Oh, how the blogosphere got itself into a right tizzy last week over the new #ad and disclosure guidelines.
It seems that every blogger and his/her dog were wading in on the latest guidelines for influencers (their term, not mine…) and how we’re meant to be disclosing ads, sponsored posts and gifted items. And to be fair, I personally thought many of the complaints were totally justified – that was until I read the guidelines for myself, not just the comments about them.
Seems everyone’s a bit confused, so I’ve picked apart the most recent articles and guidelines and hope that this post makes a little more sense of it all for you.
What’s expected of us may be a little clearer than mud, but it’s still a long way from crystal.
Currently very few of the top celebrities and influencers disclose when they’ve been paid to promote something (or when they’ve been gifted something) in any way at all so they’re FINALLY being held accountable. We’ve known this for ages because any Instagram post where they’re shamelessly holding a protein powder or flashing teeth whitening strips and NOT mentioning anything about #ad or #gifted or #paidpartnership is OBVIOUSLY undisclosed.
(I’m amazed they don’t sense the mass eye roll that accompanies our weary scrolling after they’ve hit “Publish” on these posts.)
However, rather than just insisting they put #ad at the beginning of the caption (which in all honesty is what we all knew the rules already were, so WTH?!), the Competition & Markets Authority (CMA) have added more “bits” to their social influencer disclosure guidelines which are now, at best, superfluous – and at worst, confusing.
And I say superfluous from a CONSUMER’S point of view, not a blogger’s.
Confused by the new guidelines? I am…
This is why I’m confused: these guidelines were set out clearly in September 2018, not January 2019. Yet the guidelines have hit the headlines just now because the CMA published a page on gov.uk (the UK government website, i.e. all things law) on 23 January entitled “Social media endorsements: being transparent with your followers“.
Basically, all this page does is create the aforementioned superfluous waffle that is as confusing as hell, with a note and a link at the end to read the CMA’s download “An influencer’s guide to making clear that ads are ads”…
…which was published in SEPTEMBER.
What I don’t understand is this: WHY has this come to our attention now (and made the news headlines, of all things), when the guidelines were there all along? WHY is it that it takes a news headline and/or word of mouth for this information to find us? WHY is everyone more confused now than they were before with no one [in the UK] able to decide on exactly what they’re meant to be doing?
Going slightly further back than September, in August 2018 the CMA published a press release on the gov.uk website, which stated that:
“If they do not label their posts properly, fans or followers may be led to believe that an endorsement represents the star’s own view, rather than a paid-for promotion.
They are then more likely to place trust in that product, as they think it has been recommended by someone they admire. They might not do so, however, if it was made clear that the brands featured have paid, or in some other way rewarded, the celebrity in return for endorsement.” ~ Source
Er – I beg your pardon, CMA: are you suggesting that ALL influencers, when paid to promote a product, do not actually believe in said product and are doing it PURELY for the money?! [I think you are.] That may be true of some, but it’s certainly not true of me and for the majority of people that I follow (and have respect for).
When I work with a brand, I work with them because I either already use and believe in their product, or it’s because they’ve introduced themselves (and their product) to me and I’m now a fan.
I’ve just turned down a four-figure fee (and potentially five-figures according to the budget they described) from a skincare brand because their moisturisers and serums cost anything upwards of $1,200.
There is NO WAY I would ever, ever, EVER buy a moisturiser that costs that much. In fact, I wouldn’t buy one that cost £100. Therefore I don’t care how good it is, there’s no way I could hold my head up in
public the blogosphere again if I were to start endorsing a product like that (and I doubt they’d even gift me so much as a tiny pot of eye cream as part of the promotion if they cost THAT much).
I’m pretty sure the majority of my readers are not rich, LA-based women with more money than sense. Therefore, I politely turned them down.
Instead, I’m working with a “regular” skincare brand I’ve worked with before, and whose products I buy and use on a regular basis. Maybe they won’t pay as much as Crazy-Ass-Expensive US Skincare Brand, but hey – I LIKE my readers and followers. They treat me well, so I like to return the favour. I’m not here to con them with fake recommendations.
