Butterflies On Blooms

– on the complex relationship between brands, bloggers and bother

If any one phenomenon has utterly changed my life around for better and for worse in the past five years or so, it would be that phenomenon known as social media networking. On Facebook I’ve made some amazing connections with people I might otherwise never have known, through my three blogs I have had the opportunity to engage in a dialogue with my readers on whatever subjects piqued me enough to write about, and on Twitter I could toot my horn loudly and slather the word around like so much virtual virgin olive oil:

There’s a new blogger out there, people. Watch out, world!

But social media these days are a lot more complex than simple shameless self-promotion platforms – for one thing, they are quite possibly the most exciting thing to happen in marketing since the invention of TV commercials. Brands everywhere have sat up and taken notice…this thing called social media marketing. They’ve joined Twitter, created Facebook pages, held promotional events and competitions for new product launches etc, building a brand identity and online presence through the one thing that distinguishes social media marketing from the old school of advertising:

Engaging in a dialogue with their customers.

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the noisy blogosphere, for no other reason than here is where a brand can be made, made over or pilloried by the new media superstars:


Ordinary – or not – people like you and I, people with and without backgrounds in professional writing, people who are armed and dangerous with the courage of their convictions and more to the point – are not afraid to put those convictions out there in the virtual world for all to read and interact with. In some areas, those bloggers have become entities in their own right – for better or worse, as in the fashion industry.

If a blog is to succeed, said one of my ‘How to promote your blog’ newsletters, it needs to have a defined focus – one topic or passion that will appeal to others who share that passion. Once upon a time, I thought that was the worst sort of bs. This was until I started writing about perfume and gained far more followers and feedback than any of my other blogs ever had. If you write about a product – as we perfume bloggers do – then you need product to write about.

You need the brand that makes it happen – in this instance, perfume houses who make the juice you get to sample and then to write about. Don’t believe for a moment that those perfume houses could care less about your opinions, because trust me – they do!

So we have that delicate symbiosis between brands and bloggers, like flowers and butterflies, each benefitting from the presence of the other. Bloggers are the best ever free PR any brand could ask for – and in return, a blogger can get noticed/promoted/read or even get to the point of actually becoming a brand in his or her own right.

On the other hand, we all know it – there’s no such thing as a free lunch. And in the world I live and write in, there is also such a thing as personal integrity.

Say…an independent perfume house would like to read what stories their perfumes could evoke in my dubious prose. My email is right on my profile page. I receive an email – would I like to review X, Y or Z?

I am several hundred miles away from anything remotely resembling a brick-and-mortar department store/niche perfume boutique. I’m also relentlessly curious, as well as too poor for a credit card. In due time, I receive samples of X, Y or Z – sometimes entire alphabets – and in turn, I have my own part of the bargain to fulfill: to write what I think, publish the results and sit back to watch the fireworks. Since I’m also on Facebook as well as Twitter, I also share the link, tweet my newest blog entry, and in some cases, email/PM/DM the perfume house to let them know it’s there. They get the PR – and I get the benefit of building my own reputation/brand as a blogger who may or may not have something unique to contribute to the ever-expanding world of perfumed prose.

Actually, I have another nefarious agenda here: I want to write for a living, and I have the hubris to believe I can. If I can write about the ephemeral art of perfumes – a very difficult subject matter, since our sense of smell is so subjective – then it serves two purposes at once: I become a better writer, and also gain a reputation as one.

So what would the brand of Tarleisio be? What can I do to be unique in the perfumosphere? I realized a long time ago that I had to be true to my own voice above all else. In other words, if you want a ‘professional’ review, this is not where you’ll find it. So many other bloggers are much better at proper ‘reviewing’ than I will ever be. You’ll find most of my personal favorites listed on the right of this blog.

My angle is different – I choose to go with the genies in the bottles and follow them where they lead. If that means that I can evoke a sense of what a perfume smells like or what the perfumer/perfume house was trying to say, if you as a reader become curious through my words and my idiosyncratic perspective and passion, then it’s all good. If not, well…there are much better perfume bloggers on my bloglist!

Back to that personal integrity. I have on more than one occasion received a few things that left me cold/unimpressed/disgusted. Since I consider perfume a high art form on a par with any form of creativity, I know from personal experience how much destructive criticism can hurt. Therefore, I try to be fair in how I react. Just because I can’t wear something doesn’t mean someone else might not love it.

So I will praise what I can appreciate – dedication, concept, care of execution – and note what did or didn’t work…for me. If I rave, I rave because I think it’s exceptional enough to rave about. If I rant, it’s because it was a bad idea badly executed.

