Horrible Product Experience – So what is the right protocol here again?

I received free sample of night cream promising my eyes to look wrinkle free. I did not ask for a sample, never provided an address where to send it, never made a promise to review it, but happened to get a product sample in an event and tried it. This morning I woke up my eyes tingling and a surprise awaited me when I looked myself in the mirror. My eyes were puffy and red and skin peeling off, like a sunburn (no, it’s not sunburn). I have dry red patches around my eyes and my cheeks, and after washing my face the skin really started hurting, just from water. My skin is in pain, and I do not want to get out of the house looking like this. So tell me.. what is the right protocol here? A. Blog about the product by it’s name and tell my honest opinion and product review. Results: warning other women but giving the company bad PR. B. Let the company know what kind of skin reaction I had. Results: they will know about it, but nobody else will. C. Do nothing. Results: nothing really, we all have bad product experiences all the time, just suck it up. And… I received the product for free as a sample. Would your answer be different if I had spent money and bought the product? A. No difference, it doesn’t matter how you got the product. B. Yes, different, it’s totally different thing, because you didn’t even spend money on it. C. If B, please explain how it is different. I think most bloggers want to do the Right Thing – but what is the Right Thing here? I created a survey and I would appreciate your honest feedback and would love to start a discussion on this subject. Click Here to take the survey. UPDATE: I wanted to add here: I do not share my address with many people, only give it to a very few trusted people, and do not post it on my blog. The company did not send or give it to me personally wanting a review. I received a product in an event for bloggers (so I assume the company might be wanting blog reviews). Awesome comments people – loving the conversation on this!
  1. I don’t know if you need to write about it since you didn’t commit to it. If you think your reaction was an allergic one that is specific to you, no big deal. (I have recently had freaky reactions to the past three brands of eye cream I’ve used. A drugstore brand, a natural health store brand, and a high-end brand. All gave me weird redness and patchiness. I think I am having some kind of allergies related also to my cats and my contact lens solution and that it’s exacerbated by eye creams. So I’ve stopped using any for the time being. Ugh!) Of course, if you think the cream is potentially dangerous to the public at large, you should definitely write about it! Either way, I would probably shoot an email to the company and tell them about your reaction.
    .-= Naomi´s last blog ..Public Service Announcement =-.

  2. If you choose to write about the product, be honest. But I do not think you are obligated to review it. I blog, but I also have a job and a family. I would contact the company, but I would not write a negative review unless I felt the company was endangering others. My time has value, and I would rather spend it with my child.

  3. As a blog reader I would hope you do A. Tell us the whole experience naming names. In this case the product may be okay for other people and I would say so. It sounds like you’ve had an allergic reaction and it’s fair to let people know about it as others may have the same issue. I also hope you would do B and let the company know about it. Maybe they need to ask consumers to do an overnight skin test before using it!

    I think it doesn’t matter how you got the product….free, paid for, contractual review. I’m not a “review blogger”, but I do mention products and companies on my blog when I have had an exceptionally good or bad experience just to let others know my opinion
    .-= Cindy B. in Montana´s last blog ..We’re back…… =-.

  4. More PR perspective here: there is a difference between sending a blogger product and requesting she review it and what this company did which was sample in a gift bag. PR teams do both and at least at this agency, we do so with different objectives. Given how Katja received this product, if I were the PR person involved, I’d hope she’d contact us right away (as other commenters have suggested.) We’d want to know about her adverse reaction. This would hold true if Katja were a “civilian” consumer who received the product through a direct-mail piece or at a sampling event in a mall. Call the company, give your honest feedback. I don’t think in this situation Katja is “ethically obligated” to write about the experience. *This would be different if the skincare company had sent her the sample deliberately with a request she review it.* We PR people take a gamble every time we send products for the express purpose of being reviewed, and counsel our clients that we can’t control what the blogger says about the product (just as we can’t control what a traditional editor or journalist says about it.)
    .-= Stephanie Smirnov´s last blog ..School Buses are Evil =-.