(And if you agree with me on that point, you might want to tweet the following to the CMA…)[tweetshare tweet=”To @CMAgovUK: I only work with brands I BELIEVE IN. Just because it’s a paid #ad doesn’t mean it’s not my own view as you wrongly suggest.” username=”notlamb”]
The “new” social influencer guidelines
So here is what I’ve deduced from the new guidelines “An Influencer’s Guide to making clear that ads are ads” in a nutshell, though I do recommend you read them yourself:
1. It’s important to understand the CMA’s definitions of “payment” and “control”
“Payment” is anything paid to an influencer whether that be cash, good, services, or product.
“Control” is ANY stipulations put into the agreement, whether that be a request for guaranteed coverage with no final approval, an insistance that a particular link, phrase or hashtag is included, or full, final approval with amendments.
Only 100% no-obligation (“here’s a gift, please enjoy it as you wish”) gifts are considered to be free of “control”.
2. The following all count as advertising (ads) so must be labelled as such:
i. Any “paid-for space”, e.g. banner ads, paid-for search results and sponsored/promoted posts on social media platforms
ii. Own advertising, e.g. posting about your own products/services (products you sell, events you’re running, prize draws or giveaways)
iii. Affiliate marketing, where you get paid for every “clickthrough” or sale that can be tracked back to your content
iv. Advertorial, where the brand has paid you in cash or in product or services AND had some form of editorial control over the content (control can be simply just insisting on a post in return and you write whatever you like) OR full control with requests for links, timescale, final approval, etc. (there has to be both payment and control for this to count as an ad)
v. Any reciprocal arrangement, e.g. a partnership with a brand whereby they pay you to be an ambassador or you’re given products, gifts, services, trips, hotel stays, etc. for free (i.e. freebies with control, though this is much like point iv. above).
3. Payment with no control
The guidelines say “If you’ve been ‘paid’ (either in money or in gifts/freebies), but it isn’t as part of an affiliate arrangement and the brand doesn’t have any ‘control’ of what (or even if) you post, it’s unlikely that the content will count as advertising under the CAP [The Committee of Advertising Practice] Code.”
They describe this as “sponsorship” (just to confuse us further), saying it’s not covered by the CAP Code, and the ASA [Advertising Standards Authority] won’t pursue complaints about it. But they still expect influencers to disclose it.
4. Ads have to be clearly marked as ads
They’ve said that consumers need to know the endorsement has been “paid for”. If it isn’t clear, your post risks breaking the law:
i. Both the influencer and the brand are responsible for makings sure that ads are clearly disclosed
ii. The ASA LIKES the following labels: Ad | Advert | Advertising | Advertisement | Ad/Advertising | Advertisement Feature
iii. The ASA recommends we “stay away from”: Sponsorship, Sponsored content, Spon, #Spon, #Sp | In association with | Thanks to [brand] for making this possible | Just @ mentioning the brand
iv. Any label, hashtag, etc. used needs to be upfront (BEFORE people click/engage), prominent (so people notice it), appropriate for the channel (what can you see and when?) and suitable for all potential devices – so yes, “Ad” needs to be within the first two lines of an Instagram caption, OR it can be added as a text overlay on the image.
The other superfluous stuff
A lot of the other talk last week was about disclosing past relationships with your followers. This is where the contradiction comes in: it’s simply MENTIONED in the January article, but isn’t included in the published September CMA guidelines (despite the former linking to the latter in “More information” at the bottom). It’s ambiguous and doesn’t take in the complications that arise when you think how literally we’re meant to take it.
“Past relationships matter too. Even if you don’t have a current relationship with a brand, if there was a past relationship (or you received product loans, gifts and/or other incentives) people need to know about this. Only relationships within a reasonable period need to be declared: anything within the last year is likely to be relevant to followers. If you aren’t transparent about these circumstances, you could be misleading people.” ~ Source
It’s all very well them saying this, but they haven’t been clear about WHAT they’re referring to. Do I have to be actually referencing the product I was gifted? What if it’s just sitting innocuously in the background? What if I’m “wearing” it but you can’t see it (moisturiser, underwear, nail polish base coat, etc.)? It may sound like I’m being pedantic but when they’re not clear, we’re in the dark and everyone gets confused.
