Ooof… this wasn’t the post I had planned for today… I was going to tell you why blogging is my first love and always will be. But that one can wait until later.
Whilst this post title doesn’t sound very sexy, it’s an important issue and one that in the last few days has been discussed over and over again. I read so much over the weekend that I ended up in a tailspin over it! I’ve also had a personal experience relating to this so if you’re of a mind to do so… read on!
At first I wasn’t going to bother writing a whole post about how I’ll be abiding by ASA guidelines. Which by the way came out in September so I’m not sure why its taken until now to get “out there”. I was just going to update my disclosure policies here and in my Instagram Stories Highlight and then point you in the direction of this (riveting) subject matter should you be interested.
Transparency is only ever a good thing and as blogging is both my passion and business, I place immense value on it, my readers and this community. So for those reasons alone (and due to the blanket introduction of the word “AD” which is likely to bring a lot of confusion), I felt it was worth a post.
I’ve always declared any brand collaborations in the best way I know how – you know where I stand on that. Moving forward, it seems I just need to make a few minor adjustments.
That personal take relates to early last year when I made a mistake on Instagram Stories and as a result, a follower reported me to the ASA for a guideline breach.
Sounds pretty scary doesn’t it? And for a moment, it was. Like anyone who considers themselves a law abiding citizen, getting “told off” is not pleasant.
I remember opening the email and instantly feeling my cheeks flame red… and to be honest I felt a bit sick and anxious. Both at the fact that I had gotten something wrong… and also that someone had gone out of their way to report it. I mean, if I’d got it wrong, why not just drop me an email and point out the error?
I’d been sent a T-shirt from hush and declared it as a gift in this blog post and in my Instagram feed. I was wearing it a few weeks later on on Stories with a skirt. I did a Swipe Up to an affiliate link for the T-shirt. Mistake No. 1? I wasn’t aware then that you had to declare any swipe up links as affiliate.
Mistake No. 2 was that, in that instance, I’d forgotten to type [gift] on the photo of the T-shirt under the hush @ tag.
When I explained to the ASA what had happened and that I would ensure I was compliant moving forward they were fine about it. They were able to point me in the direction of the then guidelines and confirmed that the matter was resolved without the need to be officially recorded.
The ASA asked me to declare my working relationship with hush and I confirmed that no sponsorship money had been paid to me by hush to promote their products. For the record, I’ve only ever worked with hush on an affiliate link and gifting basis as I love the brand and was happy to do so. The ASA also went to hush to confirm this.
So this is why I believe it’s important for you as consumers and readers to know what’s required and also, if you’re a blogger and Instagrammer, that you’re complying in the best way you know how. It’s also pointless giving headspace to checking in on what others are doing… especially when sometimes, you know full well that declarations that should be there are clearly missing.
Instead I choose to focus on what I’m doing and attempting to get it right. You do you and all that!
You can find these much talked about guidelines here. It’s taken me a few goes at reading it to feel that I’m being as transparent as I can moving forward. And it’s important to remember, they are guidelines, not rules.
Here’s how I’ll be declaring my collaborations moving forward…
Thoughts on the use of “AD” in relation to Gifting
Previously on the blog, it was deemed that c/o was acceptable to declare gifts (or use the word gift). On Instagram, gazillions of us have been stating in the captions that an item (or items) were gifts too.
The new guidelines require us to preface the entire caption with AD if the brand has some control over the content, meaning that the gift becomes the payment. Previously I would only have done that when a brand was paying me money to produce content for them.
Over the past couple of years, I made a conscious decision to accept less gifts as I don’t want to be a consumer of stuff that I don’t need. Also, as lovely as they are, gifts don’t pay the bills.
I’ve had a gifting policy in place for the last few years that I send to PR’s/Brands on request and it states I don’t create dedicated content in exchange for gifts. Creating content takes time and time is money in any business. In 99% of my cases, gifts are accepted on a zero obligation process basis with their inclusion being organic – i.e. with me deciding if and how it might be featured. By this I mean I have full editorial control and there is no input from the brand.
On occasion, if I’m offered a product in exchange for including a piece of text for the brand i.e. mentioning its USP, including a campaign hashtag or offering you a discount code then yes, I’ll be creating content in exchange for that gift. I’m currently talking to a Scandi watch brand about doing this because I really love the watch design and how the company also gives back to charity via watch sales.
So… from now on, if I’m featuring something on Instagram that was gifted in the last year (I read here in the CMA guidelines that this is an appropriate time frame for relevance), my caption will be prefaced with [Gift(s)] and in the footer credits, I’ll denote which items are gifts. Or as above, if there is brand input it will state [AD | Gift].
