The Advertising Standards Authority (hereforth referred to as the ASA) have changed their guidelines again, every year or so they make things a little bit stricter. Now whilst I’m not going to be going into detail about every scenario here, having done some reading I’ve decided how I’m going to proceed.
In short I’m not going to be fully playing by their rules, and with good reason – they’re confusing and misleading. Instead I’m going to clarify to you, my readers, how I will be marking posts from this point forwards and how I plan to make things clearer. I’m going to link off to Vix Meldrew’s post (link removed) which will give you the full low-down if you want to read up more about the specifics and how to fully comply.
Top line from the ASA is that almost everything on this blog would be labelled as an ‘AD’. Items should be marked as an AD if;
- You’ve been paid by a company to create a specific post (social, blog or otherwise)
- You’ve been gifted an item
Open for interpretation as to whether it should or shouldn’t be posted as an AD, opinions differ around the blogosphere currently and the guidelines aren’t exactly written in black and white;
- You’ve purchased an item from a brand and had a previous working relationship with them (both on a gifting and sponsored basis)
Why I’m not fully playing by the Rules
I have little concern that the ASA are going to be coming for me at any point. I would hope that I do a fairly decent job of promoting when posts contain sponsorships and where items are gifted. In now, five years of blogging I have accepted a grand total of two sponsored blog posts (only one of which is still live, as one company went bust!) and I have done probably around twelve sponsored Instagram posts. I don’t rely on blog content to pay my bills, and nor would I ever want to – it’s a hobby that occasionally makes me a bit of pocket money on the side. I only ever take opportunities which genuinely interest me and say no far more than I say yes, and it’s always with with brands I already love and use or genuinely intrigue me, I have been known to accept sponsored opportunities for things i think I’ll like, and when they arrive end up turning them down if it’s not a great fit after all.
The issue really everyone in the UK is taking offence with is the third point, if you should be declaring something as an Ad when you’ve had a relationship with a brand previously but you’ve spent your own money on something else, but still need to declare whether it’s an Ad or not, and this is the part I’m not onboard with and will not be complying with – because simply where does it end?
I have a few examples for this and why I think it’s unfair and downright confusing.
- A few years ago I was sent a contour and highlight palette from Urban Decay which I reviewed, it was a one off, I didn’t end up on their PR list (if I’m being honest, I did email a few times after trying!). But I had a one off relationship with them, they didn’t thank me for the post or acknowledge that it had been posted – it was purely a token gesture from them.
By the new rules every Urban Decay product in my collection, purchased before or after that palette was sent I should now label as a AD or mention that it’s not gifted, because once upon a time they sent me something that cost £35 at retail and them, probably £5 to make, when I’ve spent £100s of my own money promoting products genuinely. Labelling things as an Ad, or redeclaring that it’s not an Ad due to something I was gifted years ago would be confusing to me as a reader if I’m not used to seeing regular gifted content.
- I was in a fortunate position last year where I received a lot of products from the M&S beauty PR team, that team has now been outsourced and other than a couple of little things at Christmas (which I was clear to mark in my gift guides) I now seem to have stopped receiving PR from them.
I still have items sent to me from M&S which I’m yet to review, I have a lot of items which have become favourites and I’ve repurchased, and I have new items I’ve purchased with my own money to review. I will mark anything that I have been gifted as gifted, but where I’m repurchasing items or purchasing items off my own back to review – I will not be marking these as gifted.
Technically, if I do an interiors post and I have a cushion from M&S as part of my room, I should be marking this post as an Advert or declaring that it’s not an Ad, because I have (or had) a relationship with M&S in the past. If I post a picture of Instagram wearing and M&S dress and I want to tag where it’s from, I should be declaring it as an Ad. Even though I have no relationship with the M&S fashion and homeware teams. (Get in touch if you do want to work with me though 😉 )
- Lastly, I work with my local shopping centre a few times a year – I am usually somehow compensated for my time/effort in writing posts/social mentions etc. Sometimes they are done as a favour, e.g promoting that a new store has opened as part of an on-going relationship where I receive nothing at all. (e.g Instagram stories about a new pop up store that opened before Christmas a trial for opening a shop in the centre).
Compensation from the Shopping Centre PR team can include; free meals (which would mean any meals I pay for there in the future and feature on my instagram stores as an example should be technically shown as an AD), sometimes I receive a goodie bag as a surprise with a few shops often contributing samples/vouchers/products or a gift card to spend in the shopping centre itself (e.g before christmas I received a Body Shop box of goodies to say ‘Thanks’ from the centre for supporting them through 2018.
Take this post I did in January last year about Shopping the January Sales – I was given a £50 gift card a shopping challenge for beauty to show you what deals were available in the centre. I wrote a post on this, showcased what amazing deals I’d found etc.
Subsequently I reviewed some of the items included in this post, it would be confusing if I was marking the YSL mascara I purchased in the sales in a review as gifted or an AD – as you’d naturally assume that YSL was the gift-giver on that basis. YSL have had some free promotion out of it, but the promotion wasn’t asked for from YSL, and nor did the shopping centre control what I bought. I don’t have a working relationship with YSL and nor does the shopping centre I care that I reviewed a mascara positively or negatively. So do I declare on a mascara review post that a local shopping centre gave me a gift card for going to a completely unrelated event and that’s what I chose to spend my money on? No, because how bloody confusing and unnecessary is that for you as a reader?
Where I think I can improve
However on reading some posts there’s points where I have realised I can do better.
I think I sometimes forget that not everyone has read my reviews in the past where I might mention something as gifted as part of review. But by the time it gets to an Empties post as an example, whilst I do link back to the original, I’ll usually mention that something is gifted in the text – but I’m going to do a better job at redeclaring where individual items were gifted next to the product name. I will not mark these posts at the beginning as gifted as there may be one item out of fifteen mentioned in the post, but I will clearly mark where I can before you start reading.
I will clearly mark in the first paragraph of reviews post where I have been gifted an item that the item has been sent to me and by whom (e.g if I was sent an Origins product by M&S) as well as redeclaring at the end of the post. And similarly, I will also make sure at the start and end of any sponsored posts that it is an Ad.
The guidelines say that ‘Sponsored’ isn’t enough to indicate that things are Ad – so I will make sure opportunities are labelled as such. I have had opportunities land on my door which request that things are labeled as ‘collaborative’ rather than sponsored or ad which I’ve rejected if there’s no negotiating with them.
Unfortunately however these rules have come in place for a reason and that’s because people are abusing it. I’ve seen posts opportunities that I have been sent an offer for a paid posts, but that also insist on no declaration what-so-ever, I never accept these but see others clearly do. Whether it’s naivety, or people seeing an opportunity to make a quick buck, but thinks like this show that there is somewhat of a need to knuckle down. But it’s really unfair in my eyes to expect people to declare things as an Ad where they have spent their own my own money on it. So I encourage you as a reader to proceed with your eyes open, and I hope you know that my posts and reviews here are always honest. I put a lot of effort into trying and reviewing things, if I don’t like an item I’m more than happy to say something did not work for me but equally I try to think of whether it just doesn’t suit me and who it might be better for.
Please feel free to agree, or disagree with me in the comments, and please talk freely if you think there’s anything where things have been unclear in the past so I can improve on those too. I wanted to get this post up before I posted any new content so you’re sure as a regular reader where I stand on this. If you’re out of the UK, these rules don’t apply.