I have never received any kind of payola for my reviews and never will. I also reserve the right to decide what I review and when I do, which is a lot less often than I’d like. Hence, my whopping backlog of guilt over all the marvels I want to review and all the time I don’t have.

Do I have favorites? Yes. I tend to rave about the perfumers/houses who continually push the limits of what a perfume can achieve, who keep trying and keep challenging not just themselves but their customers. In other words, those who evolve in terms of artistry, just as I try to do the same in my writing.

There is an awful lot of awful out there. What is also out there: an awful lot of incredible discoveries to share. Without perfume blogs, I would never have known about niche perfumes or independent perfume houses, and my life would have been infinitely less rich for it on all levels of my existence. I truly was at the point where I thought perfumery as an art form was dying, since so much of the mainstream left me unimpressed or disillusioned.

I’m not immune to the lure of loot, luster or lucre. I’d be thrilled if I had 2000 followers and an online presence to match. But I blog con amore – for love. For the love of perfume, my passion for sharing that love, and a personal dedication and perspective to writing about it that I try to keep my own.

Just as flowers need butterflies and bees to keep blooming through time, we perfume bloggers need perfumes to write about. Just as no flower is identical to any other, neither is a perfume or a blogger. Which is not at all the same as saying every nectared flower is equally sweet – but then, all butterflies are different, too.

Even this one.

A big thank you to Nathan Branch for bringing this horror story to my attention.

Image: Dottie Dee, fineartamerica.com

31 thoughts on “Butterflies On Blooms

  1. Great post! I know how you feel, having been doing this for a while now too – you gotta have the love! Otherwise it feels like just another job, and I already have one of those!

    That link to the marketing story – I had no idea it had gotten to this point in the fashion world. Somehow I don't think anyone would pay ME $5,000 a day to appear anywhere!

  2. Your reviews are always engaging, they wax lyrical and have a lovely rhyme and meter. I would love to have 1/8th of an ounze of your writing skill and that of many other perfume bloggers. This is very thought provoking for me. As a new perfume blogger I value and soak up as much information and assistance as I can from you seasoned bloggers. It is one of the warmest and most genuine communities I have been welcomed in to. Thank you.

  3. Beautiful Beautiful Ms. Butterfly 🙂 This is a wonderful description, which I think I was intuitively aware of, though hadn't taken the time to verbalize. Thank you for doing so.

    With scented warm wishes,

  4. Amen, amen. You're very right about the flowers and the butterflies.

    (Just for the first time yesterday I was approached by an independent perfumer asking if I'd like to review some fragrances. That only came 20 months after regular fume blogging about what I like, what I love, what I can't stand, all of it entirely personal. It was refreshing to be part of the producer conversation.)

  5. Well, Flora, saying this as someone like you who has a job, I'd say that this blog is the job I really want to have, and if it takes so much of my spare time to keep it going, then…so be it!

    I don't think there's anything new in the idea that integrity is for sale, but it came as quite a surprise that things have reached this level of insanity in fashion. I can paraphrase Elizabeth Taylor's famous line here and say that if anyone were stupid enough to pay me $5000 for a personal appearance (as if!), then I'm not stupid enough to say no, because free perfume samples don't pay the rent! 😉

    If I ever did, though – it would not be as a perfume blogger – it would be my identity as a writer. Since THAT is what I'm really seliing!

  6. Sharryn – that is a sweet thing to say, and I thank you for that. I think the most important thing here is not how well you can write, but how each of us has our own voice to contribute to the noise – we all have our different perspectives and opinions, and for the first time, we have a way of sharing those perspectives across continents and time zones in real time – through the larger community of. well…perfumoholics??? 😉 It's true that the perfume community is one of the friendliest, warmest places to be welcomed into, but as in the rest of the world, sharks lurk in unexpected places here, too!

  7. Amanda – you should, if you have half a chance, read the link to that horror story. It is beyond appalling. Anyone who writes as a blogger on whatever topic should read it as a cautionary tale – and then take a good, long look in the mirror and ask that all important question…

    Could I end up like that, too? As a blogger who writes about perfume – I'd have to say no.

    But the writer that overrides her says…yes. Such is the price of ambition.

  8. Well, Muse, you keep a low profile..;) But the truth of the matter is, there are any number of companies out there who trawl the blogosphere for bloggers like you, and no matter what you do, they will find you, sooner or later!

