So let's see what the whole issue is about: Najib is offering a giveaway at Le Gray hotel for Valentine's. Skaff inquires how much such a stunt would cost. Najib says it's for free, and Skaff is not exactly convinced judging by her answer.
Except - she has a very valid point. When Najib says "I don't do paid" ads, well, since I have worked in advertising since 2001, I can tell you that there are different kinds of "payments"... And one of them is freebies. So yes, recently I was invited by Nike to participate in a run in Downtown Beirut, they'd provide me with gear and shoes and - implicitly (even if this was never mentioned) - all I had to do was blog, tweet, and instagram about it. It's a win-win I get to keep the cool stuff, and they get free advertising.
So of course, Najib has never hidden that he attends media events, and another one of our hero bloggers prominently displayed cool cufflinks presented to him by a real estate development company (with his name engraved in Arabic calligraphy on them no less). And of course, attending those events comes with its own goody bags, samples, and whatever else.
So this is not "paid" advertising in the classical sense, but the whole buddy-buddy relationship between ad agencies and PR arms with bloggers is blurring the lines severely. I have nothing against Najib or anyone else taking free stuff from companies, but just like Miss Skaff was bewildered as to this being simply a non-paid ad, sadly it taints my own views of the "reviews" I find on so many blogs simply because bloggers never declare if they got the kit for free, if they kept the sample they are reviewing, if the companies had approached them with prior conditions, if they paid for their meal or not, if they got the insert-whatever-the-thing-is-here because the PR person reached out to them, etc, etc....
So when Miss Skaff said: "ah bass heik?? Weird" (Oh, only that? Weird) as a reply to Najib's insistence that he doesn't do "paid" ads and that this was a simple giveaway, she was expressing the skepticism of someone working in the communication world who knows that "there are no free lunches" - and if they are for free, then the one paying for them expects to be "paid" in a different way.
Recently I launched a hashtag #sharmoutAD - that the combination of "sharmouta" (or prostitute) in Arabic and "ad" (as in advertising agencies or PR departments). It's when bloggers refuse to state what has been given to them for free and what was paid for (even if not with money), and who picked up the tab of the lunch, shopping spree, event, and what have you.