  5. Personally I would not bother writing a negative review – people have & develop all kinds of sudden (sometimes allergic) reactions to products & not everything works out. I also wouldn’t want to discourage a company for giving out free promotional samples, specifically to bloggers- that won’t be helpful to the world of product review bloggers/the general public anyway. If I’d purchased this item & had this happen, I would want to call the company & let them know my experience. Plus obviously I’d want my money back from whatever store I’d purchased it from. This whole thing about “honesty” and ” blogger ethics” and “obligation” is getting out of hand & the culture of handouts that is starting to rise up & the supposed power that bloggers have (which I’m entirely in favor of, particularly in the political realm) is really starting to corrupt itself. We have a self-involved somewhat narcissistic culture online where people stub their toe & put it on Facebook ten minutes later. Not every personal moment is worth putting under the lens this way.

    It might be better if the insidious quid pro quo were eliminated altogether- And I mean this in general, not just directed towards your (quite lovely) blog- because this is an ongoing controversy everywhere I turn- Accepting products for free doesn’t rise to the level of taking money to do a paid review, but then on the other hand maybe only bloggers who are paying full price as do regular consumers are telling the truth & are truly “free”- they’ve actually been motivated enough to invest their money in a product after all & they’re truly under no obligation to write anything favorable. At least with the beauty rags & magazines there was an imaginary clear line between editorial & advertising.

    You had a bad experience with a free promotional product, which I’m sorry about- the writer above who suggested trying to figure out the irritating ingredient is right on. Hopefully the redness & swelling have gone down. Maybe you could let the company know you had a bad reaction & see how they handle it if you want to write about it. Who knows you could have received part of a bad batch & help them to track it down, etc.

  6. I would review it by name and say what happened. Emphasizing, of course, that this may not be everyone’s experience with the product. My rationale is, if you had bought this to try or if the company was giving out samples at a dept. store, you would want people to know about your adverse reaction. I would also let the company know what your experience was.
    .-= Fran Magbual´s last blog .. =-.

  7. Yeah.. this one has so many bloggers turning around in circles… right? Not to mention the dang government.. I’m surprised Obama hasn’t chimed in here.. :)

    I find it hard myself. In my personal world I am UBER careful not to even talk about the people around me or the people NOT around me for that matter.. I have a hard time saying no to the weird people who won’t take no for an answer on the phone!

    So for me.. On MY blog.. I can’t do it. If a product is less than I like or want or even need for that matter.. I leave it off altogether…

    I think it would take a company that I have no choice in using.. say my phone company… or more recently my Van’s extended warranty company… once they have ignored me, refused to solve a problem, screwed up beyond repair other than refunding money…
    That’s when I get steamed enough to take it public…

    So there you go.. does that make me a hypocrit?? Maybe. But ain’t it great to live in this country! Where I can think my own thoughts… :)
    .-= Carissa´s last blog ..Mileage Calculator Anyone?? =-.

  8. Great discussion and dialogue to have. Seeing that I just wrote a negative review I can honestly say, I think bloggers should write what they feel but that honesty, fairness and balance are important. If a product is sent to me, free or I bought it I still feel like I owe it to my readers and the company to tell it like it is and in my own authentic genuine voice. It is free market research for companies and it can mean good or bad PR but that is a risk anyone runs when it comes to social media and word of mouth marketing. If I am going to have the trust of my readers then I feel they need to know I won’t sugar coat my thoughts on a product just because it was sent to me.

    That being said, I’m speaking for myself and really don’t believe there is a one size fits all answer. That’s what makes blogging so special – we are all unique and handle situations differently. Companies and PR she read your policies and bloggers should have policies and disclaimers.
    .-= Sommer @greenmom´s last blog ..Go Picnic Ready To Eat Meals: I’m Not Loving Them =-.

  9. As I mentioned before, you have to decide whether or not it is something you want to review–before you bother with the research, etc. Only if you do choose to blog about something do I think you have a duty to be fair and informed.

    I do not believe you have any obligation (legal or ethical) to post about something unless you’ve entered into a contract (which if you have of course you should disclose). I do believe that ethically bloggers should not agree to receive free product if they don’t intend to blog about that product–and if you have a policy (such that you do not blog about products if you do not like them), that you inform companies of this policy. We tell companies that we do not guarantee reviews but 99% of the time we do review the item. The other 1% of the time we contact the company to discuss why we cannot review and offer to ship back at the company’s expense.