  9. Me too! I blog about perfume because I love it, but I am far from being a professional reviewer. I'm not even a perfume expert. I just like to smell perfume and write about it in a personal way. I'm still learning and my tastes are changing with experience.

    I have received a total of 3 unsolicited samples from perfume houses. I have never promised to review anything and if I do I don't promise to be positive.

    That said, I enjoy reviewing the perfumes I like better than those I don't and I always feel a little guilty about my negative reviews, especially if it's an indie line. I'm trying to get over that since I state right up front that my blog is just my personal, amateur opinion.

  10. I found the article Nathan Branch linked to appalling as well, but you've articulated so many good points about what it means and what it might mean in perfume-land. These issues don't really affect my blog (at the moment), but as a reader of others' blogs they are so important to me. Thanks for putting your pen to paper on this issue. Or finger to keyboard, I 'spose.

  11. Yes, when I saw that article on Twitter, it really freaked me out. I know people need and want to make money, as do I, as a writer eventually, but obviously the hard core fashion people have brought it all to a whole new level right now.
    I recall a post Andy Tauer did not long ago, about how it costs about $10K for a seat at the table when the magazines interview or feature anyone. He was so grateful to the bloggers for getting the word out about him, otherwise he'd never have a chance to make it as an independent perfumer. So I felt good about that, that I've had a part in the growth for independent perfumers.
    People need to know what the money situation is in these cases. There is a rule here in the U.S. you are supposed to disclose your relationship and what you got, if anything, in return for a blog post/review, which I think is healthy, but I think often we only see the tip of the iceberg, or partial reveals. They should require this for the regular media too of course, but I never see it explained.
    In the end people know the difference in less than a second between a commercial blog and an independent blog, and take what is said in accordingly. People are tired of being hit with ads and marketing all the livelong day, and don't trust it either, for obvious reasons. I just tune it all out automatically and I think most people do. One way to disappear as a writer for good is to become an ad, people's eyes just glaze over.

  12. I have no doubts in your integrity but since not even the greatest story will make me love, buy and wear any perfume, if you can get paid AND write great stories, I would say – go for it! 🙂

  13. That is an interesting point (Lucy) about the disclosure rule. I've wondered, too, why I have to list the source of my review samples whilst every beauty/fashion mag out there gives what is called “mentions” in trad media as an incentive to advertisers (“Got dark circles? Try a tinted concealer…Brand X is a good one”) which really do look like some beauty editor is endorsing Brand X personally. Tons of cosmetics are sold in this way and yet…no disclosure, ev-ah. What's up with this?

  14. I love this post of your. Thank you Lucy for letting me know about it! I re-posted it on my Fb wall. Love the grace, sass and wisdom.

  15. Krista, really, if you think about it, that's all a blog can ever be – a personal opinion. Whether or not it's for sale is another matter entirely, but I'll walk the gangplank and say I don't know many perfume bloggers who are!

    Strangely enough, I think it's much harder to write about something I love because I want to do it justice and all too often, I come across the limitations of…the word.

    But if something is outright horrible, snark is so much easier, and those can be fun, too – if only for a change! 🙂

  16. Lucy, you raise several important questions here, so I'll tackle the ones I didn't address in my blog, but you did in your comment!

    The Laws of Payola in the media – especially when it comes to magazines, less so for newspapers – have been in effect for a long, long time. It applies equally well to music – I know from a music journalist friend of mine. The very venerable Rolling Stone – once a mainstay of iconoclastic music journalism – won't even go near so much as 200-word album review these days without a kickback. And that's just RS.

    Since media in any form make their money from advertising, then advertisers always have pride of place when determining editorial content.

    Like you, I'd like to write for a living. But certainly not go to the depths these so-called 'fashion bloggers' stoop to. As it is, I've been fiddling with the idea of advertising on this blog – assuredly only for the companies I choose – not because I expect anything from it, but to promote the ones I believe in. An endorsement, in other words. Which makes me not very different from those fashion bloggers, does it?

    And before I know it, I'm in precisely the kind of territory Morgan Spurlock covered so brilliantly in the movie “The Greatest Movie Ever Sold”…;) See it if you can. It's an eye-opener.

  17. Undina…I think the problem is this in a nutshell: I am a perfume blogger, so by definition and deed, some kind of writer.

    However, I don't just write about perfume. I'm armed and dangerous and have a very large vocabulary and have been writing about many things other than perfume for a long time.

