Un-Branded, a Manifesto

I’m feeling a heavier and heavier pressure to monetize, professional-ize and expand-ize this blog.I talk to lots of people who want to help me make it bigger, get more sponsors and start the hype machine going. And I get it, I mean I hear that Siren Song. I’d love to have millions of people talking about my brilliance and sharp wit. I want someone to publicly declare me a Super Slayer Wordsmith. I’d not say “No” to major corporations begging to hand some cash over to me, just for mere association. I’d love to have Matt Lauer sitting across from me with his puppy dog eyes, asking me something to which I cross my legs and casually say, “Well, that’s a provocative question, Matt. Let me tell you the scintillating answer”.

I mean, who doesn’t want to be celebrated for what they do?

But I fight against it and I decline opportunities that could lead to Pistols + Popcorn becoming a “BRAND!” Not because I’m a purist or hardcore against selling out. Just mainly because it’s uncomfortable for me. I don’t want people to count on me for their regular distraction from life. But I enjoy it so very much if I happen to put something out there that people respond to. The difference? Just that one is expected, the other is delivered on my terms.

My approach is basic: if something works, then do it. If the reason you write is to document your days with your kids, and that feels good, do it. If the reason you write is so that you have an outlet that has nothing to do with your kids, and that feels good, do it. If the reason you write is to be noticed by advertisers who will give you free things, and that feels good, then do it. Right? I mean, there’s really no right or wrong, except what feels right or wrong for you specifically.

But still – I cannot help but be a little grossed out by some of the sites I come across, ones written by people who are probably awesome but don’t necessarily come across that way to me. I find that so many (let’s face it) women bloggers are hell bent on becoming the next Pioneer Woman or Dooce that they seem to be hardcore selling each and every post, like it is a used car they need to get off their lot. I LOVE THIS PRODUCT! I’M GOING TO A CONFERENCE! I’M OVERWHELMED! I’M A NAUGHTY MOMMY! I’M THE BEST MOMMY! I’M A DRUNK MOMMY!  I’M TWEETING EVERY MOMENT BECAUSE IT GETS ME MORE FOLLOWERS!

And I find it tiresome. It exhausts me to imagine being under the kind of pressure to write something genuine, in such a sea of brand-building-follower-getting-money-and-noteriety-chasing noise. Yet there are some that do it well, and they are a treat to read. But for the most part? It just seems so desperate.

Maybe that’s a reflection on me. Truthfully, I swim around in this grey area where I refuse certain products or review opportunities just because it seems uninteresting. Then there are the ones that are interesting, but the group pitching them to me is one of those institutions, who like to make up what I think are stupid names involving a play on the word “mom”. I mean, how many ways can you prostitute being a mother? Apparently, countless ways. I just can’t work with those pimps.

I don’t know – I suppose I just want to remain authentic and so I’ve become a little more guarded in accepting things or agreeing to be associated with brands. All the grabbing hands around me give me pause, as a member of the “Mommy Blogger” community. I don’t want to be one of them. I do however, enjoy about every twenty-fifth pitch that comes my way and agree to participate, review or link to.

As a reader, a friend, or a stranger that reads this site – what do you think? Do you hate reviews? Do you feel like you’re being advertised to on the sly? What about interviews (which up to now I’ve only agreed to do I think once). Not what you’re here for? Or does it matter at all? Ultimately, if something seems like a good fit in my life, I’ll probably always say yes.

I do love it when new readers find me, encourage me and I love to hear from them, even as I know older readers are moving on. It’s liquid, this Pistols + Popcorn. It ebbs and flows and isn’t one thing that is static. Which I suppose is another reason I don’t respond to some opportunities, even ones banging noisily on my door. Everyone wants to know where to file me. Mommyblogger? Lifestyle? Parenting? “What do you write about?”

