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July 29, 2009

Nikon Does Not Hate Babies

As you know, we have recently returned from the 2009 BlogHer conference in Chicago. The conference was funded by several big name corporate sponsors. Some - like PepsiCo. - were general sponsors of the entire conference. Others simply sponsored one or two specific events. This was the first year that Nikon was present as a sponsor of the BlogHer conference and it may well be the last.

If you had been following the #blogher hashtag on twitter, you may have noticed a #nikonhatesbabies hashtag as well. (It's worth noting that the woman who created the tag, did so as a joke and was never "outraged" over the incident that inspired it. She has now expressed regret over the fact that others are using it in a way that she never intended).

There have been a lot of conflicting accounts of the incident. To be clear we did not attend the "Nikon Night Out" event and were not even invited (and to be clearer neither were many of the people commenting on it, which probably explains why so many of their facts are off). We made our best effort to get all the information and present this issue in the most accurate and unbiased way possible.

What Really Happened

Nikon planned an exclusive off-site event on Friday July 24th for a select group of Blogher attendees. We're not exactly sure how the invitation list was made - clearly there was a huge oversight because we weren't on it - but apparently it was sent out to bloggers who focused on various topics, such as photography, design, parenting, etc. There were about 200 guests. (RSVPS were required. Attendees were permitted to bring one guest each if they wanted to, but those guests had to be added to the RSVP list in advance).

The event - which was billed as a "cocktail party" - was held at the swanky Flatwater bar and restaurant in Chicago. Although only about a 5 minute walk from the Sheraton hotel, Nikon provided stretch limousines to bring the bloggers to the event. At the party bloggers had the opportunity to get their hair and makeup done, get a hand massage, meet Carson Kressley (and get some "stylin' photo tips" from him), receive a gift bag, and of course, check out cool new Nikon products, such as the COOLPIX cameras and D5000.

According to several attendees, Nikon and MWW really did a great job trying to make the event as awesome as possible and it seems their hard work paid off:

"...one of the best parties of the weekend" - [Liz Gumbinner of Mom-101 and Cool Mom Picks]

"The Nikon party with Carson Kressley was AMAZING. I can't stop thinking about it." - [Amy (Mom Spark) via Twitter]

"I had a fabulous time at the party - it was easily one of the highlights of my weekend. You did an anamzing job of treating us to a spectacular time while showcasing Nikon." [Extraordinary Mommy via Open the Dialogue]

"...I chowed down on delicious noshies--my favorite was the bacon wrapped shrimp--specialty drinks and for dessert, homemade marshmallows dipped in a chocolate fountain. Hmmm...decadent!" - [Megan Smith via Megan's Minute]

(Side note: Now we're really pissed that we weren't invited. Bacon and a chocolate fountain? No fair!)

Unfortunately, some of the invited bloggers assumed that because BlogHer is so baby-friendly that the Nikon party would also be. However, the event was "adults only" so a few mothers were turned away when they showed up with their babies in tow.

Nikon was very apologetic and did all they could to make it up to the disappointed women who were unable to attend. And everyone lived happily ever after... almost. It's interesting to note that most of the negative feedback about Nikon was from women who did not attend the event or have any firsthand knowledge of what actually took place. Many complaints seem to be based on a "case study" written by Katie Granju of mamapundit (not to be confused with PunditMom). Her account of events contains inaccuracies and misconceptions, so we felt we should directly address some of the points she made.
It seems that several women attending the conference were literally turned away from the Nikon party to which they had been invited. Why? Because the restaurant at which Nikon decided to hold the party has a “no babies allowed” policy, and these invited bloggers had the nerve to actually show up with babes in arms. Nikon’s people even declined to let at least one of these baby-totin’ bloggers so much as get into the limo that the brand had sent over to the BlogHer hotel to pick up their “guests.”

