tangible good/service as an investment, the student is investing time (and maybe a scrap of paper to illustrate their idea). in either case, negative comments would be considered constructive criticism. any benefit you receive from their investment is done for the purpose of research and opinion.

    it also would not be unethical to keep your lips sealed if you have nothing to say about the product. their investment in your opinion is concluded as you having no opinion. anyone might be offended, but if sincerely do not have an opinion to express, then there is no need to express anything, as an opinionless expression is just fluff. however, if you keep quiet because you are afraid to express an opinion would be wrong (but could still be ethical based on other outside influences).

    now, if you were under obligation to deliver a postiive review or were being paid to deliver a statement, then it would be an entirely different dilema.

    in short, be honest =)

    (nb: “you” is an ambiguous term, not directed at mike himself)

  41. ultra says:

    Factual and technically accurate reviews are always helpful. Oftentimes when searching for the best product I will find a highly rated products and then search out the negative reviews first.

    Overly opinionated and unjustified reviews are not really what we are covering here I believe and those are somewhat unfair wherever they happen.

    Can I suggest a new higher ethic level? As a company has presumably given someone a product worth $500, maybe they would like to be contacted and communicated with regarding the products good points and flaws. Communicate with the company first and then your review, even if negative, will include the ease with which you were able to contact the engineers at the company and illuminate to them the shortcomings and needed improvements in their product and thusly their attitude regarding this would be reportable as well.

    It would well behoove them to answer you and welcome needed correction IMHO as I believe quality products are the only sure guarantee of any producer’s continued existence.

    I know one fellow who had a transmission shudder coming from the lockup converter and I was the first one to diagnose it correctly. He was actually able to reach Ford engineers on the phone in a single phone call. He got the information from them that they had told the white-collar guys that the tranny needed a fluid change interval in the owners manual and the white-collar guys poo-pooed their suggestions (as the Ford transmission in this truck was supposed to be indestructible or something) and consequently a lot of people had shuddering pickup trannys.

    Well, what can one learn from this? I am not a Ford fan particularly but I would have to say that I got the impression that the Ford engineers are trying nomatter how shackled they may be. Would I consider buying one of their products? Yeah, maybe a used truck. Did this “negative review” improve my opinion of them and their products? It actually did.

    Communication with the company first would be important if for no other reason then to be able to report the results of that communication. Lack of time to call them would not be an acceptable excuse as they have given you an expensive product and then in return you should feel personally obligated to return the favor and get their feedback on your reported flaws.

  42. Cellobella says:

    I think you should write the review – an honest opinion from a trusted source is valuable for the reader and long-term for the manufacturer. How does the saying go – all publicity is good publicity?

    Plus next time they might send you something good. (and they might stop sending you rubbish products)

    Of course you need to also reveal to your readers that the product (or indeed any future product) was sent to you as a gift.

    If you feel uncomfortable about saying something bad then perhaps you need some kind of disclaimer when you give a positive review saying that you only review products that you like but personally, I think this gets you into a grey area… there are shades of *like* and where do you draw the line?

    I only review things I don’t hate?
    I only review things I kind of like or better?
    I only review things I like or better?
    I only review things I like a lot or better?

    Better off to review them all without fear of favour…

    Good luck!

  43. Collin Yeadon says:

    I would review it for sure.. So you probably shouldn’t review it.

    I don’t care about favors, not that they did you one by sending a piece of junk. But other people surely fell for it and gave positive reviews. Why would you not want to hold their designers and developers responsible for producing bad products?

    Perhaps it is not so bad though. Put it this way. What would it take to get a bad review out of Mike D. Well you would probably have to feel like you were burned or mislead. Does it seem like this product might be misrepresented (more then the usually marketing swing) or were the flaws so bad that you think it would frustrate others more then you?

    Put it this way.. You don’t have to write a review but obviously that is why they sent it to you. That’s an invitation that carry with it an expectation of a good review but an invite is an invite so you should feel no guilt about giving your opinion just because they gave it to you free of charge. (doesn’t sound like free is the case if it’s causing you to have issues with your integrity though)

    I have seen some stinkers before that have taken all my respect away from telecoms and device manufacturers.. They make enough off the products to afford spending extra on development if there is a problem and they should be willing to go back and fix those problems.

    Say what you want about Microsoft but I loved that they tossed out Longhorn about halfway through development and started again from scratch. How many companies would have eaten that development expense for the sake of having a better product? Not enough companies that is for sure. So many times we get bad products forced on us because of 1 stubborn, ignorant VP or R&D who pushed forward to save face even if it means we get 50 cents worth of plastic and wires that don’t work as desired.

    I assume that you didn’t like the device but that it wasn’t so bad that other people wouldn’t like it? I mean are there any selling points on the thing or is it total crap?

  44. Mike D. says:

    Put it this way. What would it take to get a bad review out of Mike D.?

    That is an excellent question. I think it’s one or both of the following things:

    1. If I personally was burned by the product because I wasted money on it or it hurt me in some way (not the case here).

    2. If I thought there was a significant chance that many others would waste money or be hurt by the product in some way (which I also don’t feel is the case here).

    This is the simple case of a product that I don’t think a lot of people will spring for in the first place and even if they do, they can return it within, I believe two weeks, for a full refund. Given that I would have returned it before I even got home, I don’t feel like many people would get screwed here. If it was a question of a seemingly nice product falling apart after the warranty was over, then yes, I’d post.

    Either way, I’m pretty sure I’m going to give it away in a contest in the next week or so.

  45. pauldwaite says:

    Given that the blogger *would* write something positive if his/her experience with the product/service was positive, it is his/her responsibility to write something negative if the experience is negative?

    No. I think wanting to rave about something is fine motivation for a review. If a sucky product doesn’t inspire you to review it, there’s no need to review it. The absence of good reviews can inform web searchers, if not as precisely and unequivocally as bad reviews.

    if the blogger chooses to simply not say anything at all (out of respect for the niceness of the company who sent it) is that unethical?

    Mmmm… no. It’s not like you asked for a free sample, nor did anyone (except, obliquely, the company) ask you what you thought. I don’t think anyone can do anything to ethically obligate you to blog. Your blog, your business.

  46. lol at https://mikeindustries.com/blog/archive/2007/04/ethics-in-blogger-reviews#16318

    I would just make a post saying “I would like to thank such and such company for sending me their product.”
    You never said it was good or bad.

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