Los Angeles Times columnist David Lazarus recently wrote about a company that sells ID cards to potential online reviewers.
In exchange for the card, the card’s creator is betting reviewers will receive preferential treatment at hotels and restaurants because of the implied threat of a bad review.
Brad Newman’s business creation is called ReviewerCard, a company that issues black ID cards to so-called “prolific” online reviewers in exchange for a kind of insurance policy that renders the card bearer better service than the rest of us.
The face of the card reads “ReviewerCard, I write reviews,” and includes the card bearer’s name. How’s that for an openly defiant exercise in rank exploitation? Any review written by the bearer of the card is, of course, totally meaningless.
In my view, Lazarus correctly describes the affair as a shameless bid to extract personal favors under threat of Internet ruin, because Newman’s idea is nothing short of an offer to engage in a mutual form of extortion and blackmail.
“I can only hope they [hotels and restaurants] politely inform ReviewerCard holders that they’re entitled to the same treatment as all other customers,” writes Lazarus.
“It’s not a threat,” Newman insisted. “It’s a way to get the service you deserve.”
Newman thinks people who post reviews on Yelp or TripAdvisor don’t get enough respect from the businesses they write about, and sees ReviewerCard as a way to enhance the relationship between amateur reviewers and the hotels or restaurants they visit.
“I’m going to review them anyway,” Newman said, “so why not let them know in advance? It’s not hurting anyone.”
Not hurting anyone? What about review sites like Yelp that find themselves being used as leverage for an unaffiliated reviewer’s personal gain? writes Lazarus.
And readers of ReviewerCard holder reviews may not know that the reviewer received preferential treatment to ensure a glowing write-up.
Lazarus also points out that customers without the card may have to wait longer for a table or be unable to get a room because they “didn’t have the temerity to make the upfront threat of a scathing online takedown.”
Lazarus claims it was during a trip to France last year that Newman had the brainstorm for ReviewerCard.
As Newman tells it, he was at a restaurant ordering breakfast and was treated rudely by the waiter when he asked for green tea with his meal instead of ordinary tea.
Newman expressed his displeasure, and told the waiter that he planned to post a negative review on TripAdvisor.
“The next thing I knew, the waiter was back with the manager, who apologized and offered to pay for my breakfast,” Newman recalled.
Thus, says Lazarus, came Newman’s epiphany:
“Why can’t waiters, hotel workers, concierges know that people are reviewers? If that French waiter had known at the beginning that I write a lot of reviews, he’d have treated me like Brad Pitt.”
“I don’t know,” Newman said. “If a restaurant brings me free quesadillas and gets a good review for it, what’s the harm?”
Newman charges $100 for the card, and he hopes his ReviewerCard will become as influential as the American Express black card.
If you’ve got $100 bucks to squander, you may be able to intimidate a few naive waiters and front desk clerks with the threat of an amateur review.
February 5th, 2013