I’ve recently bought a new dining room table from Next. I worked with Next last year on a paid (fashion) campaign – absolutely no connection between the two. If I were to feature a shot of my downstairs living area on stories and the dining table is visible, according to that article I would have to disclose my table picture as an #ad because I’d had a previous commercial relationship with the brand. In a completely different context.
I don’t know about you, but personally: WHO CARES? As a consumer I don’t give two hoots about someone I follow showing off their new dining room table – that they bought with their own money – having worked with the same brand to promote their clothing range in the last 12 months. What on earth have the two got to do with each other?
If I were to “advertise” the table and include a swipe up affiliate link (where I may receive a small commission if my followers swipe up and buy something via that link themselves) then yes, I AGREE that it should be disclosed. If I were to “advertise” or promote the same clothes that I was gifted as part of the campaign with Next, then yes, I AGREE that it should be disclosed.
Where do you draw the line with this one?! The CMA and ASA obviously haven’t thought this one through, or they haven’t discussed it with influencers. Discretion and common sense is key here I think, and that’s what I’ll use in future (as I hope I’ve always done).
A handy flow chart to determine if an ad is an ad
This is actually pretty helpful: at last, something useful! Use this to determine whether your post/content is advertising…
How I will be labelling my content going forward
To be honest I’m not at all worried about any past content not having been labelled correctly. I’ve always disclosed both on the blog and on my social media clearly when a post has been paid or just gifted – and quite often in layman’s terms. However before it was all a bit “up in the air” as to how and where to label sponsored/paid for/gifted content, so I’m glad that FOR ONCE it has filtered into mainstream media so that hopefully consumers, as well as influencers, are aware of what the latter are meant to be doing.
Unfortunately the guidelines are not 100% hard and fast (#eyeroll) and two of the articles slightly contradict each other (#doubleeyeroll). So in my bid to continue to be as transparent as before whilst still adhering to the guidelines (and the law), this is how and what I’ll be labelling from now on:
[AD – paid partnership]
– Where payment in cash has been received.
– This will be in the first two lines of Instagram, and between the main photo and the text in a blog post.
[AD – gifted item]
– Where “payment” was only the goods or services featured, but there has been some control from the brand.
– This will be in the first two lines of Instagram, and between the main photo and the text in a blog post.
– Where no payment has been received, and the gift was received 100% under no obligation (zero control from the brand).
– This will be in the first two lines of Instagram, and marked with an asterisk* within the main body of text in a blog post and as /gifted in the clothes listing. Also a line about disclosure with an explanation will be added, see below.
– Where I may receive commission if the link is clicked and a purchase is made.
– This will be a hashtag in Instagram stories (you can’t include a link in an Instagram post), and disclosed on blog posts in the same way as I always have done, but only those gifted in the past 12 months: “Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links which means if you click through and buy I may receive a small commission at no cost to you (click here for my full disclosure). Items listed as (gifted) and/or * were gifted within the last 12 months.” This will be added nearer the top, within the first body of text.
All of that together looks a little complicated, I know – but I hope that within the context of the post/content it should make perfect sense.
It’s as clear as I can be to YOU, my followers/readers, whilst at the same time keeping within the guidelines. In terms of the daft rule about declaring past relationships, I’ll use my judgement and disclose them when it’s relevant. Having a Next dining table in a shot of my downstairs living space and declaring it as an #ad (because I worked with them last year to promote their clothing range) is ridiculous, and I’m sure you’d agree that I’m not hiding anything there.
To be honest I find it pretty obvious when an influencer (wish we could stop using that term…) HASN’T disclosed. You’re looking for #ad straight away, and there it is, tucked away in the sea of hashtags at the bottom. Or it’s not there at all.
I’m glad that there are some clearer rules at last, as unclear as they may be. Let’s just hope that #ad doesn’t get used SO much that it’s bandied about left, right and centre because we’re afraid we’re not disclosing properly.
Because then we won’t be able to tell what really IS advertising, and what isn’t – and that defeats the whole purpose of it all, doesn’t it…?
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE “NEW” GUIDELINES? AND IF YOU’RE OUTSIDE THE UK, WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE GUIDELINES IN YOUR OWN COUNTRY? TELL ME IN THE COMMENTS!
(If you wanted to read the three main articles yourself here they are:)