So to recap, Nikon held an invitation-only, evening event to promote their brand to, and curry favor with high-influence MOMMYbloggers, but then the brand’s event planners literally disallowed women with babies from attending, even though the whole point of Nikon’s party was to make friends with the bloggers and encourage them to promote Nikon products. When planning their party, did Nikon maybe think that BlogHer was actually a conference for 62-year old male bloggers who mostly write about the stock market? Because to be sure, those guys wouldn’t likely have babies with them, or need/want to bring them to a party. But mombloggers? Women who blog about their babies for their readers who have babies? Uh, yeah. Some of these women are pretty likely to have babies on board. Duh. [emphasis hers]
There is definitely some incorrect information presented here. She is mistaken about the point of Nikon's party, as many others complaining about the incident have been. Nikon did not specifically target mommybloggers, nor is BlogHer solely a conference for mommybloggers. Invitees also included those in the photography, style, technology, design, and craft categories and more. We were able to take a look at the original invitation from Nikon and nowhere does it state or even imply that it was a mommyblogger event. We found it interesting that so many of the women complaining had outright assumed that it was.

Yes, the mommy segment of the blogging population is a strong force. Getting your product into the hands - and onto the blog - of the right mommyblogger can have a major impact on your sales. But the implication that Nikon would only target mothers is kind of silly. If this was Gerber or Graco, maybe... but camera equipment is hardly unique to parenting. (And yes, the mommybloggers definitely did outnumber the other attendees at BlogHer, but the suggestions that therefore everything is for them and no one else can be a bit unsettling).

In fact, her stereotypical portrayal of both mothers and BlogHer members is offensive and sexist. Apparently there are only two categories of bloggers - mothers and 62-year-old men who write about the stock market. Apparently all Blogher attendees are women, all women are mothers, all mothers are strictly "mommybloggers", all mommy bloggers always have breastfeeding babies, and all breastfeeding mommybloggers want to bring their babies everywhere. Also, she makes the assumption that men do not spend time with their children, let alone infant children, let alone in public places, and they certainly would never ever blog about parenting or attend a conference such as Blogher or be interested in Nikon products. (And they definitely aren't ever in their 60s).

(And we're not sure why she felt the need to draw a distinction between letting the women attend the party and letting the women ride in the limo to the party. What purpose would it serve to allow the women into the limo, only to be turned away at the door of the venue a few minutes later? Wouldn't that be worse?)

Why Did This Happen?

Some have blamed the restaurant having a "no babies" policy and the state's "21-and-over" liquor laws. Although it seems to make sense, we're not sure how valid that reason is. For one, children are allowed to enter a bar when accompanied by their parents, especially if the bar serves food. However, the owners of the Flatwater are permitted to refuse service to anyone - provided it doesn't violate the Federal Civil Rights Act (which protects against discrimination or segregation based on race, color, religion, or national origin) - and that includes babies. But is that really their policy? We checked out the Flatwater's website and looked at their different packages for special events. Page 2 of their Event Sales Kit contains their Bar Proposal packages. At the bottom there is a "Children's Cost Clause":
Children Under 13, Complimentary
Children 13-20, Charged for 50% of Original Cost
Basically what this means is that they aren't going to charge full price for children to attend a bar party, since they are not legally permitted to drink alcohol. What it also means is that the bar is not always, strictly "no babies allowed". But that still doesn't mean that Nikon hates babies. This particular event was "adults only" for a good reason. It was a dark, small, crowded venue - with expensive camera equipment all around - definitely not the place for strollers and high chairs. According to Althea Haigh, of MWW Group's DialogueMedia, this was due to safety reasons regarding the time of the event, the noise level, the availability of alcohol and the proximity to water [via Open The Dialogue].

Many people have been referring to this as a huge PR mistake, but it's really quite a minor issue in our eyes. Yes, someone made a goof by not indicating on the invitation that the event was adults only... but on the other hand, many people feel that the mothers should have asked first before assuming they could bring their children to any event, especially one that is typically adult-centric like a cocktail party. It seems that perhaps Nikon did overlook one key element of BlogHer.

The baby phenomenon at BlogHer is not typical of the rest of the business world. BlogHer is quite possibly one of the only professional conferences that has such a baby-friendly, mom-centric atmosphere (except perhaps a LaLecheLeague seminar or something like that). Seeing as this was Nikon's first year at BlogHer and most bars are not often frequented by nursing mothers, it's possible that Nikon might not have anticipated that anyone would even attempt to bring a baby to their cocktail party.

I'm sure that if Nikon/MWW had intended to target only women with kids, the event location and other logistics would have been much more family-friendly. Although at BlogHer, the odds that a random blogger will also be a mother are pretty high. It is important to understand one's demographic. While we've already said that BlogHer is not just for moms, there are a lot of mommybloggers there. A whole lot. To the extent that women are permitted - even encouraged - to attend with small children. It's unclear whether or not Nikon or MWW knew this beforehand. If they did not, then it begs the question of what kind of communication there is between BlogHer and new sponsors like Nikon and why no one from BlogHer let them know what to expect.