    So the writer…wants to get paid for her hard work. And it IS…hard work. Reading, researching, fact-checking, emailing, Twitter, Facebook…all these things take out substantial chunks of my time, on top of the time I spend doing what I really want to do: write. I do it for free, since I have to start somewhere, and maybe some day…

    So…if someone, somewhere wants a writer – this writer is for sale. The perfume blogger, on the other hand…will never be! It's the only way I could stand myself. I've only asked for samples once, and it took me nearly a week to summon up the courage. Everything else came through…other bloggers and friends, friends/bloggers who told indie perfumers about me, and if they would like me to review them, then I don't see why not! I've made some great discoveries that way!

    I'll probably make a few enemies, too! 😉 Give it time…

  18. Olfacta, as someone who once upon a time had a background in magazines (as an art director), whenever you see brand X being promoted as a great concealer/nail polish/what-have-you, you can bet your vintage Vent Vert that brand X has bought a LOT of ad space in that issue, because that's how it works.

    The disclosure rules that apply to the likes of us lowly bloggers doesn't apply to magazines, since they are paid for by advertising revenue. I know. It makes not a lot of sense, and the average magazine reader never even thinks about it, except maybe the next time they buy concealer, they'll go with brand X, because Mag X, Y or Z said it was good, therefore…

    It's a whole lotta headache…

  19. Wow T! It looks like you and I were thinking on the same subject on the same day! You, however, articulated the topic much more eloquently 😉

    Like you, I would someday love to make a living writing, but I've been having a hard time working out what that means for me. If I'm writing PR, fine, I can do that! But if I'm blogging… well, that's different. I guess what I need to do is look at it in the way you've embraced; if it makes me a better writer, and gets me a little attention, then I can use that to get work writing—building myself as a brand, as you said.

    Though… I wouldn't mind making paid appearances! Ha!

    I love the way that you are always tilting my perspective; this was a good topic!

  20. Very well said, T. One thing I need to do is make it more clear on my blog that sending me samples doesn't guarantee a review. I simply don't want to pour my heart into any review if the juice doesn't speak to me or I don't want to support the brand, for whatever reason. I'd rather spend my time writing about those artists and creations that do deserve attention, and need it.

  21. I also loved the image of butterflies on blooms and can totally relate to the whole issue of symbiosis between bloggers and brands. The conundrum of how to make money from writing is a thorny one.

    For myself, I have turned down a lot of advertising offers because the fit with the advertiser didn't feel right, and have also said no to a number of perfume houses wishing to use me as a mouthpiece to shout about their launch of this or that new range. If they had bothered to look at my blog they would have spotted that factual PR material synchronised with launches couldn't be further from what I am about.

    I reckon you just have to sift through the drossy offers, accept the rough freebie products with the smooth, and decide to write only about what you feel moved to…

  22. Dee…synchronicity can be a marvelous thing! This whole issue of, well, mutual symbiosis in the perfumosphere is the Big Pink Elephant in the room – we all know it's there, but no one has the guts to really talk about it in anything above a whisper, it seems.

    Unless they would be me…;) Ms. Open Mouth. Insert Foot.

    I've said it elsewhere here, but it's true – I'm getting noticed more than before because of my writing on…perfume. It wasn't part of my original intention, but that's just how it happened, and that's OK.

    So I decided some time ago that I could certainly manage to separate the writer from the blogger – or even the novelist – and say, of course I'd like to get paid for what I do! That's what the novelist wants, that's what the writer wants, and all so the perfume blogger can go hogwild on her perfume cabinet! 😉

    But those three identities – or hats – serve three different purposes all connected by the medium of writing. Is the writer for sale? Of course, if it's a fit with my writing style and general sensibilities.

    Perfume, though…here my opinions are sacrosanct, not for sale and all my own!

  23. Carrie – I'm in total agreement there. We can't wax lyrical about something we hate without hating ourselves – selling out, in other words.

    The final decision should always be our own – who and what to review, and how to go about it. That's the chance the perfumers/perfume houses take. Just as you said – some brands merit the attention and care we give to our reviews – and some of them definitely don't!

  24. Vanessa – that's it precisely! To go with what feels right to YOU…and if it doesn't fit, then…oh, well! Too bad. Maybe it will with someone else.

    But there's always the off chance that some undiscovered marvel might just blow you to dandelion fluff…and those are the ones I love – and love to write about, just as you do so well, too! 🙂

  25. It's true! I never would have found QD if it weren't for SLS, and I'm genuinely excited about QD (and it's authoress!). And the people that I've shared QD with… it's all fanned out from perfume blogging!

    T, you take a difficult subject, put it out under the sun, and I feel more confident because of it. You're rad.


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