    Of course, in this case, you did not agree to receive the cream, so I think you can toss the cream in the garbage with a clear conscience.

    Whether or not you have any obligation to your readers depends on the relationship you have with them. If you have established yourself as THE eye cream blogger (in this case you are setting yourself up as an expert in this field…not just a consumer) and this eye cream has been very visible lately and/or readers have been asking you about it and/or you have something new and important to add to the conversation, then I think you do owe it to yourself and perhaps your readers to write about it. But if you do not regularly blog about beauty products and no one has been asking you about it, then I don’t think you have any obligation at all.
    .-= Candace´s last blog ..The Sling Babies Ask For By Name: UpMama =-.

  10. I agree with the commenters that say that just because a product doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t mean it won’t work for other people. That is a good point to remember with all of our reviews, positive or negative. (As for sensitive skin – I received that product at the same event too and gave it away. I was too scared to put it on my skin without more knowledge about the product. Just seemed scary to me! Glad I made the right choice.)

    I think posting about a product is up to you. It is your blog and your time. If you feel that it is something you want/need to tell your readers, go for it. If not, it is up to you. It doesn’t make you a bad blogger to not post about it just like it doesn’t make you a bad person to not tell people in person about a product. I spend my time on the good reviews just like I do in person. Having said that – a post warning me about a bad product is helpful too. So to each blogger her own! And I will enjoy all kinds. :)

    Speaking of which, I need to write a post about the fabulous Crocs we received! They have ruined me for any other flip flops! I LOVE THEM!
    .-= Janice (5 Minutes for Mom)´s last blog ..And you thought YOU didn’t have enough time to blog… =-.

  11. I’ve only read a couple of comments, so hopefully I am adding something new. I, like Andy above, would write about the product, but only about what it did to you.

    I became allergic to castor oil when I got pregnant. Weird allergy, and it made me break out in a horrible horrible itchy rash and hives. Castor oil is in most body washes, most deodorants, and lots of lotion. So, if I would have blogged about the specific brand of deodorant right when I broke out, then people read that and thought it was horrible, I would have felt bad about bashing the product when I actually realized it was a new allergy I had developed. So, that’s just my 2 cents-I might get more info 1st from the company or the ingredients, and then go from there. and A. No difference, it doesn’t matter how you got the product is my other answer!
    .-= Jill W´s last blog ..FLOR Rug Giveaway! ends 8/9 =-.

  12. I have had this happen to me twice. Normally, I try to find a redeeming quality about the product, and in my review am honest making sure to include that my issues may have been due to something personal and not necessarily the product. In one case, I was able to do this. It was a lotion that really did not work well for me and gave me a rash. A friend also used the product and it worked well for her.

    The second instance was in regards to a video game that was horrible and seemed unfinished because there were so many glitches in the program. I emailed the company about it and received no reply regarding the issue. I am still unsure if I want to write the review.
    .-= Kristina Brooke´s last blog ..Love, Peace, and a Perfect Day at Build-a-Bear Workshop =-.

  13. I’ll be honest — you have to really piss me off to get a bad review (see: http://lisastravels.com/2009/07/29/chicago-luxury-limousines-reviews/). I really don’t have the time to write a negative review either. Most of us got into blogging for us. If you don’t want to write a negative review, don’t. I had an allergic reaction to a tattoo given to me at BlogHer. Am I going to blog that it made me break out? No. However, I am trying to find the contact information for that company and let them know because I am a nice person like that and would have hated that to happen to one of my kids.
    .-= Lisa´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday =-.

