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21.12.14

Why Embargoes Don't Work In The Digital Age

Working with brands and PRs can be incredibly fruitful, providing the knowledge and access to products that allows me to write this blog on a daily basis. Although I could write to eternity about beauty without ever speaking to a brand representative, it does make it easier to make this an interesting and varied place to visit. However, with the growth of blogs and online platforms, PR has had to evolve to take into consideration the need for instantaneous information. We no longer wait six months to read what shades of lipstick will be on-trend in Vogue, nor are we willing to settle for finding out details of the new MAC collection only two weeks before it hits stores. With the internet holding an infinite amount of information, it takes only a search engine and a click of a button to find out all the details you could ever need; with brands launching products internationally, it's not hard to find out about the 'next big thing' months before it's due to hit our shores... This is precisely why embargoes no longer work in the digital age.


An embargo is essentially the prohibition of release of a certain piece of information, imagery or product news before a specified deadline. Brands often enforce this as a way of restricting the flow of information, but still informing press or relevant parties about a forthcoming piece of news. Often embargoes accompany big launches, newsworthy collaborations, celebrity associations or charity partnerships - stuff that brands want you to talk about, but only on their terms and within their specified timelines. I frequently get sent information on a product or attend a launch that's embargoed for anything up to six months, meaning it falls off my radar and mostly gets forgotten about; with the hundreds of new launches every single month, I don't have the room in my brain to remember to write about something in three months time when there's so much exciting stuff happening in the here and now.

There are a huge amount of launches that happen overseas (particularly in the US) up to a year before they hit the UK. This means information can easily be sourced via blogs and websites that already have access to the details or products themselves - often there's no need for a PR contact if you simply want to share news that's already available online. Similarly, if a brand has struck a deal with a large press title and embargoed the news to everyone else, as soon as it's out there there's absolutely nothing stopping every Tom, Dick and Harry from sharing the news simultaneously. Some brands still get incredibly shirty when you want to share information out of their pre-agreed perimeters, when realistically those perimeters are completely redundant as soon as a speck of information appears on the world wide web.

I was recently contacted by a brand to share news on a pretty big celebrity collaboration, on the basis that the information was embargoed until the following Monday. Although embargoes as a whole drive me potty and are somewhat unnecessary (why not just tell me the day of the launch, to save you and I both a bunch of effort?) I begrudgingly agreed to keep it under wraps for a few days. However, when the collaboration was announced by Vogue three days before the embargo was officially lifted, it made the whole situation seem somewhat ridiculous. How can you have an embargo and then lift it for one publication, expecting everyone else to stay schtum until the day of your choosing? I decided to regram and share information that was already out in the ether for all and sundry to see, only to be scolded and asked to remove it until after the previously specified date. This is precisely why emboargoes don't work in the digital age - because I'd been informed about the launch I officially couldn't talk about it, but the millions of sites that hadn't been contacted weren't bound by the embargo and therefore could discuss it to their hearts content. 

Embargoes are there for the benefit of the brand, not the consumer. Embargoes are there to ensure a brand gains the maximum amount of exposure around key dates - usually just as products are about to become available, so as to create hype and demand in a short space of time. However, embargoes are no longer a realistic way in which to operate with digital press because we're not bound by the same restrictions as our long-lead print counterparts. Whereas an embargo would ensure print coverage within the month of launch and not before (which makes total sense,) for digital darlings embargoes are just a pain in the posterior we don't need. I want to be able to share news and feature products as soon as I feel it's relevant to my readers, not when a brand deems it to fit within their year-long strategy. I'd much prefer not to know until the last moment, rather than being given information that will sit in my inbox for a month until something more exciting comes along. For me, embargoes are just a headache I don't need...

Are you a blogger that's been bound by embargoes? What do you feel about their implementation? Do they bother you, or do you just agree to be bound by them and never think of it again? I'd love to know your thoughts!
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15 comments

  1. I never even knew that they did this! Sounds like a real pain...

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    1. Same it just doesn't make much sense..

