Today isn't a day I'd normally blog on, but last night I felt compelled to write this blog post after a discussion on Twitter with Hayley from London Beauty Queen. It's also in slight response to her blog post (which you can read here) on the subject of disclosing paid for content as a blogger.
I actually think Hayley made some good points on how the ASA need to change and pull out their finger on this matter. However I feel I maybe sit on the other side of the fence in some respect and it's a voice that isn't often heard. So I thought I'd brave it and be honest with you here on how I feel on the matter! Don't lynch me in the comments, please!
The main issue
Basically it's simple, if a blogger writes a post and they are getting paid by a brand to do so, they legally have to state it somewhere within the blog post with - 'sponsored by X', 'ad' or 'advertorial'. This is a rule set by the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA). It's simple enough, right? But the problem is some bloggers are diligent at disclosing and some aren't. There are a number of reasons for this - some bloggers think it puts readers off (to be honest my stats are always lower on sponsored posts but that's just how it is), others just don't care to and don't feel they need to (annoying I know!), sometimes a brand will ask for the post to NOT be disclosed as paid for (just ffs), while other brands just don't bring it up as a set requirement. And a million other reasons! So as you can see it's not as simple as it first might seem.
What's the problem I have with it?
For the past few years this discussion has been going on and on, mainly between bloggers, blaming other bloggers. And I get it. The blogger is the one to write it, or not write it in a lot of cases, the words 'sponsored post' or 'advertorial'. However the ASA rules that the blame lies with the brand at the end of the day (though if a case arose the blogger would be mentioned). To me that makes sense as all brands know the exact rules they need to follow and they are the ones setting the requirements of the sponsored post to bloggers. Yet I still come across brands/companies that specifically asking for the post not to be disclosed and even at best only the larger agencies are reminding bloggers they need to state the post is sponsored and check out the post once it's gone live. So why are we still blaming bloggers? Shouldn't we be pointing the finger at brands that have been working in the advertising sector for decades? It really is as simple as brands stating disclosing is a requirement of theirs (because it is!) much like how they require certain links to be included etc. Don't hate the playa, hate the game!
Are Bloggers who don't disclose giving the rest of us a bad name?
So this is something I wanted to bring up as if I'm totally honest, annoys me to hell... because, well I don't think there's much truth in it! With every post about disclosing from a fellow blogger (I'm specifically meaning in the beauty/fashion blogger community here) this statement that not disclosing "gives us all a bad name" seems to sneak in there. It seems to be what bugs other bloggers, that they are disclosing when others aren't and as a result bloggers are getting a bad name. But are they really? I think possibly readers of blogs (I'm not talking bloggers that read blogs here) sit in one of two camps - the camp that couldn't care less about sponsored posts and either read them or ignore them, or the camp of "bloggers shouldn't get paid for anything". That's not to say you shouldn't be honest and transparent with your readers!
If I'm truly honest I think the people that have the gripe with it are bloggers and in hope all bloggers get on board with it and play by the rules they resort to stating the above. Because lets be honest if you disclose properly (which the ones that complain are doing) your readers will not be tarring you with the same brush as bloggers that don't disclose, that's to say if they are bothered by it. And as a collective do bloggers have a bad name because of this? I don't personally think so. I think possibly we are still in new waters where bloggers can get paid for doing very little and people aren't comfortable with that, but that isn't related to disclosing as far as I can see.
How do we go forward?
Regardless of my non-blaming bloggers opinion I do believe honesty is the best policy and that we should all disclosure blog posts that we have been paid to write. It does change things for some readers and it's good for them to keep in mind, especially the younger generation (note to self - you are only in your 20s! Stop it). But I really feel as bloggers we need to stop blaming other bloggers now, because the 'problem' hasn't improved much, and we should look to making the brands that are in control accountable for it instead. But this is of course for the ASA to do, which is unlikely to happen as they seem less than interested in the matter.
So if we stop blaming bloggers and we can't rely on the ASA to enforce their own damn rules, what can we do?
I feel the main one for bloggers that do disclose and communicate with brands is to always reject brands that want to be sneaky and ask you not to disclose. Tell them it's illegal, report them to the ASA, even tweet about it if you feel that strongly! But don't accept it or feel it's fine for them to go on their merry way to find a blogger that's more willing. I also think if we do come across obvious paid for posts that haven't disclosed (maybe you've seen other bloggers doing the same campaign or they are using the shit out of brand focused hash tags - a clear giveaway) again report the brand to the ASA. Yes, this sadly does mean you are naming the blogger in the process as you will have to give their UR, but the case will be brought against the brand and not the blogger. That has to be much more productive than taking to Twitter to moan about yet another blogger who isn't disclosing or writing an in-direct blog post about them.
Food for thought
Lastly I also want to mentioned that just because bloggers disclose paid for content doesn't instantly mean they are being transparent or fully honest. To write the words 'Sponsored Content' is often simply but to write an honest sponsored post is the more complex part to it all.
I can only imagine paid for content getting more and more frequent, so as bloggers let's start seeing how complex this situation is and how we can work towards staying in line with the rules without pointing the finger.
Whether you're a fellow blogger or a reader, I'd love your own opinions on the matter, regardless if you agree with me or not!