Grocery Stores Are Not Like Blogging Conferences

Alternately titled: How Blogging Made Me Lose My Shyster Radar, A Cautionary Tale

A few days after returning home from BlogHer ’11, I was doing my normal grocery shopping at my neighborhood grocer. As I stood selecting bananas in the produce department, an announcement sounded from the PA system. “Right now, for a limited time, all patrons can receive free gifts and experience brand new merchandise not yet available in stores.” I was admittedly intrigued, especially by that four-lettered “F” word – free.

I made my way over to the area of the store where this “exciting” event was taking place. A charming young man in a chef’s uniform soon appeared and started working the audience by demonstrating a handy-dandy, all-in-one, fruit corer and juicer. He deftly handed them out to everyone alluding that if you stuck around long enough, that orange plastic gadget would be your ticket to something special.

It pains me to tell you how hard and fast I fell for this ploy. I stood there and watched while he demonstrated the “brand new merchandise not yet available in stores except for today”. Essentially I was watching a live infomercial. And this young man was well practiced and slick. He had us laughing, he had us sampling salsa he whipped up in a matter of seconds and he had us imagining all the wonderful fresh foods we could make if we had this revolutionary product in our kitchen.

Little by little the crowd fell away and as the demonstration came to an end there were around 10 people still at rapt attention. Why did I stick around? Because I expected that the long-suffering and faithful would be rewarded once again with free. By this point in the presentation, I was getting antsy. I only had a limited amount of time that I could be at the store because of prior commitments and I was running out of time. When would Mr. Charming start handing out the free stuff?

Oh, silly me. When we got to the point in the presentation when I thought it would happen, he asked all of us to come a little closer and he lowered his voice so that not everyone around could hear the good news. He made his offer to the desperate shoppers clutching their orange plastic gadget as if they were the keys to a new car, “This ‘brand new merchandise not yet available in stores except for today’ is sold on TV for $39.99 but right now, I am authorized by the company to offer it to you, the special ticket holders, for only $29.99. And if you act right now, when you buy five, we’ll give you the sixth one for free.”

Embarrassment and disappointment washed over me as I realized not only how easily I had been played but that I was also not going home with a free “new merchandise not yet available in store except for today”.

What does this have to do with blogging and blogging conferences? As a blogger, I have received numerous products for “free” in exchange for my honest opinion about them on my blog. At conferences, I glide through exhibition halls full of people wanting to give me free stuff. I come home with a veritable treasure trove of new, shiny products. I am not saying there is anything wrong with that. It’s something we as bloggers all enjoy.

My grocery store experience simply served as a reminder that life outside of our blogging world is the same as it’s always been. The only “swag” at grocery stores is put in plastic (or reusable if you bring your own) bags and comes with the receipt showing how much you paid for it. You might get an orange plastic gadget, but only if you’ve lost your shyster radar, like me.

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