Hells Bells I do not know. I have no mission statement, no pithy phrase that sums me up. I refuse to print business cards, and I will not write nice reviews for products I do not like. I have in the past year decided not to court votes for awards, nor will I ask to be nominated for anything. It’s just so…the same feeling as Homecoming Queen in High School (which I surprisingly never won.) And also at the end of the day, they end up just being meaningless. So you bugged all your Facebook friends to vote for you? And then what? You got a badge? (Yes, like the ones over there on my sidebar…) (Guilty.)

However, I will answer emails, and I am honestly honored that anyone takes the time to read me more than once.  I have stars of admiration in my eyes for the women I have met in this industry  - many of who live in my neighborhood, who do seem to have it all figured out, and who are leagues ahead of me in writing skill and promotional ninja skills.

Whatever. I’m Jodi, this is Pistols + Popcorn, and together we are a moderately known blog with medium to high traffic. I tweet infrequently, do not actively collect followers and have a difficult time taking myself very seriously. Still. I love writing for you more than almost anything, and am thankful that you will read what I say.

31 thoughts on “Un-Branded, a Manifesto

  1. As a sometimes guest writer on other people’s blogs, I’ve also wondered how people draw the line. I suppose that there are some who just love to be asked for their opinion. They like swag. They like to hear themselves talk. They assume other people care what they have to say. But the truth is most of the time I tune out reviews on parenting sites, and I also can affirm that I’ve never clicked on a link from an advertiser. I don’t think it’s wrong to accept the offers, but I also agree with you that there is an air of desperation on the sites that have review after review. Keep doing what you’re doing. Every so often, say yes. It doesn’t offend this reader. I actually even pay attention once in a while.

  2. This reminded me of something Bill Cunningham said in Bill Cunningham New York:

    If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do.

    P.S. If you’ve somehow missed seeing that movie, watch it immediately.

  3. “Then there are the ones that are interesting, but the group pitching them to me is one of those institutions, who like to make up what I think are stupid names involving a play on the word “mom”. I mean, how many ways can you prostitute being a mother? Apparently, countless ways. I just can’t work with those pimps.”

    My favorite paragraph you’ve ever written, ever.

  4. I’m not a niche-writer, either, and I have a very small audience, so I don’t imagine I’ll ever have to make the choice “to shill or not to shill”. But I thoroughly applaud your take on the whole production. Thank you for your thoughtful, kind and funny blog. I look forward to seeing your posts in my inbox. Keep it up, buttercup!

  5. Jodi – I immensely enjoy reading your blog. I love how you are funny, honest, fierce, and kind. If I could give you a word of advice (yes, me, with questionable writing skills and no blog nor followers of any sort!), I would say “Write some negative reviews.” Not to BE negative, but to continue to be honest. When I see your product review posts, they seem to me to be consistently positive and glowing (perhaps I’ve missed the critical ones). When they’re consistently positive, it makes me actually suspect the message. “Perhaps she’s just saying that because they gave her free stuff and she wants to be nice.” You’ve seen Eldon’s posts, of course, where he shreds a product. I know if he raves about a product, he LOVES it. Because he’ll tell me if he doesn’t.

    I’m constantly quoting to my friends and family some pithy turn of phrase you’ve written. I love your take on life. My floors are much dirtier than yours, but I feel we’re kindred spirits (perhaps that’s what good writers do??). So feel free to shred a product, if it doesn’t meet your high expectations.

    Lin

  6. Bang Bang…isn’t that your mission statement? Shoot em up and shoot em down. Its your space, so do with it as pleases you. You keep it real according to your conscience which is the only thing you are bound to. :) And its so nice.

  7. I don’t like reviews. I generally don’t trust them, because the incentive is to be positive, and they usually are. Your Appaman reviews seem genuine to me, because these are friends of yours, and I do enjoy those – shout outs to successful friends are not the same as being approached for a review. I agree with Lin about Elden – his willingness to be negative makes me trust his reviews a bit more. But generally, reviews by the women whose blogs I read do seem mildly desperate, like somehow linking tequila to the narrative of my daily life is . . . prostitution, like you put it. I say this not in a judgy way. Or rather, I’m not judging the blogger. I am, however, judging the advertisers, who seem hell bent on infiltrating every corner of my consciousness, with the popup ads and the tv sitcom endorsements and the spreads in magazine that look less and less like ads, tricking us into reading them. I hate them. Note that if I see a favored blogger (such as yourself!) is doing a review, I just don’t read it, but I always come back for the next post. I don’t have some kind of self righteous CODE about it or something.