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  2. I'm still a blogger by hobby rather than career, but I understand the use of embargoes from a brand management standpoint. First, you have the brand dynamics of the company to start with, then you have the magazine brand dynamics to deal with, and if a celebrity is involved, then obviously they have a "brand" sort of image as well. The case that you speak of with a brand and Vogue being involved does make sense, because Vogue probably struck a deal with the company that told you not to talk yet because Vogue usually likes to know that they have the best scoop first. They are one of the leaders in that sort of news. With that as part of their image, it only makes sense that they would strike some sort of agreement that would allow them to talk about the product/event first, and then with you "just being a blogger" (not to say that your work isn't important) that you would have the news posted rather later.

    There are so many company dynamics involved that for them, embargoes make sense. Now all that's left is for them to manage them, which is why you were scolded. They had an official agreement, which is their attempt to manage the situation which is as large as- well, the internet. I wouldn't say that embargoes aren't necessary just because of the internet, although I will say they are impractical. But from a brand viewpoint, they are necessary for the brand image.

    I hope all of this made sense..

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    1. I don't think they're necessary for brand image at all. I've worked in brand management for many years and never has an embargo been used to maintain or build a brand image in any way, shape or form. When it comes to negotiating celeb involvement or branded imagery, this is done so far in advance and has nothing to do with embargoes - it's part of a whole marketing plan. Embargoes purely impact the PR communications once information is ready to be released.

      From a print pov I totally understand why they're implemented - they work so far in advance so you want to ensure you're appearing in the right place - but why attempt to implement an embargo when the information is out there on the internet already? I think there's such a lack of understanding still as to how digital works - we don't want to be told we can't talk about something when it's already freely available on the net. Vogue may well have struck a deal, but then what's the point of telling other people they can't talk about a launch for three days when then millions of people are already discussing it and making up posts using the bits and pieces they can scrape together?

      I saw at least 15 blog posts on the same day as the announcement of the launch by people who had just identified a piece of news and written about it, whereas by the time I was 'permitted' to talk about the launch it already seemed like old news. They missed a trick. The internet and social media moves so quickly that stopping conversation is only ever going to be detrimental to a brand.

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    2. Ah, I see what you mean.

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  3. Interesting read, I didn't even know these existed!
    www.liquidgrain.co.uk

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  4. Having worked in brand management for many years also I completely agree with you. It seems an old fashioned approach completely out of sync with how digital actually works. I can't get my head around marketers who think this approach is doing them any favours in the long run.

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  5. I only agree with embargoes, when it is upheld by everyone, unless different aspects of a particular story has a different angle. Someone like the v&A hold embargoes for their upcoming exhibitions but everyone from print to online all have the same timetable, and is posted the same time.

    As a blogger its not about posting old news especially when consumers all know about it already, so how can a brand tell you not to post about it? This particular case the brand should have given print and online two different set of images or news to keep the embargo relevant and create the most buzz, which is what embargoes are for anyway

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    1. It wasn't even print - it was Vogue online, who then tweeted the images. I regrammed them and got into trouble, for something I could've done as a consumer. I've also just seen blog posts on a new NARS foundation by bloggers based in the UAE, when in the UK we've been given an embargo of late Jan... I totally get them if it's for all, but in this digital age it makes no sense to have embargoes when some people already have the information and are posting it online!

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  6. It sounds very daft! Anyhow I need that YSL pallet do you know which one it is please? Thanks sweetie x

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  7. This was a really interesting read- I liked that you opened up about the behind the scenes, its interesting to know about these sorts of things and its crazy the amount of bias and unfairness there is
    http://everythingsara1.blogspot.co.uk/

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  8. Anonymous28.12.14

    Just say no. The only reason you're not allowed to write as a consumer is because you agreed not to. If you just say "No thanks, I don't agree with embargoes" then you're covered on all fronts. You can write about the product/regram stuff if it comes out earlier than the embargo deadline. And if they do keep everything secret until embargo deadline day, you can write about/regram it then.

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  9. Ahhh times are a changing! Never knew this was a "thing"!

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