How Brands Buy Reviews Without Money

The people and websites that sell the most products make the most money, but at what cost? 

Fstoppers.com is now over 12 years old, and I've learned a lot about marketing throughout the years. I've been given tons of free gear, I've been given early access to exciting products, and I've been paid to promote products directly. Sometimes, I love these products and promoting them is easy, but sometimes, they aren't perfect, and although I want to be unbiased, money does play a role.

If I say I don't like a product, will I lose affiliate sales? Will they give me another free product in the future? Will I lose my early access? Will they stop advertising completely? 

I'm certainly not perfect, and I've sold sponsored content for products I don't really love, but I've also been tempted to push products in the hopes of making connections or getting perks later down the road. I don't think anything is broken or that advertisers or marketers are doing anything wrong; it's just the way the world works. I was just talking to Patrick about it and thought: "this could be an interesting video. Let's film it." Check the video above for our full thoughts. 

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19 Comments
Benoit .'s picture

I love it. Be yourself say what you have to say and just stay polite. What's wrong with telling the truth? Nothing.

Alex Armitage's picture

I did one paid review with the caveat that I was allowed to post the final video without changes or review by the company... That company almost didn't end up paying me haha. Lesson learned.

J Barber's picture

I've consulted many youtube 'amateur' reviews over the years (not just photo products but many things from power tools to watches), with the understanding that even fairly honest people will normally review items/brands they already like (or occasionally because they are very dissatisfied). It's still useful information

Reginald Walton's picture

Sooo, basically, you're outting the people that outted you or shunned you b/c of a somewhat negative but truthful review. This isn't breaking news how this stuff works behinds the scenes. The majority of us who visit these pages pretty much know the real deal and that products sent to you for review (even though you're not paid) require a full positive review of said product. IJS WE KNOW! But for me and a lot of the people I know, we generally pay more attention to reviews from "non-influencers" and people who actually pay their own money and use products we are interested in. Not people who just say positive things about a product and leave out the negative. And as you stated in the video, just b/c a particular product has a negative feature about it, doesn't mean it's a deal breaker. So keep making the videos but I'm not easily influenced by the big Youtubers (Peter McKinnon) - love his videos, but he's bought and paid for by Canon - which is what I shoot now, but he doesn't influence me to buy products. Just say...

Thomas Demma's picture

For the life of me I just do NOT understand how McKinnon managed to gain the followers he has. Not because his content is bad, not because he himself is bad. His channel is good but it's certainly nothing a dozen others aren't doing just as well. More power to him and I wish him continued success but I simply don't get it.

Pete Coco's picture

Great video guys. There's definitely a balance to be achieved when doing a sponsored review and some reviewers are much more fair than others. I love the DP Review guys because to me they strive to be very fair. People of course assume a lot of things as well. I was accused of being a shill for Nikon by a commenter on my Dfc review but in reality I had simply borrowed the camera from my friend to check it out lol.

John Ricard's picture

There's something really annoying about the way my YT gets flooded with DJI videos the second a new product is released from them. And all of these first look type videos highlight the good, but don't mention the bad at all. The videos that come out a month or so down the road from people who have actually used the product for a longer period of time tend to be much more useful. GoPro is also very good at flooding YT with their newly released products. The GoPro 9 and 10 were basically the same product in my eyes, but somehow all the videos on the day of release didn't seem to notice that....

Studio 403's picture

Well done Mr. Morris. Money talks, BS walks. As the pimping grows in the content providers, plenty of Ho's line up with open hands. I am always looking for honest, candid reviews from actual users. I can see the lines being blurred more with gear companies and content providers, which in time moot content folks and then die off for lack of trust. I appreciate your candid noteworthy post. I know Ad revenue drives any online venture. Ask the print folk dying a slow death.When I scrub a lot of YOUTUBE providers when I start to notice pimping. Simple, unsubscribe . I pay google a premium to avoid the "trash ads" pop ups I see a trend now of "sponsorship" in post. But I can fast forward that junk. But I will live my pet peeves. Communist China would ban it all and take away the free market, so I will stay with capitalism and all its foibles. The https://www.youtube.com/c/TheSlantedLens provider is one of the best for me when looking at gear. He keeps the balance of his sponsors and content level in my view. I watch his channel. And Been with you guys for some time and I like you both and what you do

Brian Nicol's picture

Unfortunately there is no shame in being dishonest these days. You would make a great politician due to your hypocrisy and lack of honour or honesty. I would not do a job if I had to be dishonest. I would do something else where I could be honest. You harm others by being dishonest Do you have friends that would trust you in their home? You are a disgrace. I cannot believe f stoppers accepts articles that are dishonest or promote dishonesty. I guess I cannot trust anymore reviews on this blog!