    It’s easy for me, because I (a) have never been approached, except for the odd book review, and (b) have financial security through my day job, so I don’t feel the need for the ample time I spend blogging (because it is ample) to be anything but my own selfish hobby. I think that the more readers I get, the more I’m performing, the less honest I am. So I like to keep my readership small. I don’t want to be Pioneer Woman. (Though I’d love a pair of Lucchese boots and that gorgeous lodge kitchen, oh Santa Claus).

    But I love P+P, I really do. I’ve followed you since the MSN Spaces days, and I enjoy your mothering approach – it’s a lot like mine, I think. I love your little boys like nephews, though I’ve never met the turkeys. I like your cheer. I like your apparent lack of major neuroses. I just straight up LIKE you guys, at least your virtual selves, so I’ll always come back, reviews or not.

  8. You want to see desperate? Check out the travel blogging community. It seems to me that almost all of them there want to travel full time so badly, and subsidize their travels with a blog, that it’s like work to avoid all the posts reeking of poor salesmanship. I’ve just stopped reading.

    I mean, I know it’s a dream come true to be offered free jaunts of any kind, but no matter how often you say “I got this for free, but the opinions are mine.”, it is almost impossible to write about those things completely without restraint…which strikes a false note.

    The only person I have ever seen hit that note perfectly is Liberty London Girl (libertylondongirl.com). But she was actually a professional journalist, at one point for a travel mag, in fact. So maybe that is why she seems to be able to handle the subject so adroitly.

    On the other hand, one of the most respected travel bloggers was unable to do it. The free travel and services he was being offered were highly respectable, and there was no reason whatsoever to doubt what he was saying. But the posts just weren’t interesting to read. You could see where big chunks of information were taken right from the sponsor and sounded too much like a press release.

    The problem is, it’s almost impossible to be perfectly genuine in a sponsored post. Some are way better than others, and your vacuum post was way better than most. It was definitely in your voice, and it was entertaining in your familiar fashion. But I have to say that it was just “off” enough not to hit a completely sincere note.

    Which is not the case, as an earlier comment noted, with your Appaman posts. It was also not the case with almost all of the posts about free stuff you’ve gotten for the twins. Maybe the sincerity is more heartfelt when it’s stuff for the kids? Wouldn’t surprise me.

    What’s weird is that I have absolutely no objection to my favorite bloggers getting free stuff. I feel like you deserve to be paid for your interesting writing. In fact, bloggers with significant readers should be paid more than just with free stuff. But I just find sponsored posts tend to make me feel just the slightest bit uncomfortable.

    On the other hand, I have no objection to advertising whatsoever. Particularly if you get to approve who is advertising on your site. And there is no reason your readers can’t benefit from this, too. Because if your ads target your reader demographic, then they might actually see stuff they find interesting and/or useful.

    And speaking of Pioneer Woman, she says that she uses a percentage of the income she receives from advertising to pay for the stuff she gives away. If you did the same, then your readers would benefit from your ads even more directly.

    (Although, I’d like to note that her butter deal resulted in a slightly weird post or two.)

    Look, it’s just the network television model brought to an individual level. You are providing entertainment to your viewers for free. Let big corporations have access to those viewers for a fee. Personally, I think this is the future and I love it. Individuals who are interesting and/or entertaining will be able to devote themselves to providing product to the public and get paid for it. And the public gets to choose who they want to follow.

    It’s so FAIR! No big bureaucrat gets to decide who/what we can see. Look at Felicia Day, now with her own channel on YouTube. She just started making videos in her living room and uploading them for everyone to watch. And even when she is not being offered acting jobs for TV shows/movies, she can still do that as long as she wants. And people can watch her online as long as they enjoy doing so.

