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The key to blogging, many blogging success stories would argue, is to be passionate about your subject matter. That's not a problem for the women who run fan blogs Effortless Anthropologie, J.Crew Aficionado, and Lululemon Addict. Each site details new products, sales and other aspects of these cult favorite companies; none are officially affiliated with the subjects of their devotion. As Roxy of Effortless Anthropologie says, "This blog isn't owned by, affiliated with or controlled by Anthropologie. I just really like their stuff."
That undying love isn't always reciprocated. Some companies have decidedly unfriendly relationships with these bloggers and a few would even prefer they go away.
Last month, Malaysian blogger Jules Yap, who has been running the trendy blog IkeaHackers, announced she had been slapped with a cease and desist letter from Ikea. Yap devoted her eight-year-old site to recreating Ikea furniture; her readership felt that her posts made the Swedish retailer's inventory even more attractive. Ikea, however, felt otherwise and said the site infringed on its intellectual property rights. Ikea initially demanded that Yap hand over her domain, and eventually negotiated with the blogger to let her keep the site name as long as she stopped running advertisements.
"I was crushed. I did not have an inkling that this would happen," Yap told Racked in an email. "It was their first 'official' communication with me and imagine my shock to receive a C&D. I tried to reason with them that Ikeahackers has been around since 2006 and they have not raised any objections…. I had no indication that my site was frowned upon up in the blue & yellow mothership."
A hack for a Ikea Billy bookcase. Image via IkeaHackers.
Yap said she was relieved to be able to keep her domain name but pulling ads means she will not earn any income from her site while she's still promoting the Ikea brand. Yap wishes that the very brand she constantly endorses would have established a working relationship with her instead of pursuing an aggressive path.
"I think brands should be working with bloggers, though you can say I am biased. I think brands cannot continue with the traditional model of trademark protection but should consider giving some level of flexibility to fan sites that are promoting them. I think brands lose out a lot if they try to snuff out the voice of fans/bloggers who give brands a real world 'authenticity' and peer credibility," she said.
Post facto, Ikea told Racked they regret the way the situation was handled and that they "initiated a renewed and direct dialogue with Jules Yap and IKEA Hackers with the intention to find a solution that is good for all involved." But whether they will let Yap continue to operate her blog with ads and a revenue stream is unclear.
Not all fan bloggers have felt this sort of wrath, but many find themselves toeing an uncomfortable line with their brand of choice. Blogger Alexis, who keeps her identity a secret, but will tell Racked she lives in New England, is in her thirties and works in academia, has been writing the blog J.Crew Aficionada since 2008. She describes her relationship with J.Crew as complicated.
"J.Crew doesn't work with me. We have a hate slash ignore relationship," Alexis said. "In the beginning [of the blog's life], I think they were like, 'oh, that's interesting.' They even did some sweet things a few times in the beginning, like providing us with a 20 percent off coupon for the blog's one-year anniversary. But I never hear from them. J.Crew is kind of just more aloof."
As an anonymous blogger, Alexis said she does not enjoy any of the perks that come with a successful blog, such as freebies or money from advertisers. Her site enjoys up to 25,000 hits on a busy day but she doesn't take part in sponsored or affiliate links and does not place ads on the site. She is okay with this arrangement though, saying that it helps her to preserve the site's authentically. She believes the brand, which would not comment for this story, decided not to establish a relationship with her because they could not control what she was writing.
Image from JCrew.com
"Going back to the hate part of the relationship, I give a lot of honest opinions. I have negative reviews, I call them out if I feel like they aren't doing something that is on par with what I think they should be doing," Alexis, whose wardrobe is 95 percent J.Crew apparel, said. "I know they don't appreciate that. Because they can't control the message, it's best to just move away from me."
Alexis would prefer to have a relationship with J.Crew: two years ago, she reached out to them to receive press releases and such so she could keep her readers informed but never got a response and noted that she is "not holding my breath." The only time she hears from J.Crew now is when the brand requests that she take a post down.
