Celebrity Spam

It’s happened to you before. You’re browsing away happily, surfing from one blog to the next, enjoying content that a thousand monkeys typing for a thousand years would have no hope of recreating, when all of a sudden it happens. You come across a site that looks like a blog, calls itself a blog, is for all intents and purposes blog-like in nature… but reads like a paid advertorial on page 3 of your local gossip rag. Something that one monkey could knock up in a casual afternoon quite happily, and still have time for banana or two.

I’m not generally one to bag other people out, but it’s got to a point where I think something needs to be said, because it annoys me when the spirit of blogging and the organic dissemination of information is treated with such calculating disdain.

Such is the world of “Celebrity” Chef, Benjamin Christie, and his attempts to boost his own celebrity status by manufacturing hype. This takes the form of his blog, his Wikipedia entry about himself and his tv show, written by himself, and his frequent unsolicited emails asking me and others in the food blogging community for links and to visit his website, complete with web bugs and statistics tracking links built in (note the actual link address in image).

email scam

It’s no surprise why these kinds of sites exist. The Internet is an important part of our social consciousness these days. People rely on it for news, entertainment, and community, with blogs forming a large chunk of that world. It makes sense that where the people go…so the advertisers go. Everyone knows that you have to be online now if you want to capture that highly prized share of the market.

So why does this grate me so much ? Benjamin Christie has done a number of things. He’s appeared in a TV series and published a book (or had a hand it at some point), and from what I can gather (from reading his own publicity material) travels around the world as an ambassador for Australian native food. These are all good things… but that doesn’t make him a celebrity…

The blogging community is not stupid. We are normal people, with normal lives, who choose to congregate around each other websites in order to share ideas and receive inspiration. If you want to join in, feel free… Just don’t use your blog as a thinly veiled marketing ploy for all of your other products. If you do so, don’t call it a blog, call it a marketing portal. A self contained world where you are the most famous person in the world and everything else thinks so too.

Doing a number of searches online, you find it really difficult to find anything about him, that wasn’t either written directly by him (or one of his “team”), or posted as an advertisement for his various wares. Now I have no problem with commercialism. I have no problem with people getting paid for what they do. What I have a problem with are advertisements disguised as journalism, and with someone trying to hijack the food blogging community for their own marketing purposes.

The beauty of blogs is that they are written by real people. Ideas are shared freely and the comments you receive are taken on board and evolved into a new understanding of food, wine, or whatever you happen to be writing about. The best blogs have evolved over time through the authors writing great content that people want to read, and through actively commenting and encouraging others.

As soon as you start to try and change the course of public opinion through surreptitious ways, you start treading a very fine line between raising awareness and outright spam, and the nature of blogging itself takes a sharp and painful twist back to the days of media companies telling us what we should think.

To me it all seems like the emperors new clothes in blog form:

Yes there’s great content, because I say there’s great content !
Yes I’m a celebrity, because I say I’m a celebrity !

I think it’s time for Benjamin Christie to put his pants back on… because no-one wants to see it.

** Update **
Another article by Ed from Tomato about Mr Christie and his advice.
Responses to Ed’s post on Food Blog S’cool
A bit of history on the situation as pointed out by Sam from Becks & Posh

*** Update II ***
After some creative but accurate editions to BC’s wikipedia entry by Ed, the page was promptly reverted to it’s original glowing praise version. The IP address used to make that change, was incidentally used to visit my website recently, referred via one of his stats pages. The world is full of strange coincidences it seems…

31 thoughts on “Celebrity Spam”

  1. really interesting article (and funny read too!) because you’ve managed to distil my vague feeling of unease about him into something more concrete and identified what it is that made me feel like he wasn’t just sending emails to be friendly… I guess I don’t really have a problem with him marketing himself/his blog as long as it’s not under a guise of being a ‘normal’ blogger. Marketing takes many forms and sometimes the more subtle the better, which I suppose was what he was doing. Hey, this reminds me a little of that YouTube girl…or is that actor?