    Anyway, fwiw, my preference is for advertising over most sponsored posts.

  9. Stay true to you! The Jodi we know and love!
    Your writing skills are smart and witty – write when,if and about what ever strikes your sweet little fancy!
    Love you!
    K

  10. THANK YOU! Thank you for saying what has been eating at my heart for the past year! Thank you for standing up for yourself and BEING yourself instead of crafting yourself into some uber-marketing mommy blogging machine willing to whore herself out for a buck or free fries from a fast food chain!

    Keep on, keepin’ on, lady! Don’t change a thing and stay on the path that’s true to you.

  11. I usually stay away from commenting in this section – feel bad about mucking up this space with my voice – but wanted to say thanks to everyone leaving such well thought out feedback. It’s awesome – and so helpful – to get your perspective. As you were.

  12. Ditto Sunny. I
    have been a long time reader and appreciate you have not turned over to the “oh look at this product” or I got sent this and if you “tweet”, send an email or “friend” then you could WIN!!!!!

    I like reading honest, well written, sometime snarky, always intelligent and genuine from the heart blogs. Yours is one of my favs.

  13. I support your un-branding! Thanks for being “just” a writing Mommy. That’s enough! It’s the best profession around! You’re a good writer but being a great mother really is more important!

  14. You are a super slayer wordsmith. I like hearing about YOUR life, your kids, your antics. You make me laugh and think and I really enjoy reading you. Don’t go big – stay mom ‘n’ pop!

  15. I have no simple answer. What I know is that I visit your website daily, hoping that today was a day that you wrote, no matter what you have written. Your style of writing speaks to me. One of the difficulties I have is when I want to share with a friend some story you have shared, I catch myself starting with ” my friend in Broolyn…” which often leads to a quick correction to “this woman’s blog I follow”. We have never met but I feel a connection with you because of your honesty and the way you share with us. I never get that icky “she sold us out” feeling when you write reviews. Stay true to you, warts, reviews, and all.

  16. This. This post you just wrote? This attitude is why we all come back.
    Yes, the reviews are kind of pesky, and I honestly skip them most of the time. But I don’t blame you for wanting to benefit from this fame a bit, and I come back again the next day!
    Keep it up– I love the stories.

  17. I’ve been reading your blog pretty regularly for around 2 years now. Never commented before, but just wanted to say that the tone & size of you blog is so much nicer than some other blogs who have gone into the stratosphere. I love that you have something to say every time, and are not just rambling to fill up a day’s post. Now that said, if you can make some cash out of it, there’s nothing at all wrong with that, no one should be ashamed of earning a living from their talent !

  18. I am a brand new reader, and you have a brand new fan. (Me, just to be clear.) I wrote yesterday about sponsored posts, and how, in general, I don’t read them. It’s nothing personal, they just make my eyes glaze over.

    From what I can tell, you are funny and genuine, and I think I’ll visit for awhile. Also: Your boys are beautiful.

  19. Jodi, I love reading your blog, though I am not a mom or even want to be one. I love the relationships you have with your husband and kids. I love your adventures. I love your questions. So keep it up. Whether you do reviews or link to other sites means little to me, as long as you keep sharing your heart as you always have.

    I am a blogger, too – really small time. I have around 40 followers. But like you, I write when I have something to say or share about what I love. I sometimes have a moment where I think, “I haven’t posted much this summer. I’m going to lose my followers”. But I will not write a post with no point in mind. I will not review a product I would never use. And I will be honest when I do review – if I don’t like the product, I’ll say so, and if the company wants it back, that’s cool.

    So, I feel your struggle with all the hype generation stuff. But so far, so good. Thanks for a great blog.

  20. I say go for it. Grab all the cash you can, you deserve it. I never pay any attention to those adds anyway. Well, maybe just a little bit ever since I learned they pay money when someone clicks through. I like to think a little clicking helps a blogger. And the fact no money has to come out of my wallet? Super bonus.