  14. Wow, many varied responses to this question! I think we all know that what is good for one person, isn’t always good for everyone. And how you acquired(paid for, solicited, accepted for review purposes, unsolicited, or even a gift, isn’t the issue. If you are a consumer that is also a blogger/reviewer, then it is an important question. I think we need to take each situation, and its importance into consideration. For the night cream, you have a responsibility first to take care of yourself and get proper medical, and documented care. Second, you need to do whats right for both yourself and the company and other consumers, by contacting said company.This is vital. How you deal with that company is also very important. Don’t go to them in an accusatory manner. But reach out to them as if you were the owner. Wouldn’t you want to know if a product adversely affected a consumer? Of course you would. You need to explain to them you had a serious adverse reaction and the details following. If you can take photos it really helps. Also save original packing. How the company responds at this point is vitally important in the process. First, in the case of the facial cream, you need to find out if you have an allergy to any of the ingredients. If it is not that then the company really needs the information from the product to make sure of the batch number on the product and see what happened to that batch. I totally agree that if you have found that it is not an allergy, then you might consider accepting( which they should offer) another product in replacement. This time, do an arm skin patch test, as many products already suggest on their packaging. All of this will take time.
    After all is said and done you then need to reaccess the whole process and the follow up of the company and then decide how and what to report. Most companies are more than happy to work with the consumer. ( remembering here that first and foremost you are a consumer, not a product policewoman or man…) Secondly, as a blog editor, you do have a responsibility to your readers to be honest in your writeup. I always try to stand in both the shoes of the consumer and the company. If you operate with a level of integrity and ethics in your life, whether company owner, employee for that product, or consumer/blogger, it will all work out in the finale. Most companies are more than happy to know what happens once their product meets the consumer. That’s why they put their trust in blogger feedback. That’s also why so many companies today focus groups, surveys, and product testing before the product even reaches the consumer.
    .-= Cathy B´s last blog ..The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry…a Christian film =-.

  15. I am a PR person, and my advice is for you to actually write a honest opinion about the product, even if it means bad PR for the company in cause. If you don’t the situation might get out of control – especially if more customers suffer the same side effects. Bad reviews are sometimes necessary for all companies to learn and to grow. They also have to address the issue professionally. So speak up, Katja. There’s no reason to hide.
    .-= Mihaela Lica´s last blog ..Addicted to Twitter: American Idol Judge Paula Abdul Resigns with a Tweet =-.

  16. Blogging is the least important part of the situation. I would think you would want to figure out what caused the reaction, so you may avoid that ingrediant in the future. You don’t owe anyone anything except yourself and any family members who may also have the same reaction to the product/ingrediant.

  17. @Jill Exactly!!!! WHAT does being a blogger have to do with this all? Great point, yet there are people who think bloggers are not credible if they don’t post negative reviews. Many are suggesting I should do the research, I should contact the company, I should advice/warn people, and I genuinely asked – am I a bad blogger if I don’t do it?

    Like Sheena said – that takes a lot of time, and Jill has an awesome point – ” Is someone a bad person if they don’t call every company that makes a product that wasn’t right for them?”

    Me personally? No, nothing to gain in this particular situation (which by the way I am just using as an example), and I like you said, my personal experience doesn’t mean that the product is bad (I have very sensitive skin), even though I would hate someone to spend money on it and have a similar experience than I had.

    On the other hand – I did blog about ski wear I spent over 700$ and the buttons started falling off after the first two uses and also contacted the company. I was upset I had spent so much money and the product wasn’t good quality, and it wasn’t anything I did wrong that made the buttons fall off (where as skin care is totally different thing, I might be allergic to one of the ingredients), and wanted to advice others.

    But this isn’t about me, my personal experiences, nor one skin care product. This is about trying to figure out what is “The Right Thing”, if there is one (I personally don’t think there is one right thing). Seems like whatever you do, you are doomed, and I sense that many bloggers are feeling that way right now.

  18. @Sheena – I totally agree. I have no time to spend on negative reviews UNLESS it’s a huge thing like my face burnt off and I landed up in the ER or if I felt persecuted by a company or had an awful experience with a brand and, after contacting them about it, still felt that it was not right. It is my opinion that in some cases (like that Crocs fiasco at BlogHer), bloggers are becoming overly self-important and using their so-called “power” for evil instead of good.

    @katja – “Am I a bad blogger if I don’t do anything?” Are you going to gain anything from this situation? How bad was it? Are you ill from the product? Can someone get hurt if they use it? And I’m unclear on what being a blogger has to do with it all. Is someone a bad person if they don’t call every company that makes a product that wasn’t right for them?
    .-= Jill´s last blog ..Super Why! A Children’s Show for Smart Kids (and the adults who watch with them). =-.

  19. In the first paragraph, I was referring to products that I paid for. In the second, I was referring to products that are given to me for free.

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