A new Loft blogging strategy has created some buzz, but not entirely the kind intended.

A group of bloggers was invited to preview Loft’s summer collection on Jan. 26 and each received a free gift card, ranging from $10 to $500. But Loft executives insist it wasn’t a ploy to insure favorable reviews about the collection, just to generate some blogging action.

This story first appeared in the February 3, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“They could write whatever they want. Obviously, there’s freedom of speech,” said Gary Muto, president of Loft, which is a division of AnnTaylor Stores Corp. “These are independent bloggers, not affiliated [with] any publications. We invited them to come in and write something. We treat bloggers more as potential clients. We don’t believe bloggers to be the same as the editorial community. We don’t incentivize the press. We would never do that.”

A Jan. 19 article in The Los Angeles Times said, “From the sound of the sliding scale card values, the bigger and better your coverage, the greater your reward.”

But Muto disagreed, indicating: “These were preloaded gift cards dumped in a fish bowl,” meaning the dollar value of the cards was set and wouldn’t be altered based on a blog’s content.

After they left the preview, bloggers could find out the value of their cards by either shopping Loft or communicating with the company by sending the link to their blog posting. Once Loft received the link, it could e-mail back to bloggers what the card was worth and also read the blog.

Muto said 31 bloggers viewed the collection and each took a card. There were 50 cards in the fish bowl, he added.

A separate preview was held the same day for editors, but no gift cards were distributed there, Muto said.

“We will continue talking to bloggers,” Muto said. “We firmly believe that word of mouth is a great avenue to explore. Gone are the days of traditional forms of marketing and communication.”

Asked if Loft will continue to offer free gift cards to bloggers, Muto replied that for now, at least, “I can’t answer that question.”

Separately, shares of Ann Taylor Stores spiked Tuesday after the company revised its fourth-quarter forecast upward.

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