  21. How about proactively targeting products and services that you personally want to try? Go after them instead of vice versa.
    What about crowd-sourcing your readers: ask what product they want you to guinea pig. I love your analysis and….
    I’d find THAT super helpful!

  22. I don’t know. I’m beginning to shy away from “Mommy Bloggers” that are so overtly “LOOK AT ME”, with every bit of social media, every single detail of their lives. I love that your posts are thoughtful, you don’t feel rushed to post every single day and you still write as if you are talking directly to me.

    And why not review things and put yourself out there? As long as your vision isn’t compromised. I tend to read reviews but will immediately stop if it feels disingenuous. I’d love for you to have more readers–I tell my friends about your blog but honestly, I’ve got about 2 friends. Anyways, good luck. Take your piece!

  23. I’ve been blogging for more than six years- a freaking lifetime on the internet. My biggest dismay in this arena is finding a gorgeous blog that I LOVE to read, and suddenly it goes all commercial on me, looking like a series of flashing neon signs for THIS! THAT! and THE OTHER THING!!

    And then every. single. post. is a commercial. Bright. Articulate. Followed by a disclaimer. The joy and passion and authenticity leaks away and it feels like marshmallow fluff. THere is no personality left. No real person anymore. And slowly it disappears like a leaky balloon.

    I’m with you on this. If it feels right to YOU, do it. Just go ahead. But please don’t make any excuses for it. Please don’t offer your own personal disclaimers as to WHY you do what you do. If you have to be constantly excusing your behavior, then it leads me to think it’s not the best fit for you. I have famously shied away from commercialization, from branding and ads and affiliations and have left my little corner of the internet as organic and ME driven as possible. Thus said, barely anyone pays attention because I’m not out there. I don’t style my photos like the millions of other food bloggers. I don’t post regularly. I don’t follow along, re-posting recipes that have been posted to death, jumping on every food trend (OMG- AVOCADO TOAST!!!!) and shouting about it from my URL.

    But if you like me, and like what I do, I’m thrilled. And I’ll keep up with my own sense of purpose, my own desire for my site. Pitch me something that stirs my heart and makes me glad and I’ll share it with the world, sure. But if you just want to visit a place that’s soft and lovely and quiet, cup of tea in hand and a moment to yourself, then come on by and stay a while. I’d love to have you.

  24. I have been reading your blog for a few years now. As a mom of three kids I love your stories, your kids and your wit. I am over the pioneer woman and mommypotammus, one has too many adds/ sponsors and the other is too virtuous ( never feed your kids wheat! Shutter at the thought!) and preachy! But I love your writing! It’s the perfect mix of mommy/woman writing! Keep fighting the good fight

  25. The main reason that I keep returning to your blog is that I love your approach to parenting. I understand how you feel about your sons–it is the same way I feel about my own daughter. I love the way you write, i love the way you love your kids, and you are obviously very smart. I’m sure if you make the choices that feel right to you your blog will keep on being awesome and I’ll keep reading.

  26. Pingback: Pistols and Popcorn » Ten Things I Have Not Been Paid to Tell You About, But Still Love

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  28. My partner is expecting twins this summer, so I have been searching the Internet for blogs and sites with advice. I am obsessively reading your entire archive and even reading the comments sometimes. I think your writing is honest and your advice is good, and I feel like I know you a little bit and can trust you. I only skim through the reviews, but I can’t imagine you writing anything you didn’t really believe. I feel like I should print your advice posts and frame them and read them when I’m up at 3am for feedings. I like the fact that you are a real person, a real mom with real kids and real doubts, and you make me feel like I might be able to survive and even thrive.

  29. Just came across this. I feel like I’m very late, so do me a favour and keep on writing. Anyway, your candour was refreshing. Who doesn’t like to hear what intriguing women have to say? And if that turns out to be interesting as well – all the better. Please write more about your disdain for commercial acclaim. I for one would like to see you refining the contempt for the prostituted part of the blogosphere and the social media industry as a whole. To sum it up: More hating, please.

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