  2. Yes, I’ve received that email from BC too. It’s the second one I’ve received (yep, unsolicited and unwanted) from him. I did check out his site but didn’t leave any comments. I considered emailing him and telling him to kindly take me off his mailing list which I hadn’t opted to be part of in the first place, but honestly, I just could not be bothered corresponding with him. Obviously he has time to spam food bloggers to promote his site, but doesn’t have time to interact with us personally by reading and commenting on our blogs. *snort*

  3. Hey Cin,

    It took me a while to think about what I wanted to say as well, and yeh, it’s not an issue that he makes money doing what he does, the issue is how he goes about soliciting favour.

    Welcome tfp :)
    My thoughts exactly… if you’re gonna talk the talk, walk the walk. There is no engagement or interest on his part other than how many hits we can drive to his site… Consider this a post for all the “couldn’t be bothereds” of you out there…

  4. I am glad that people are not getting hoodwinked by BC’s bullshit.
    I marked him as spam and quickly replied to his mail informing him that I had done so. Last time us food bloggers revolted against him we didnt hear another peep out of him for over a year. Let’s hope this time he leaves us alone for good.

  5. Hey Sam,

    No hoodwinking here, but it seems his posts do garner a number of responses. Would be interesting to know how many are directly from his prompting… but yeh, lets hope he leaves the blogging to the bloggers.

  6. Wow, that’s crazy. I’m new to the non-Xanga world of food blogging, so I haven’t had any contact with him or anyone of that sort, but it sounds a bit… ick. (I’m also not in Australia, but have found loads of good food blogs from there!) Thanks for the warning.

  7. i think he gets responses because people don’t realise what he is up to. They think he is just a fellow blogger being nice. He used to incessantly send emails asking for link swaps and then – he wouldn’t even put the link on his main page – it was buried somewhere on his website on a sub page without any value to anyone.
    After he sent me at least 4 spammy link requests in a row I asked him to please go away in no uncertain terms and marked him spam.

    But over a year later now he is back on the rampage again.
    He must think we are all duh.
    Once people work out his game, they will be less enthusiastic. He is totally pandering to foodbloggers by trying to give them information of interesting and by trying to act like a blogger. But he is not a blogger, he is a phoney.

  8. I was sucked in by the fiendly sounding emails at first before I realised it was like being invited to dinner at somebody’s house and sold Amway.

  9. Ugh! Talk about going about things completely the wrong way!

    I like the comments in the history of Christie’s Wikipedia article – “vanity” indeed! And your comments about celebrity – I hadn’t actually heard of this guy before, but the next time I do I will be quite wary. Pity for him – if he’d taken the time to get to know people he might have actually gotten genuine links and genuine credibility!

  10. i think you’re just jealous cause he’s actually more popular than you. why don’t you just mind your own business? you obviously have way too much time on hand.

  11. when you’re responding to things like that, you actually appear to be downright pathetic and lame. all you can do is just ignore him. im not saying what thet celebrity chef was doing is right and acceptable. but you are over-reacting in a way.

  12. Thanks guys for the comments, and thanks Sam for pointing out the history involved, lets hope it goes away now.

    John, I’d be happy to mind my own business if I weren’t being sent unsolicited emails, and asked to participate in the circus that he’s hoping to create.
    If you took that approach to all spam then you’d be flooded with mountains of it.
    As you can see from the responses above, it’s not just me who feels this way (for once)… but thanks for you comments.

  13. Sam, I didn’t realise he’d been up to this for so long! I guess I just wasn’t on his radar yet. Haha.
    ed, hahahaha, YES! I like your invite to dinner/Amway analogy.
    john, why so aggro? Matt’s within his rights to voice his opinion here on his own site.

    Matt, you should email dear BC:
    Dear Benjamin Christie,
    This week I wrote a blog post which I think you may be interested in…


  14. finally!!! about time someone wrote about this chappie. he and his “team” have been annoying me with their emails and requests for me to link to his “blog” for too long. i reckon this is the post to bring about more criticism in food blogging… come on… we can’t all be this nice can we??? :P

  15. Hey Deb, good point… I don’t see why we can’t incorporate a little healthy criticism here and there… and perhaps a good dose of sarcasm too…

    I know I can’t be that nice all the time… I tried once…it didn’t last :)

  16. im not saying he can’t voice his own opinions here. well its just a thought and i think matt has over-reacted.
    define agrro tfp. do you even understand the word? what have i done to deserve that word? am i being aggresive or being violent here? if anyone is being violent or aggresive here, its you tfp.