We understand that this party wasn't an official BlogHer event, and that a lot of the responsibility should fall on the sponsor to do the right research while planning something like this. But if BlogHer doesn't reach out to companies like Nikon to give them some basic info about how this conference may be different from any other they may have encountered before, then maybe this incident should be a learning experience for BlogHer as well. Even though this wasn't an official event, many people will still think of this as "that thing that happened at BlogHer" so fair or not, it does end up reflecting on them too.

At this point I think we all know that Nikon does not hate babies. (It is unfortunate that the original Twitter user chose that as the hashtag. Even though she admits it was only meant to be funny, it certainly sent the wrong message to those who were not in on the joke).

And really, what has Nikon done so wrong? What did they really deny these poor women of - the opportunity to go to a free party and get a bunch of free stuff they don't even necessarily deserve? Do people really believe that they're entitled to free stuff just because they write blogs and attended a conference? (Although, of course, if any companies would like to send us some free stuff, we'd be happy to accept it. No pressure). Nikon did something really nice by throwing that swanky party... it feels really ungrateful to be mad at them over the right to bring your baby to a bar. And by the way, the women who were turned away at the door were apparently still given their free gifts. Just to be clear, by all accounts it seems that the two women who were turned away were understanding of the situation and cool with it. As we said before, much of the complaining has come from people who weren't there.

BlogHer really bends over backwards to accomodate the mommybloggers that brought babies with them. We've been to a few different women's conferences and we haven't seen anyone else try as hard, like offering on-site childcare, a lactation lounge, and tons of free baby items from sponsors like Gerber, Disney and Sprout. Most of the people who attended the Nikon party probably came away feeling great about the company, but there's always going to be someone making mountains out of molehills based on only half the facts. How much of the criticism Nikon received this week was actually from bloggers who were crabby about not being invited in the first place?


So... Now What?

The "incident" has raised a lot of different debates... from the mundane "what is the appropriate etiquette for RSVPing to an event?" to the more controversial "is it ever okay to take a baby to a bar?"

It's our opinion that bars and cocktail parties are not usually appropriate for babies and young children. They can be dark and loud and crowded and full of drunk people (and trust us, we know that babies are not exactly safe around drunk people). But yet, a lot of people have been suggesting that it's never okay to take your baby to any "adult-oriented" setting and even going so far as to say that it's a sign of bad parenting. Really? I've certainly brought my daughter to places that weren't "for kids" (she'd actually been to over five non-children's plays before the age of 3). But I'm adament about expecting children - and adults for that matter - to behave properly for the venue and certain places or atmospheres wouldn't be appropriate for certain children.

So we don't think it's fair for people - with or without kids - to make judgments on other people's parenting choices. It's definitely not typical to bring a baby to a bar - and we'd certainly respect any bar owner who disallowed it - but it doesn't automatically make you a bad parent. While we'd never go so far as to say that it's always inappropriate to bring a baby to an "adult" setting, perhaps it is inappropriate to assume you can bring a baby to a bar and/or be outraged that you can't bring a baby to a bar.

It's unclear what the purpose of Granju's blog entry actually is. She has described it as a "case study" but it feels more like a call-to-arms. Although the blog entry is titled "Nikon's antisocial media relations at BlogHer '09" the original url read "nikon-needs-to-fire-somebody-over-this-PR-bungle"[emphasis ours]. That seems like a crazy overreaction to us. And some mommybloggers have promised a spread of negative publicity. (No offense ladies, but I really doubt your tweets are going to have a major impact on Nikon's business in the long run). Certain commenters and Twitter users have suggested a switch from Nikon to Canon products. But why?

Sure, maybe Nikon's PR team made a tiny mistake, but they certainly spent a lot of time and money trying to do something super nice for the bloggers. What has Canon done? Nothing. They didn't throw us any parties or give any money to BlogHer. (And they might have had a similar "no babies" policy if they did).

