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Beware Online Product Shills

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The first in almost everyone’s buying process is to look up reviews of the product. Somewhere along the line you always wonder if the reviewer, especially if it’s a glowing review, is getting a little on the side to make the review a little better than it would’ve been. That’s the reason why I disclosed I received a free chair to try from HomeReserve at the start of my review of Home Reserve and its furniture, honesty is important. But, according to research uncovered by The Consumerist, Nvidia may have employed guerrilla marketers to shill their products on popular web forums. Read the article, it has some pretty damning information.

So, next time you read a review about a particular company or a product, think about where the motivations are. You don’t expect someone on a message board to have a vested financial interest in the product, especially when you think it’s just a random guy or girl with the same interests as you, so don’t necessarily believe all the hype.

Can’t trust anyone these days…

{ 7 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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7 Responses to “Beware Online Product Shills”

  1. FMF says:

    I rely heavily on Consumer Reports. I’m sure they have their own agenda/biases, but they’re about as close as you can get to a truly honest opinion. And I’ve found their advice to be solid as well.

  2. Cap says:

    going so far as to post unrelated nvidia topic.. then turn on the heat when the time is right. heh, talk about .

    they sure are pissing off that PR director. I think they’re giving him too much grief over something relatively small. it’s not like they’re outright selling junk to the consumer.

    I think.

  3. Dan says:

    I check the reviews on Amazon a lot, even when I’m not buying there. It has occured to me that I’ve probably at some point in the past based a purchase decision on some loaded “advice” in one of those posts. Still, there are usually so many reviews that I’d bet the shills get at least somewhat drowned out.

    So if one review using perfect PR English praises the product, and then 45 other reviews with various spelling and/or grammatical errors (along with rare but occasional profanity) point out the product’s shortcomings, I ususally believe the latter!

    Kudos on your journalistic integrity for disclosing the perks you received!

    - Dan

  4. jim says:

    Dan – I think that being honest is the most important thing when you do anything. I think that if I hadn’t mentioned getting a chair there would’ve been a little backlash and it also would’ve put my credibility into question for two reasons:
    1) If I did get the chair, why didn’t I mention it? Was it payment for a positive review?
    2) If I didn’t get the chair and didn’t every shop at Home Reserve, how would I know about the furniture?

  5. jim says:

    Oh, and thank you for the kind words. :)

  6. FMF says:

    I might be in the minority on this one, but let me at least state an alternative point of view.

    First of all, think about this: Do you think all the TV shows that review products get them for free (of course they do). Do they ever say so. (never) What about book reviewers — do they write their columns and say that they got the book free? No. And movie reviewers. I never hear them say they got into the movie free (much less that they watched it with the director, producer, and/or star.)

    I believe that integrity is a standard you have to have for yourself and you have to feel comfortable with it yourself. For instance, I know that I am honest, so I don’t feel compelled to offer a disclaimer that I got something free. If someone else wants to question my integrity, that’s thier problem, not mine — I know I’m being honest.

    So usually, I don’t say whether or not I got something free (or are earning a commission/fee off something). As long as I feel that I’m being fair and honest with myself and truthful with my readers, I’m fine.

    That said, I do have a stated policy that I only have ads from products I recommend/use myself and that all my profits go to charity, so maybe that’s a disclaimer in and of itself.

  7. Bruce says:

    I agree with FMF. That’s not to say that I think your standards are wrong for you. I just don’t think putting giant arrows on a page saying “—-> look, that is an ad” is any more honest than my approach.

    I put a disclaimer in my site policies which states that I use affiliate links whenever I have one handy for something I’m talking about. Most books and software have affiliate links available through Amazon. I use them without putting a warning that I’ll make a few cents if you purchase from that link. I also put an affiliate link on my reference to TurboTax, although I then went ahead and ripped into the software, stating my honest belief that Intuit doesn’t care about Mac users at all, and that I no longer use Intuit for anything.

    I think it is very important to be clear with yourself and your readers about your policy for ads and affiliate links. It is even more important to hold to your ethics, despite the tempations to break them. For me and for my sites, my attitude is that ads aren’t bad, and making money isn’t wrong, so long as you hold that line.


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