Dave Dundas's picture

Huh? Did you even watch the video?? Where did you come up with your ideas about being dishonest and hypocritical, which are the opposite of what they explicitly said, in the video?

Mutley Dastardly's picture

It's good to tell the things from your perspective - and it's good to keep our minds sharp.

Mike Ditz's picture

Very good and honest video,thanks for doing it.
Since most of the bloggers/influencers/reviewers are one man or woman bands it is not like they need to follow any "code of conduct" from the C-suite. And the reviews are for the most part "user experience" as opposed to review with test benches and tear downs, it is not consumer reports, but that's what the viewers want.
I have heard that some companies will send out long term, "keep it as long as you need it...oh we don't need that back" things to review. Does that influence the review? I would say that buys some goodwill.
Doing a review that glosses over the bad things is pretty shady but as a reader of reviews I expect that. You would need to be a pretty influential reviewer to get more products from a company after giving a poor review so 99% of reviews are happy talk, "test" photos of cats, walls, pretty models or the family room.
Flying a bunch of reviewer/influencers to some cool location for a camera, car, tech product, launch is older than MadMen but I think the hookers and cocaine are no longer supplied by the corporation.

Joe Hogan's picture

I would like the opportunity to test the system myself. I would be happy for Canon or Mamiya/Phase One or even Prophoto to send me anything they have (as long as I can keep it if I want it) to review.

You can contact me by messenger through Fstoppers.

Thanks in advance.

Mike Ditz's picture

If you are big enough influencer they may send you something

Anthony Sbarro's picture

Personally, I may (but rarely) watch a new release video just for a slightly less biased overview of a product but I would never trust any “opinions” from anyone who hasn’t paid for and live with the product themselves. Lee’s videos on MacOS are a perfect example of why consumers shouldn’t trust everything a reviewer has to say from their short experience with a product.

What I’m bothered by the most is not just how reviewers seem to be influencing consumer purchasing but their influence on manufacturers and their products. Reviewers are telling people what they should care about the most. I don’t care about video or crazy ISO performance and I’d venture to guess this has little effect on the vast majority of camera users. But in order for “a Canon” or “a Nikon” to get good PR, they have to appease the opinions of the people creating YouTube videos for a living. This isn’t too different from magazine reviews for the past 50 years but the instant feedback (comment section) and the delivery method (near immediate HD video) have changed the landscape so much that it’s potentially a major factor for a brand’s research and development.

I have very strong feelings about the general public putting so much trust in “influencers”. The system doesn’t provide for enough accountability - be that in a lack of transparency or democratic involvement or a fair grading system from both the viewers and the brands.

I really appreciate you making this video. I’d like to see more content like this from others.

Stephen Kampff's picture

Years back I was asked to review the "Fran 8K" camera. I brushed it off unfortunately. Philip Bloom's review of it will live in infamy now!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPj8PP5aQrQ

Adam Palmer's picture

I once got a few cheap products in exchange for a review. Left some mostly positive reviews with a few complaints. Never heard from them again.

paul aparycki's picture

Do you even know what you just wrote? In the final paragraphs, you more or less stated that yes, you would do/say anything for a buck. You essentially told everyone . . . and it is right . . . that the word(s) of fstoppers are not to be trusted . . . just send your money and shut up.

Many have accused you, and rightfully so, of being nothing more than click-bait . . . at last you finally admitted what most of us knew all along.

Lee Morris's picture

Hate to break it to you but the owner of every blog, tv channel, website, app, etc doesn't personally like every item that is advertised on their platform.