Mommybloggers sometimes have a bad reputation... Most of the mothers we've met were very gracious and appreciative of the extra steps BlogHer takes to make it easier on them. Even the mothers who were turned away from the party, had nothing but positive things to say about Nikon after the fact. But in any group there are always a few few spoilsports who ruin things for the rest of the group. (These are probably the same few that don't get up and leave the room when their babies are causing a disturbance). It does give mommybloggers a bad name. And it gives BlogHer a bad name.

We're fairly certain that this has had little-to-no impact on Nikon's sales. (If anything, we think most of the women at BlogHer might be even more likely to support their company). What it may have had an impact on is BlogHer itself. Already we've heard people saying they were turned off to the conference due to this overreaction... and it's hard to imagine any company sponsoring as nice of a party as Nikon did after seeing the immature, ungrateful and dare we say, spiteful, behavior that followed.

So what have we all learned from this? I suppose Nikon and MWW have learned that you can't please everyone, but most people will appreciate it if you make an effort. And maybe they also learned that a little extra research may avoid the wrath of a scorned mommyblogger. But what lesson should the rest of us take away?

1. If you're invited to an event and you're not sure whether your child is welcome - ask first, don't assume. Especially if it's something like a cocktail party or other "adult-centric" event. Even if you don't think it's inappropriate to bring your child, if you think someone else might feel that way... ask.
"it's been said by others, but if your baby isn't on the invite, you should ask if you are allowed to bring them. same goes for any party/wedding/shin-dig. sad thing is, not many people know this rule of thumb." [mommymae via Motherhood Uncensored]
2. The Internet is a powerful tool. Don't misuse it. It only takes one person to turn a joke into a drama and it's very hard to take back. The woman who started the whole thing has repeated many times that she feels terrible about the outcome of her words, but yet people are still talking about it.

"In the end, it was a mistake. A bad, bumbly mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. One that certainly does not warrant trying to declare to Twitter and the world that “#nikonhatesbabies”. Because they don’t. [...] With great power comes great responsibility, and in this case, it’s being wielded about as carefully as a hyper 2 year old with a freshly sharpened butcher knife." [Sara
of Suburban Oblivion]
3. It's important to pick your battles. Think about all of the time and energy and misplaced outrage that went into spreading half-truths and misinterpretations of this incident and that could have been put to much better use.
"Maybe next time we can save our power and influence and #_____hatesbabies hashtags for restaurants that ban breastfeeding". [Mom-101 via mamapundit]

4. If you don't have all the facts, then you're probably just spreading rumors. So shut up until you do.
"This incident just goes to show how powerful and damaging social media can be. I got on Twitter early Saturday morning and saw the tweets and blog post from a blogger who I have been following for years. I thought she was at the event and it happened to her. I trusted her and then retweeted it to over 10,000 of my followers. I think this is a good lesson for everyone. As social media users, we need to check the facts first before we spread the word, no matter what it is." [Jennifer James via Open The Dialogue]

And just as a little disclaimer of sorts: Nikon doesn't know we're writing this, so obviously they aren't paying us. (We didn't even get to attend the party, sigh). One of us is a mother - who breastfed for 2 1/2 years, often in public - and another is very very devoted to her godchildren. One of us has worked in the PR industry and another has worked in the corporate world. This information may or may not make a difference to anyone reading, but maybe it's relevant to you in deciding whether we have a "right" to have an opinion on the subject.

5 comments:

ceirdwenfc said...

I'm a Mommy. I take my kids everywhere. Lack of babysitting has that affect on where my kids go. I would have assumed that this party was adults only. I would never have taken my child to the conference let alone the cocktail parties. As you know, I attended the writer's conference in June and it would be my assumption that BlogHer is similar in that you are there for a reason - to learn something, to network with like-minded (or not-so-like-minded) people and learn something. I could never get that done with three kids on my arm.

If I'm breastfeeding (as I did with all three kids for short times), then I am the one to make allowances. Yes, I can breastfeed at the mall or in the restuarant if I'm discreet and not gratuitously flashing my boobs, but I can't just show up at a private party with baby in tow and expect the same kind of leeway.

You can't assume that your kids are welcome. And they shouldn't have to be welcome everywhere.

When I got married, I didn't want kids. My close college friend had a babysitting problem and brought his kids, but we found them a babysitter locally.

I don't bring my kids to funerals - whether they're breastfeeding or otherwise.

I'm really sick of this country's sense of entitlement.

