I'M often asked if I have a sponsor for my mountain trips. I don't, and many people are surprised when they hear that.
I'm not inundated with offers and I don't go looking for them, but they do come in regularly, and I equally regularly turn them down.
I'm not completely anti-sponsorship, and I understand that many important expeditions would never go ahead without substantial backing. But the whole business of product placement makes me feel uneasy. It always has done.
The subject cropped up again this week when I received an offer from a company to carry adverts for a wide range of outdoor gear on my website. I would earn a percentage payment for anything sold as a result of these links. I declined to take up the offer.
One my pet hates is going to a website and being bombarded with ads while trying to read an article or that the page takes ages to allow access because of these ads. The end result is always the same – I click off the page.
I've always said my site would remain obstruction free. Anyone can go and browse the blogs, pictures or films in peace. There is an online shop page, but that's for my books and calendars only.
There seems to have been a boom in the number of people now making a living as 'brand influencers', where everything they write is driven by product name. Going up a mountain this weekend? Then why not wear Blah-blah socks?
(PS. Blah-blah socks are not a thing, as far as I am aware).
It wouldn't be so bad if they actually liked and regularly used the product. Most of the time, however, it's just money talking. The lines become blurred, there's no way of knowing if objectivity has gone out of the window in the something for nothing culture.
It was a dilemma that cropped up frequently during my days in newspapers. There were 'freebies' galore. Some were genuine thank-yous, some were novelties tied up with major sporting events, and there were always offers from car and holiday companies to tie in with a big advertising spend. It was rare to see a savage review of anything – the worst case scenario was to stay lukewarm.
On one occasion, a restaurant being reviewed to tie in with an advertising feature was so awful it couldn't be given a positive spin. Any honest critique would have been disastrous. The writer suggested a compromise – leaving the review out and then visiting another time when they had got their act together. The owner was furious, and accused the writer of trying to ruin her business. She felt she had 'bought' a glowing recommendation.
Last year, I was asked to shoot a promo film based on the Moonwalker book for a new Canon pocket camera. I have always used Canon cameras, so I had no real issues about taking part. It was a strict business deal and they paid well, but there was no suggestion of any endorsement on my sites. And no, I didn't get a free camera.
The Taking the Biscuit Award for product placement effrontery, however, must go to the mystery millionaire who is said to be looking to create his own Mount Rushmore. Apparently he has put the feelers out to find a suitable venue and has £12 million to spend on a vanity project that would see the faces of himself, his family and even his dog carved for posterity.
The story had so many ifs and buts and lack of firm facts that it had the feeling of clickbait, but it certainly raised the hackles in some quarters. With the news that Ben Shieldaig in Torridon was up for sale, two and two were bludgeoned together, and then an anonymous source managed to drop in a quote to cover Scotland.
Whatever the truth of the matter, it would be too much to expect that if he had that kind of money to throw around he could put it to philanthropic use. If he is determined to go ahead though, maybe it would be more fitting if he were to buy an abandoned quarry in one of the darkest parts of England and just carve a big arse on it.
That may be the way ahead for Mount Rushmore as well. Imagine: The heads of Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln and then a big arse tacked on the end. No prizes for guessing which president that would represent.