January 28, 2019

Abiding By ASA Guidelines And Declaring Brand Collaborations


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]”


And finally….

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!

Useful links:

My Disclosure Policy

Vix Meldrew’s brilliant post that breaks it all down and makes it clear!

CMA guidelines on being transparent with your followers.

On just being honest and not leaving your audience wondering (and complying too) – One Roof Social

Photography: Sarahlou Francis – Wildblume Imagery

10 comments on “Abiding By ASA Guidelines And Declaring Brand Collaborations”

  1. Oh Amanda, I’m so glad you wrote this blog. I too have been seeing all of the tantrums exploding from various influencers over social media this weekend, and as a viewer/user of social media, I have been getting more and more fed up of some people’s posts where it is blatant advertising and it seems to be portrayed as their lavish lifestyle, which it obviously isn’t. I worry for our impressionable youngsters who think this is reality, and are being inadvertently advertised to by their “heroes”. Whilst I found myself becoming over interested – I’m not a blogger so goodness knows why (head hurt!) -I did think of you. I follow you and love your content and blogs (and vlogs) and how you are so clearly passionate about your work, but never overstep the mark (I hope you know what I mean). Your work is always totally transparent to me, and I’m sorry you had that altercation with the ASA but we live and learn I guess. Of late, you have also sincerely shown how you feel about excessive consumerism, and I’m delighted that you are still able to keep going with this business whilst sticking to your very honourable principles. Well done to you, I wish you continued enjoyment and success. And thank you for writing this post with such maturity and grace, which has been much lacking from many in your sector. I hope you’re feeling better, sun’s shining, have a great week. Amanda x

    1. Amanda thank you so much for your thoughtful and considered response – it means such a lot! It’s a difficult (or is becoming a difficult) industry to work in I think and the very notion of us “regular folk” selling to others by simply playing show and tell with our lives probably doesn’t fit well with some people. It is rather odd when you think about it isn’t it?! But I believe when its done well, with integrity and is relatable then it works. I agree with you on how some younger kids/teens perceive the whole glamification of it all – as the mother of an almost 14 year old girl that really concerns me. However, she does have me in her ear constantly telling her how it really is and she knows what goes into the behind the scenes stuff to get that good enough insta pic! I think for consumers to be able to see whats being gifted and which trips are complimentary, that will help enormously with perception so I’m truly hoping the new regs become a good thing. Phew… a hot topic indeed! xxx

  2. They do like to make it slightly complicated don’t they!?
    I don’t see the point of using AD when it’s an affiliated link, cos it’s not an ad, it’s an affiliated link. Same goes for gifting, without obligation to post. It just lumps everything together and makes things less transparent.
    I trust the people I follow, and tbh as long as the item they’re telling me about is true to them and their style I wouldn’t give two hoots about it being gifted, or part of a paid partnership, it won’t make me more or less likely to buy it. If I stop trusting a blogger to only promote things they would/have bought themselves, the id stop following them. I love affiliated links, as they help me help the person inspiring me – if the item is one I’m going to buy, I’ll always try and use an affiliated link. (After all we do buy magasines, and don’t complain that the publisher makes a profit)
    Transparency is important though, especially making sure that the youngsters realise that buying lots of clothes, for example, every single month is not achievable for the majority of us. I don’t understand why someone reports bloggers to the ASA without contacting them first, it’s sounds a bit like sour grapes or plain old envy. I’m sure most bloggers would respond positively if someone approached them in a constructive way.
    Keep inspiring us Amanda, you’re doing a great job (and we love your side kick Biscuit!).

    1. Thank you Sue – as ever you make so much sense! I think they should have just left affiliate links and gifts as just that and not lumped them in with ADs too – it does kind of weaken and blur the whole thing. But I guess we at least have the freedom to differentiate which is which by way of further explanation which is a good thing. I agree about people going out of their way to report without attempting to contact the blogger first. It seems churlish and smacks of envy to me too. But basic human nature will always be at play in these matters!
      Biscuit and I are happy to keep on keeping on and she has always said if she were to be gifted an endless supply of tennis balls, she would happily declare them! 😉 xxx

  3. Personally, I think what you had in place previously was more than satisfactory. The ASA seems to have gone for overkill here. What makes me laugh is all these ‘celebrities’ declaring products as wonderful and the public being surprised that they’re being paid to say it. Does a celebrity EVER mention a brand by name unless they’re getting paid?! Keep doing what you’re doing, Amanda!

    1. Thanks Sarette – I agree with you. Same goes for media publications. The Daily Mail is a vast user of affiliate links but do we see them being forced to use AD on every one? Nope! Hey ho – we’ll just keep on keeping on!

  4. Thank you so much for posting, I found your website after a google search on this topic. I own a small business and promote my own products on Instagram so I’m trying to be positive and proactive about what the implications are for me. But I am sighing nontheless!

    1. So glad it helped Nicola – it feels tough sometimes when all we’re trying to do is earn a living via something we love. But by the same token I feel grateful that I’m still here after ten years, still doing it and managing to stay afloat! Positivity all the way… but I think the occasional sigh is definitely allowed! Good luck! xx

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