Do you know how many invitations I have turned down because my kids weren't invited? Hell, the school district we live in won't let us bring my son's siblings to back to school night, and that's an effing school, which should cater to kids.

My point is if you're a Mommyblogger, then presumably you're a mommy and it would also be in the realm of presumption that you are an adult. The Mommy tag kind of gives that away despite actual age. Grow up.

In regards to the writer's conference, it is women only. I know men who would like to attend. Should I bring them next year?

I'm a little cranky here. Nikon will presumably reword their invitations next year in the event that after this that they decide they want to come back next year.

Linda said...

This whole situation concerns me because the behaviors of a few women at BlogHer who perhaps didn't have their thinking caps on is being broadcast throughout the internet; and my ever-constant fear is that this will provide ammunition to those who want to discount the contributions of women bloggers / mommybloggers / feminist bloggers / anyone who blogs without benefit of a Y chromosome.

Yes, there are a few women behaving badly at BlogHer. There's the story of George Smith, Jr. who represented Crocs at BlogHer and was actually the target of attempted blackmail! (all for a pair of plastic molded shoes - sheesh.) And common sense would suggest that most of us would not take a baby to a loud, noisy cocktail party. Part of being grown up is having the smarts to know what is and isn't appropriate -- and you don't need to be at every A-list party in town when there's a baby in tow.

I missed out on a whole lotta things when my teen daughters were toddlers, and I'm not suffering for it years later.

It's remarkable that well-known brands such as Nikon are viewing mommybloggers as thought leaders and showering them with attention/exclusive events like this, but we have to keep this all in perspective. And it seems as if that's not happening. I agree with you -- if I were Nikon, I'd think, "It's not worth the drama" and not be involved with BlogHer or mommybloggers.

I wish that every woman who blogs could take the long view of this, and not merely think, "How can *I* benefit?" but "How can this situation be handled to improve advertisers' impressions of female customers, women bloggers, and the influence women wield?"

Thanks for taking this apart and analyzing it bit by bit. And yes, the 'case study' label is disingenuous. You two are the only ones on the blogosphere doing anything close to analysis / research / case studies on female-centric events both current and personal, and I don't see you getting all high and mighty about your work (although you'd have every right to do so.)

Another terrific piece from the Evil Slut Clique. Thanks!

Brooke said...

I strongly disagree. Considering that the event was advertised in Mothering magazine and on mothering blogs, that moms often give free advertising to Nikon on their blogs and free advice on how to use their camera, I think this is pretty insulting. Ok, I get that cocktail party usually reads "adults only" event, but if these parents were coming in from out of town, finding a babysitter may not have been a possibility. Also for some moms it may have seemed completely normal to bring a child to a cocktail party. I attended a baby shower for a relative on my husband's side where I was encouraged to drink a martini by child's great grandmother (who couldn't look and act more like a great-grandma). I was completely shocked by this but in his family this is completely normal. I'm just completely fed up with this mentality that children should never ever be allowed anywhere. Honestly I view it as another very sexist way to keep women with young children at home.

Lilith said...

Brooke-

A lot of items are advertised towards mothers, but that doesn't mean that they are for mothers only. Mommybloggers were invited to this party, but so were a lot of other kinds of bloggers. A lot of women invited to the party already said that they didn't mind not being allowed to bring their children and/or wouldn't have expected to bring them in the first place. This includes the women who were "turned away".

NO ONE here has said that children shouldn't be allowed to go anywhere. In fact, we didn't even say that they shouldn't be allowed at cocktail parties or bars. Although it is atypical, it's not completely unheard of. Although a baby shower is hardly the same thing as a swanky cocktail party. (Not exactly sure why you were shocked by the martini-offering grandmother though... sounds a bit sexist and ageist if you think about it).

Having concern for the safety of your babies is not insulting or sexist. And having the occasional "adults only" event doesn't mean that anyone hates babies or hates women who have children.

Anonymous said...

All this noise because a couple of irresponsible parents got upset that they could not expose there babies to a crowded, noisy, alcohol laden environment?
No explanation needed.
Get the kids out and the stupid parents and let the adults have an hour to themselves.
There is a time and place to involve your children in your life and a Nikon or any business related event is not it.
I take my daughter everywhere, but not when it for big people.
Get clue people. And GROW THE F U K K UP!