Transparency is key – sponsored content on blogs
Sponsored content on blogs is such a big topic that it took me a while to put my thoughts and research together. I believe it is in a form now that I can finally write my own post about it. It is my own in a sense that I not only give you examples of analysis and results of surveys but also my thoughts. I will describe how the blogosphere looks today, how it has changed in recent years and what are currently the laws or good practices for bloggers regarding sponsored content and advertisements.
When I refer to blogosphere or bloggers I mean #menswear part of it.
In recent years blogs became more and more professional. Professional in a sense that bloggers started earning money via their own websites, whether it is through advertising, sponsored content, free gifts, free travel, affiliate links or even direct sale. Its opinion of being considered small hobby and writing for oneself in the dark forgotten parts of internet, as much as you the reader would like to believe it, is in many cases long gone (general statement). As one industry body explains: “When it comes to vloggers (or bloggers or anyone else creating editorial content) the assumption is that any mention of a brand is an independent decision of the vlogger as the “publisher”.” This is how blogging is viewed – a place in the internet where independent views are shared by the content creator.
Pure honesty and genuine interest in the topic is no longer the sole reason for running the blog in many cases. On the other hand most blogs look much more professional now, they have nice websites and are skilfully run with the use of social media and all sorts of collaborations. Photos and photo shoots are really beautiful and engaging. However..
Some bloggers do not understand the fact that once they started earning money through the blog they become a regular business. Businesses in this country (UK) or most other places are required to state how they make money (also declare tax etc.). Here is the problem – transparency.
With blogging, similarly as with the publishing business, the goal should be to have “readers first” approach and transparency when introducing sponsored content. In my experience it is nowadays very difficult to distinguish the difference between genuine content and what has been sponsored or controlled by the advertiser. That is the main issue. Why do I care? Because poorly executed sponsored content is polluting not only menswear blogosphere but blogs in general. Label is put on everyone, regardless of their practices. You hear people saying “all bloggers do is only take free stuff and publish nice photos”. Well, I’d like to prove them wrong.
While doing my research I have noticed a significant number of publications dealing with this problem. So it is not like nobody is talking about it. To me it looks like it is generally ignored in menswear industry and the only bloggers I know with clear policy on collaborations and disclaimers in his posts who also regularly and clearly marks sponsorship are David from Grey Fox Blog and my friend Szymon Jeziorko from AllTiedUp.
What is sponsored content?
There are two things here. There is advertised content and sponsored. They are quite different. For the content to be an ad it needs to meet certain criteria. Those are, as defined by the ASA (Advertising Standards Agency):
- content has to be paid for AND
- the advertiser has control over the content (i.e. which links will be in the post or what photos will appear etc.)
The industry understands “payment” as not necessary monetary payment but also i.e. free gifts. As you can see then, not every paid for content is an ad. Almost everything else becomes in some way “sponsored”. In UK, the CMA (Consumers & Markets Authority) – Government body – ensures that the breach of consumer protection legislation does not occur in the media, especially when brands work with influencers and bloggers. Their main job is to ensure that sponsored content is clearly labelled as such and that readers/customers can clearly see the disclosure. Sponsored content is not an advert when:
- a brand asks you to create a content based on a topic and does not control it
For example if a brand is asking you and paying (in any form) for link placement in your post (or facebook post/insta/everywhere else!) – it is an ad!
There is another aspect to it – good practices. Both CMA and ASA are there to help you understand how you should label such sponsored content. They also advice you to disclaim any relationship you have with a brand, regardless if you have been paid or simply received a free gift.
Why “in collaboration with..” does not mean a thing
One of the best descriptions of the reason for disclaimers comes from the ASA’s guide to ads for vloggers: “Why is it important to make clear an ad is an ad? It’s important that we understand when we’re being marketed to so that we can make informed decisions about what we’re being told. Plus if it’s appearing in a format that we’d normally expect to be non-promotional, we should be told up front about whether it’s an ad so that we can decide whether we want to continue viewing. In simple terms, it’s not fair to falsely promote a product.” Another one would be to disclose relationship with a brand “.. in order to comply with consumer protection legislation“.
I think this has been put brilliantly by ASA. In short, you need to:
- clearly label sponsored content
- label it up front, not at the end!
This is exactly why saying “in collaboration with..” does not mean a single thing. There are thousands of potential collaborations ranking from paid for content to simply advertising. The reader needs to know and understand what the relationship is like to make informed decision. In a recent analysis it has been found that over 50% of reader do not understand correctly the term “sponsored content” (link to research at the bottom of the article; survey based on 542 internet users in US, aged 18-65). It also showed that over 54% of readers distrust sponsored content. This is the problem and label put on bloggers that I referred to in the first paragraph. The problem of trust. It happened because brands love using advertorials and bloggers are keen not to label them. There is confusion and distrust in content overall that hurts the whole blogosphere and publishing.
To put it into example. If a brand gives you a product to review and you keep it, you should say so. That’s because readers might think that you shill in your so-called reviews for any brands in order to get further free gifts! Transparency is the key! If you state so up front, you not only comply with the law or meet good standards in the industry, you get more trust from your reader – you respect him and his opinion.
In the example above I explain what my relationship with the tailor/brand is. There is no need to disclose the exact terms (i.e. the % discount or actual price you have been offered) but it is enough information for the reader to have an idea.
There is a lot more to this topic than I have written. Whether you are fine with sponsored content or adverts is another thing. Two questions I wanted to answer clearly in this post is what the sponsored content is and then how to properly disclaim it. I would also like to state that you should not take your readers for granted. Respect them because as the latest study shows: “The data also reveals that misgivings about sponsored content become more pronounced with education level, which is troubling for many publishers actively selling a highly educated, high-earning audience.”
- Study on internet users trust in sponsored content.
- Vlogging scenarios explained by ASA
- Vloggers, bloggers and brands: a short guide to the ad rules by CAP (Committee of Advertising Practice)
- 60 seconds summary by CMA on online endorsments
This post is mainly a voice in a discussion about sponsored content and advertising in blogs on menswear. I will do another one which would present and explain specific examples of types of sponsored content such as reviews, free gifts, advertorials, product placement etc and how to disclaim them. Hopefully it will help you understand the rules and practices and will make the industry not only aware but also help us, the readers expect high quality standards when it comes to sponsored content.
Please share your opinion about sponsored content, bloggers practices and disclaimers. Also if you could please answer this one simple question to help me get a feeling about your understanding of sponsored content:
Thanks for reading!