The email wasn’t all that unique. The sender was a marketing guru. He wanted to make me a deal to promote a new supplement that lowers blood pressure. In exchange for some social-media posts, he would send me a sample, give me a discount code for my followers, and monetary compensation. I responded by asking whether the FDA verified his blood-pressure claims. He assured me that wasn’t necessary because this was a supplement, not a prescription; the FDA doesn’t regulate supplements. I replied that I wasn’t interested in his “hocus pocus” and he should be ashamed of himself.
The email was quite common. Over the years, I’ve received a ton of messages asking me to review products, promote garbage to my followers, or endorse a product. Most come with free samples. Some offer monetary compensation. Most are pure nonsense. The irony of these requests isn’t lost on me. These marketing companies often approach me with the types of marketing claims I speak out against.
But there’s another irony that’s even worse–the shill factor.
If you support [insert modern agriculture thing here] online, then it won’t be long before someone calls you a shill. It’s usually the same thing every time. You support a practice–usually with science, data, and common sense–that the other person doesn’t like. At a loss, the other individual then accuses you of being on someone’s payroll. Because the only way you could possibly have that opinion is because someone is paying you to have it.
People used the shill accusation much more frequently during the heyday of anti-GMO sentiment. The accusers always assumed (and literally believed) that Monsanto was paying an online horde of thousands to spread pro-GMO arguments. Today the accusations are more diverse. A woman commented that I was a shill for animal agriculture. Another said I work for “Big Ag.” And, oddly enough, people have accused me of shilling for both (and sometimes in the same post) conservative and liberal policies.
Yet these marketing emails make one thing very clear. If I wanted to shill, I would find bountiful opportunities going the other way. I could promote supplements, beg people to only buy organic foods, and carry the anti-GMO mantle. And I could be handsomely rewarded for the effort. But I refuse to sell out like that.
So how do I handle these requests? Most of the time I simply ignore the emails. They send several follow-ups and then give up. Occasionally, I write responses scolding the marketing guru for obviously not even looking at my website before sending me an email telling me I’d be a “perfect fit” for the campaign. And once I accepted the product, enjoyed it (hey, it was good bread), and then wrote a review condemning the company’s marketing (here’s look at you, Bakerly). The lady was not happy.
The truth is, I bankroll my own website. I spend my own time on my posts. Other than compensation for writing some paid pieces, my only revenue comes from selling apparel on my Bonfire shop, my website shop, and running blog advertisements.
It’s funny. The people who usually throw out a shill accusation often act like they know so much about how the world operates. In reality–and infuriatingly–it turns out they know absolutely nothing about how the world works. I’m not a shill. But I definitely could be.