J.Crew has worked with some of her blogger friends on a local level, Alexis noted, inviting them to fashion events—a move which Alexis called a "relationship that has their head looking in the other direction." Other J.Crew bloggers she knows have had less positive experiences and even received cease and desist letters from J.Crew, according to Alexis. One blogger, who lived near a J.Crew concept store in New Jersey, used to take photos of new arrivals for her blog before a local store employee said corporate had ordered them to shut her sneak peek operation down.
J.Crew's attitude towards brand bloggers is drastically different to that of Anthropologie's. Thea Domber, a 32-year-old New Yorker, has been writing the blog Effortless Anthropologie for five-and-half years. She maintains a positive relationship with Anthropologie, which is owned by Urban Outfitters. She has a direct contact with their home office and often teams up with them for contests.
"They have been so wonderful to me. They are really cool about inviting me [to events]," Domber, who works full time for a different fashion company, said. "When I started my blog, Anthropologie didn't have Twitter, Facebook or anything like that so I think they liked it."
Domber noted that although the brand clearly likes her work, she receives no special treatment: that is, she doesn't enjoy the 40 percent off discount Urban employees receive. She does use affiliate links but says she is not looking to make major earnings off of the brand.
An Anthro display. Image by Effortless Anthropologie.
"I'm really cautious about the profit. I read about bloggers making millions and that's just not my goal," she said. "I love my full-time job, this is more like a project for me. I'm not looking to make millions or get free clothing."
"The relationship is symbiotic. Am I making money from them? Yes. But I'm working on commission and they benefit from it. It's not like they have to pay me a salary," she said. "These fan blogs are good marketing tools where a passionate community feels like they are really getting the full story."
Anthropologie, which declined to offer a comment for this story, has scolded Domber for certain blog posts. In some cases, Domber has taken down posts, but she usually says no.
"If it upsets them, I'll take it down, like when I got a tip from an employee about news that wasn't available to the public yet. It's case by case," she said. "But it's been really great, I'm happy things have worked out. I like that I work with the brand and it's great for customers and bloggers. It's one happy relationship and that's the way it should be."
Lululemon has a slightly different take when it comes to its fan bloggers. When we asked why the brand does not work with the likes of Lululemon Addict or Lulumum, the corporation told Racked that while they value bloggers' voices, there are other ways to stay connected to the brand— through the brand.
"At Lululemon, our top priority is our guests' experience and creating authentic connections with them both online and in our stores," a Lululemon spokesperson wrote to Racked via email. "Our guests access and share our product, news and events in a number of ways—chatting with our educators in-store, sharing the scoop with our social team, interacting directly with our designers on the heylululemon.com forum, and of course, following the community blogs which share our product and their personal sources of inspiration. We value all of these connections and conversations, which ultimately help us better understand our guests and their needs."
A member of the Lulumum community reviewing a Lululemon product. Image via.
Cristina Chalmers, the 34-year-old mother from Vancouver known as Lulumum online, said Lululemon's standoffish attitude towards bloggers fits into the company's unique corporate culture, which can be somewhat secretive. While Chalmers would ideally like to work with Lululemon, she said her blog no longer needs such a validation and she prefers to be a free agent. She pointed to apparel companies like Yoga Smoga and Oiselle, which regularly work with bloggers, constantly sending free apparel then expecting stellar reviews in return.
"A brand like Yoga Smoga tries to manage what is being said out there whereas Lululemon is decidedly taking a back seat. I can appreciate the marketing [decision] that came with that," Chalmers said. "Companies that love the bloggers end up owning the message, [to the point where] if they don't like something, the message has to be removed. That is the relationship backfiring."
The online Lululemon community certainly bolsters the brand's cult following. Bloggers facilitate Facebook groups overflowing with chatter about products and Lululemon's epic annual sample sale. If Lululemon hated bloggers, Chalmers noted, they wouldn't let her use all their photos.
Lulumum is monetized through Google ads and brings in at around $1,000 a month. When asked if she thinks Lululemon cares about her profiting from its brand similar to Ikea, Chalmers laughed.
"[Ikea] has shot themselves in the foot," she said. "The most interesting thing about Ikea was that Ikea hack blog. That blog recreated the brand, which hasn't changed in 20 years, to make it more relevant. They haven't thought that one through."
A member of the Lulumum community. Image via.