  17. John, why are you defending BC? Are you a food blogger? Do you get so little email that you welcome spam? Are you a mate of BC? You do seem to be in the minority. I know I welcome one less (spa) email each day.

  18. Well said Matt – and I don’t think you’re over reacting. I’ve left a comment for Ed as well, but what he and his ‘team’ are doing is considered unethical in professional and corporate communication. It’s called ‘astroturfing’ – creating a fake grassroots campaign for profit or personal publicity. And his entry on Wikipedia is nothing short of viral marketing. Traditionally viral marketing always fails with an audience that has a high degree experitise and knowledge in a subject. This is why so many of us have spotted BC as a fake and reacted this way. When Helen and I were slagging off at him the other day I mentioned that I actually think some of his post comments are … well let’s just say ‘self generated’ so he appears to have a readership. If you look at the sentence construction they are quite similar with very little natural variation in the way they are written. More astroturfing? By the way that beef wellington looks yummy.

  19. Thanks Reb for the info, and for giving me a proper word to use to describe his tactics. Astroturfing fits quite nicely.

    I had a similar feeling about the comments on his site… Short, generic sounding affirmations of his own opinions. But criticizing the actual content of his blog is for a whole other post entirely…

    I’m still yet to hear any response to any of my emails or this post from BC himself or one of his team, so I’m not sure if he feels the need to respond or not. One would think that if he does have any interest in the food blogging community he’d take the time to address these comments.

    And thanks about the Wellington…it was a labour of love, and meat :)

  20. Chef ben used to spout his “expert” opinions over at the tv aus site during the my restaurant rules days. Every post would be an ad for his website looks like he found a new way to push his site.

  21. oh that is too great that you emailed that to him! funny enough, after leaving your page last, I Wiki’d him and noted that someone must have edited the page but how funny it was.

    I also came back here doing my normal rounds and because today, after randomly stumbling on a site that had my page linked somehow (yay!), I saw his profile front & center! thought you might be interested.

    http://www.foodcandy.com :)

  22. Have been marking his emails as spam since receiving the first email. As Sam once mentioned on FoodBlog school (I think!) if he can’t get my name (or even my nick) in the email, it’s just spam like the others.



  24. Tony, thanks for a bit more background on the consistency of spammy activity. It seems our mate BC just never really got it. Such is the problem of people thinking that the net is ripe for the plucking.

    Yvo (VIII), thanks for coming back, if only to check this thread. Very interesting that the food candy site has done an interview with him. I can’t say I use the site very often, but it looks like they’re into the reciprocal linking/marketing deal. The interview is as expected, and still even contains links with affiliate ID’s back to BC’s site.

    Jean, i think it would be slightly creepier if he did use my real name…but I know exactly what you mean… If you didn’t ask for it, and if it makes no effort to interact with you personally… it’s spam.

    Anthony, Interesting you should say that, as I have recently come into the possession of a large quantity of lard that was given to me by the widow the the late Nigerian head of state, Gen. Sani Abaca. After the death of her husband who died mysteriously from a cardiac arrest… perhaps due to eating so much lard. The widow was able smuggle the lard out of the country in four metal boxes and since she needed a place to keep them (away from the probing eyes of the new regime), I kindly offered to help her. Now that I am an expert in these strictest top secret and intimate confidence matters I will be more than happy to deal with you in a nature becoming the magnitude of the request.

  25. Aha! Another post about the lovely Benjamin Christie. I held back from naming and shaming him in my latest post but now I think I should have done it! You are right, everything that is on the web about him is either written by him or his team in the name of shameless self-promotion. Personally, I found the guy to be incredibly arrogant and rude. Here’s the post – maybe I should update it with his name?!


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