When it comes to working with brands, the rules of posting sponsored content often aren’t talked about. This is pretty normal – and it’s actually the influencer’s responsibility to make sure they’re operating in a lawful way.
We’d like to support all our influencers in making the most of their blogs, and for many, that means working with brands on a paid basis. Here’s what you need to know when you start making sponsored content, both from a legal and an ethical stand point.
What does the law say?
In September of this year, the Advertising Standards Authority and the Competition and Markets Authority released new guidance for influencers who are working with brands on a paid basis. These rules govern any blogger or influencer based in the UK, and you can read their new guidance here.
To help clarify some of the points in the new guide, we’ve put together the following rules you should stick to.
Note: these are in no way equal to the guidelines, and we recommend you read the new influencer guidelines in full in addition to this post.
If you’re making money, you need to declare it
The new influencer guidelines state that “practices which may break the law are falsely claiming or giving the impression that an individual is acting outside of their business purposes or falsely representing themselves as a consumer; failing to identify a commercial intent behind a social media post; and omitting or hiding ‘material’ information” are illegal.
It’s a bit wordy, but essentially it means that if you share reviews, pictures, videos, or any other kind of content on a product where you stand to gain financially, you need to declare it as sponsored content.
If you do not mark content that has been paid for by an advertiser, you are breaking the law.
Look after your readers and followers
Another of the key points in the guidelines is that it is your responsibility to protect consumers of your blog or social media.
As a content creator, you are technically a media channel to your audience, and when you begin creating sponsored content, you are gaining financially from their readership.
Sometimes, brands and PR agencies can offer money to work with you, but will ask that you do not declare your content as sponsored. This is illegal, and is terrible practice by the brand or PR you’re working with. Always refuse to do so, and insist on declaring sponsored content as sponsored.
The main reason why certain businesses do not want to have content marked as sponsored is the fear of receiving less engagement than normal. That fear may be justified: when adverts come on the TV, a watcher will often go to the bathroom or make a cup of tea. It’s the same principle: people don’t want to be explicitly advertised to, and trust advertising less than a genuine review.
However, the best influencers can avoid a fall in engagement around sponsored content by picking truly fitting brands to work with. Readers and followers will trust content if it sits within the categories you usually write about, has the same style, and provides benefit that readers come to your blog and channels for.
So, what counts as an ad?
There are a range of ways that bloggers and influencers make money. In essence, all of these are ads. However, the new guidelines provide information for the following types of ad:
- Paid-for space
- Own advertising
- Affiliate marketing
This is the simplest form of advertising, and the easiest to spot. Banner adverts, and paid promotions on social networks are obvious adverts, and are often already marked as such.
If you provide products or services alongside your content, and you promote it on your content channels, you are “own advertising”. Essentially, you gain financially from promoting your own products on your channel, therefore such promotions are adverts.
The only exception to this is where your channels are specifically created to promote a product – this is what we define as a brand.
If your content promotes a brand’s products or services, and you receive a small commission from sending readers of your site to purchase these, you’re affiliate marketing. This can be in the form of text links, image links, and even discount codes. This counts as advertising, and you must make it clear to your readers if your posts contain affiliate marketing.
Best practice is to do this by highlighting specific links, or by putting a disclaimer in the posts that contain affiliate links.
Advertorial now has two very distinct features, and both must be met for a piece of content to be classed as advertorial:
- A brand paid you in some way (money, gifted products, etc.)
- The brand has some form of editorial control over the content (brief, editing, or just final approval)
This is a big change, and will affect bloggers who readily accept gifted product in return for specific content creation. These pieces will now need to be marked as sponsored too.
What about gifted items?
One of the big changes that this new guidance provides is clarity when it comes to gifted items.
Gifts are items that are sent to influencers by brands, hoping to have their item shared on social media in a natural way by the influencer. A good comparison of this is when celebrities are sent free clothes: when they wear their gifted clothes, they are papped and the brand gains publicity for dressing that certain celebrity, without any paid transaction happening.
Content containing gifted items do not count as ads when:
- A brand asks if you would like to try and keep an item for free
- The brand who sent you a gift asks if you have shared the item online
- The brand who sent you a gift asks for feedback
Content containing gifted items count as ads when:
- The brand who sent you a gift asks for you to post specific content
- The brand requires final approval on any posts featuring the gifted item
- The brand asks for any other form of editorial control
If your content falls under the “ad” category, you must let readers/followers know it is an ad.
A word on endorsement…
Finally, one of the slightly less common occurrences that you may need to know about is payment for non-typical ads.
Despite the guidelines covering a lot of ground, there are instances where you may be paid to endorse a brand or a product. That could be payment to attend an event, or do something in particular, that does not at first seem like an ad, but is still in fact promoting that brand.
As a rule, if you are receiving payment for something (monetary or not), you need to tell your audience.