Money matters

27-05-2016 Blog

Anna Whitehouse, aka Mother Pukka, photographed with daughter Mae "The Urchin" in Hackney.

I won’t beat around the unruly bush: I’m in this for the money. Blogging, vlogging, flogging is a bizarre, sludge grey arena of sponsored posts and lurking brand promotion that’s slipping through the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority)’s sweaty fingers –  it’s murky fiscal waters out there.

One post of a polka dot teapot and pastel-hued cupcake can raise a sweet smile initially until you wonder if those paisley Laura Ashley tea towels really were just casually draped on the counter. That puts doubt in your mind as to how much the Gramee actually likes paisley. Or tea towels. More importantly, you ask, how much mullah was racked up for simply whacking some stuff on a counter?

Essentially it ruins your ‘user journey’. You feel used. You might even post a passive aggressive comment about paisley – embellished with an equally nonchalant passive aggressive emoji.

There’s something undeniably brilliant about actual humans (and not turbo A-list folk) being the clotheshorses of the 21st century. The likes of girl-next-door vlogger Zoella has 7.2 million Instagram followers – Cameron Diaz has a measly 2.9 million. And let’s also hear it for the slightly bumbling, non-media trained folk with something to say, extraordinarily wonky eyeliner and an eye twitch. (That’s my target arena… I’d hedge my bets vloggers Natasha Bailie and Grace Timothy from Mum Face are with me.)

But still it looms… How much did you get paid for that post? Much like magazines are forced to strap ‘promotion’ on any advertorials (although the line is getting murkier and murkier), posts that have been sponsored need to have the ‘AD’ or ‘sponsored’ tag on there. It’s non-negotiable and the collective eyes of the ASA are no doubt twitching at anyone who doesn’t. But how on earth do you police a 300 million-strong Instagramming community? There’s buff surfer dudes/ boys – fruitful 3am baby-won’t-sleep-fodder – casually reclining on RipCurl boards, while fashion bloggers pap a coffee with a Chanel espadrille casually lurking beneath.

I’ve worked as a writer on advertorials and on editorial. As a reporter on Horticulture Week, I was like a labrador to a vat of Pedigree Chum (non-sponsored plug for the record) when it came to bagging a hard-hitting news story on slug pellets. No ruddy-faced farmer with a grudge against Michael Heseltine – he owned the publishing house I worked at – would scupper that scoop. It was the purest, most naturally flourishing content I’ve ever churned out.

The landscape over on advertorials is entirely contrasting – sure words are of the essence in both, but it’s like comparing an episode of The Wire to Care Bears The Movie – the latter is undeniably fluffy and light; In short one sells the other doesn’t.

At times I’d want to read the selling because I’d been pulled in like a magpie to a neon pom pom or something equally fanciful but it was about choice. I knew I was being sold to. The key is clarity.

It has to be obvious to Instagram followers what content has been paid for (i.e. shoe-horned into a vaguely workable post) and what’s come from the heart/ whatever body part isn’t too knackered to have an opinion or ready to be papped.

I posted about Rimmel the other day – it wasn’t a paid post but I genuinely love the eyeliner. There was an assumption by a couple of followers that I’d been paid for it and hadn’t declared the sordid exchange. It made me sad (as sad as talking about eyeliner can make you) that a really handy, accessible £4.95 eyeliner wasn’t going to be seen as a genuine tip. Essentially it says that followers, who are simply readers seeking genuine content can’t sort the wheat from the sponsored chaff.

In the name of transparency, I don’t – and won’t – take payment from small start-up mama-run brands. (Don’t worry I’ve wrangled with a few when money was literally dropping from my pockets into the Mother Pukka ether and I wondered where my next meal/ bag of Haribo was coming from). But I want to make it clear to start-up businesses that we’re here to support and champion. That doesn’t mean we open the floodgates to everyone and anyone; offering up a veritable Instagram boot sale of goods. But we’re here, so drop us a line and like any blind date, let’s see if it’s a cheeky fumble outside the pub or a full-on Mills & Boon affair.

Anything else will have ‘AD’ strapped onto it; please don’t hate the AD. To keep churning out bat shit crazy vlogs of us prancing about in our kitchen with the smell of congealed Ketchup in the air, that AD is the yin to my organic content’s yang. It’s like the adverts for a Stana Stairlift in The Sunday Times – you can easily gloss over it – or ponder it wholeheartedly in a post roast fug.

Y’see, this is not some whopping great vanity project, either. Pummelling out words into the Internet ether can be one of the most soul-destroying exercises. It took me 67,589 words and £8,450 of investment to get any significant traction on Mother Pukka. That was 365 days of graft to no return; a heart-on-sleeve post about miscarriage would garner 3 likes, while a photo of a guinea pig dressed as a jacket potato would go viral elsewhere.

So after a year of hair loss and a stress sniff (I sniff repeatedly until someone on the Tube makes it clear it’s really very annoying), my feeling is the AD isn’t all bad when it’s clearly labelled and there’s not an undercurrent of gifted Chanel espadrilles lurking under the marbled tables of the avocado toast-scoffing Instagram elite.

It’s just essential not to beat around that bush – however unruly she may be.

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