Before we get into disclosure, it might be a good idea to get a drink and some snacks as this is a super long post!
Disclosure can be confusing but it’s a skill bloggers and influencers alike need to learn and undertake to ensure they are not misleading their audience. Rules and guidance have been introduced yet, are quickly reworded which adds to the uncertainty and confusion. This was evident on Twitter earlier this week with many saying discussing the new guidance. The ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) and CMA (Competition and Markets Authority) have produced “An influencers guide to making clear that ads are ads” and includes a flow chart which I believe is really helpful. I would encourage you to read the guide before reading the rest of this post by clicking the link below:
As a visual learner, I find I learn best with simple terms and illustrations. So, I decided to put together this post to provide a reference or starting point and to help fellow bloggers. You may not agree with how relationships should be declared outlined in the guidance by ASA/CMA however, there are lots of ways to declare relationships without taking away the quality from your blog, whilst ensuring you abide by the rules. The important thing to remember is this guidance is to ensure our work/blog/videos etc online is clear as possible to our audience.
What are the rules?
Influencers must clearly label content that has been paid-for or for which they have received gifts or loans. #ad or #sponsored are examples, and must now be prominently displayed at the beginning of the post, rather than buried away among other hashtags.
Even gifts that are made without a requirement to post about them afterwards must be declared if they appear in social media content. #freebie is suggested as a label.
It is no longer enough for influencers to declare the companies they work for in their profile. Each post must be treated in isolation and all paid-content or commercial relationships declared.
If an influencer is engaged in various commercial relationships related to an individual post, each one must be declared.
Promoting your own products/services
If you are promoting your own product or service; this should be obvious to your audience. For example, if you are a baker promoting your cookbook. ASA/CMA have stated this still needs to be declared as promotional content. Readers are finding it confusing distinguishing between a baker, photographer or interior designer promoting their products or services and an Influencer promoting theirs. The universally accepted way of doing this is using #AD. This is stated in the guidance by ACA/CMA. So, let’s say you are promoting a book or event tickets etc, then this is how you would declare it via various platforms:
- Instagram: #AD Download my e-book on how to take pretty blog photos!
- Twitter: #AD Me and five other bloggers are hosting an afternoon tea! Get tickets here!
- Title of blog post: [AD] How to take pretty blog photos.
- First sentence of blog post: This is a promotional post for my new e-book.
Promoting a gifted item
So, let’s say a brand gifts you an item. This is payment. Now a lipstick compared to an all-expenses paid for holiday isn’t the same but, it’s still payment. Within the ASA guide, there is a handy flow-chart which asks you to reflect on whether the brand or company has any creative control on whether you post about the gift or not. However, the results are one of the same.
It’s likely to be considered ‘sponsored’ content rather than an ‘ad’ under the CAP Code, so not for the ASA.But CMA rules apply here – you must make sure content is clearly identifiable as being paid-for. For example, by using the label ‘advertisement feature’ or ‘advertisement promotion.’
You need to make it clear that the post is an ad (rather than just editorial or sponsored content). There are various ways you could do this but the easiest is to include a label that’s always visible before people click anything. The ASA has decided that for now “ad” at the beginning of the post does the job best.
I believe as long as you are clear you have been gifted the item(s) then you should be fine. Here are a few examples of how you might do this:
Any social media post:
- [#AD-Gifted Items] I like to start my Monday mornings by writing my to-do list in my @Kikki K planner.
- [#AD-Gifted Items] There’s nothing quite like a bouquet of fresh flowers from @BloomandWild to brighten up a dull Monday.
- [#AD-Gifted Item] Going for an afternoon tea! Outfit details: Dress @CathKidston Shoes: @Boden Handbag: my own.
As you can see from the various examples, by putting #AD at the beginning, you are complying with the rules and clarifying the relationship by saying the items were gifted (and which ones).
- Title of blog post: [AD] Mulberry Bayswater handbag in Sorbet Pink OR What’s in my Mulberry handbag? [AD].
- First sentence in blog post: This post contains gifted items from Mulberry which have been marked in line with my disclaimer (then link to your disclaimer page).
This way, your readers are absolutely clear what has has been gifted to you and what you have purchased yourself.
Featuring previously gifted item(s) OR from a paid for collaboration
This is where there seems to be a lot of confusion and people are unclear how much detail to go into. However, from reading the guidance, I don’t think you need to go into tremendous detail:
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.
