“Expect astonishingly positive reviews from bloggers when Arby’s re-releases their smoked brisket sandwich,” claims barbecue editor Daniel Vaughn, who says the fast food chain has offered him and other bloggers up to $350 worth of pre-paid Visa cards in exchange for publishing positive reviews of the new menu item. While making clear that he “didn’t take the bait” on behalf of his own publication Texas Monthly Barbecue, where he serves as Barbecue Editor, Vaughn makes clear that he was approached by Arby’s with the offer.
Brands have had their ups and downs when dealing with new media entities ranging from blogs to social network fan pages. Various brands have used outreach programs to either encourage the public into becoming new customers or to smooth over relations with existing disgruntled customers. But some brands have gone further, reaching out to bloggers and independent journalists directly, hoping to entice them to test out their products and write about them in a positive manner.
Apparently not considering a free six dollar sandwich to be enough of a freebie to ensure positive coverage, Arby’s has taken the additional step of offering the prepaid Visa cards in the hopes of achieving positive results. While cries of bribery have followed in the wake of such campaigns over the past few years, some brands have invoked the technicality that if bloggers don’t end up liking the product in question, they can still keep the bribe material in exchange for not writing anything about the product at all. It’s not immediately clear whether Arby’s is invoking this technicality with regard to its smoked brisket sandwich.
Arby’s has generally been active and sometimes overtly proactive on social media. Earlier this year, after various commentators suggested that the oversized hat worn by pop singer Pharrell looked like the Arby’s logo hat, Arby’s ended up buying the hat and donating the proceeds to charity. Update: Arby’s has provided Stabley Times with the following response: “Arby’s did not offer compensation to write a positive review, but rather to participate in our blogger program, give the sandwich a try, and write whatever review/opinion they want. We hold all engagements with bloggers to the highest standards and abide strictly to all FTC requirements. Our expectation is that all bloggers who agree to participate openly disclose any paid relationship with our brand. We believe in strict adherence to industry guidelines and best practices in transparency on this issue. The email to this blogger was initial outreach to gauge his interest in partnering with our brand, and our conversation had not yet progressed to a discussion of our standard contractual requirements for bloggers.”