In blog posts I’ll add in a disclaimer sentence at the top of the post that gifted items are contained within.
If the blog post is pretty much all about the gift and I’m creating the content for in exchange for it (that rare 1%!), then AD will preface the blog post title and the disclaimer explanation text will appear at the top of the post mentioning the gifted item too. Couldn’t be clearer right?
If, of my own volition, I feature a gift from a previous PAID FOR or gift collaboration in a later post, I’ll tell you in text like this:
“…. was gifted as part of my previous collaboration with Brand X”.
Again – I’ll be using the one year relevancy for this.
If here or on Instagram I’m showing you a mix of gifts and stuff I own or have bought and it doesn’t say gift… guess what… I own it because I bought it! I’m not going to write down every single time that I bought something this week/month/year.
Events, Trips, Free Travel or accommodation
Phew! Still with me? Then you’re my goddam hero!
It’s rare that you’ll see me attend an influencer event these days. Why? Because there’s a time/travel/cost factor involved and also, is it always relevant to you if I’m at said event?
Do I consider it important enough to give up my time in order to promote said brand in exchange for a dinner/drinks/goodie bag/experience? Generally not. However perhaps if its local to me or its a brand I truly love and often recommend on the blog anyway then yes, I might go.
If its a trip/destination/hotel/venue for me or us as a family and time allows, I’ll go, write all about it and tell you it was gifted to me/us.
And yup… you guessed it… any blog post title or social media post will be prefaced with “AD [gifted trip]”.
Paid for posts – we’re talking cash here. No shame in that.
Paid ads/partnerships are far less woolly when it comes to these new rules and always have been. On the blog, last year I started including the word “Sponsored” in the title. Moving forward with the new guidelines the word AD will appear at the front of the title instead and I’ll include explanation text at the start of the post.
For Instagram, If I’m being paid in cash to create content the caption/post will be prefaced with “AD [Paid partnership]”. Yep still waiting for Instagram to fully roll out that tagging facility to all those that need it. A little help here would be good people!
Affiliate Marketing And Use of the word AD
You may have noticed in my blog posts that some ago I began adding a sentence at the top of every post letting you know if it contains affiliate links. I read that we’re supposed to do this so I adopted it last year. It also links you to my disclosure page so you can check out my policies… cos you know you want to right??
Most of my posts contain some or all affiliate links – its how I sustain a small and mostly steady income to stay afloat and cover my running costs. And it doesn’t cost you anything if you use the link.
The new guidelines state that we have to denote blog posts with affiliate links as ADs. I disagree that affiliate links are actual ADs in the true sense of the word and Anna from One Roof Social explains this here far more eloquently than I could.
However, in order to comply, I’ll be updating my wording of that text to include the word AD and let you know it if a post contains all affiliate links or just some. Those links will be denoted with the word [AD Affiliate Link] when I list them in the post.
On Instagram Stories where you can add in Swipe Up links I’ll be including the text: “AD [affiliate link]”
I hope I haven’t taken away your will to live on this fine winter Monday morning! And my apologies if I’ve bored you but in part, I’m writing this post to cover off the questions I’m sometimes asked. I hope this answers them.
Because the word AD will now be appearing ALL over the place, I would be uncomfortable with you thinking I was being paid substantial sums of cash every time you see it. Why? Because I’m not a sell out and enjoy putting heart and soul into creating my own organic content as well as the stuff that earns me a living. And sometimes I get questions via DM asking what it all means… so now I can direct you here.
I’ve said it before and I’ll reiterate it once more. Creating content in exchange for either cash, gifts or that slow drip of affiliate commission is not a dirty secret and nor should it be treated as such. I recently found this post that was both succinct and heart rending in equal measure but it makes a completely valid point.
Should you be offended by anyone earning a living by creating really good content, you can look away, not read or unfollow.
I’d love to get your thoughts on all of this should you be inclined to share.
Is it a world gone mad where only the influencer community is regulated this way and not the press and celebrities that continually endorse and promote things too? Or is it just plain old common sense?
Have they just completely de-sensitised the word AD overall? Will seeing it pop up everywhere interfere with our creativity and your consumer experience?
Answers on a postcard please!
Either way, it is what it is and I just intend to get on with it. There really are more important things to give valuable headspace to!
Vix Meldrew’s brilliant post that breaks it all down and makes it clear!
CMA guidelines on being transparent with your followers.
Photography: Sarahlou Francis – Wildblume Imagery