From reading this, it appears that if you’ve worked with a brand before, you just need to be clear if you are working with them again or not. I believe they are not wanting you to painstakingly declare every item or declare it as an AD. You simply need to be clear on your previous relationship. The key message here is not to mislead your readers. So, here are some examples of how you could do this:
Social media post:
Tonight’s plan is curling up and watching Netflix. Duvet and throw from a previous (gifted or paid collaboration/partnership) from @TheWhiteCompany. What are your plans tonight?
From this, it is clear to the readers about the previous relationship and it fits seamlessly with the caption without being too clunky. Of course, you can be as creative as you like with your captions as long as you work within the guidelines. Remember to keep it clear and not mislead you readers. Or if you decide to tag brands, remember to be clear for example, shoes from a previous collab with @Boden.
- Title of blog post: as per usual post.
- First sentence of blog post: Items included in this post were gifted/paid for in a pervious collaboration with Benefit Cosmetics.
As you can see, the examples are clear about previous relationships without going overboard.
Paid partnerships are where you are paid money to promote a message, campaign, product, event, trip etc. Here are a few examples of how you could do this in-keeping with the guidelines:
- Any social media platform: #AD at the beginning of your message or [AD] somewhere in your Insta Story.
- Blog post: [#AD] in the post title (can be at the beginning or end of the title).
- First sentence of blog post: this is for a paid partnership with Essie.
Posts promoting a gifted experience/trip/meal/tickets/events
Again, this is the same as promoting a gifted item or product. Here are some examples of how you could do this:
Any social media platform:
- [AD] Had a wonderful lunch today, courtesy of Élan Cafe!
- [AD] Just touched down in Croatia! What a fantastic trip (courtesy of EasyJet). Do you know any must-see places or restaurants I should visit?
- Title of blog post: [AD] My photo diary of Croatia! (or AD at the end of the title – whichever you wish!)
- First sentence of blog post: This blog post about my travels to Croatia is courtesy of EasyJet.
Let’s say you go to Élan cafe or fly with EasyJet again, so now you would say something along the lines of: Back at Élan Cafe again today (last time was courtesy of them as they have fantastic food and service) OR flying with EasyJet again (last time was courtesy of them and as they was so lovely, I’ve booked myself) and cannot wait to touchdown in Croatia!
PR samples/unboxing/treat boxes:
Do the same as you would for gifted products.
1. If the entire post is about the affiliated linked item
This is what the ASA/CMA are saying:
Have you included a code or hyperlink as part of an ‘affiliate’ agreement, so you get paid a commission for each time someone clicks through and/or makes a purchase?
It’s an ad under the UK advertising rules! Is it immediately obvious that it’s an ad, before people click on it?
Although we know ADs are not the same as affiliate links, I would suggest putting AD next to them as this is what ASA/CMA are saying to do.
Instagram/Insta Stories swipe up
As you cannot add links to a caption but you can insert an affiliate link in your bio, then you need to say in your caption it is an affiliate link before you direct your followers. On Insta Stories (swipe up), make sure it says AD or AFF. The ASA have said to mark it as AD, so do this and in another frame, direct your followers to your disclaimer page.
Again, mark the affiliate link as AD in your tweet.
I would declare this in the same way I would for a paid collaboration/promotion (for the title) and then in the first sentence would say: “this post contains affiliate links. You can read my full disclaimer here” and link to your disclaimer page.
2. If the post is about lots of things and contains some/a few affiliate links
I would put [AD] next to your affiliated linked item. It doesn’t need to be in the title but would put at the beginning of the blog post for example: “there are some affiliate links in this blog post which have been marked with [AD]”. For example, say you are talking about your makeup routine and one item is an affiliate link: For my lips, I like to line them with the NYX lip pencil in nude truffle and add a little Oh My Gloss lipgloss by Rimmel London [AD].
But the ASA do go on to say if there is no creative control, then you do not have to declare it. However, this isn’t strictly true. They state it needs to be CMA compliant. This is what they 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 Code.
But CMA rules apply here – you must make sure content is clearly identifiable as being paid-for. For example, by using the label ‘advertisement feature’ or ‘advertisement promotion’.
So, from reading this, I would just stick with placing AD as discussed earlier, then you’ve covered all bases and are complying with the rules.
I hope you have found this post useful and informative. You can also find more information on the Gov website. Let me know your thoughts or questions in the comments section below.