In 2019 a new set of guidelines came into force that will impact everyone from Kendall Jenner to a small beauty Instagram page with 1000 followers receiving gifted products for the first time. Today I wanted to do a bit of an deep-dive into what these changes mean for bloggers and influencers, what we need to be aware of and how we can ensure we're following them, as well as going a little into the background of why these guidelines have been put in place. I hope this is useful and if you have any other questions or concerns - let’s all have a discussion in the comments!
- WHY DO WE NEED NEW GUIDELINES? -For a long time the world of influencers has been a place of self-regulation in terms of how we work with brands. Remember - influencers aren't just bloggers, they can be everyone from reality TV stars to luxury lifestyle Instagrammers. Whilst bloggers in particular generally understand disclosure will likely already have a set approach and a disclaimer on their platform, how many unlabelled ads have you seen from Love Island rejects for skinny tea, coffee scrubs and teeth whitening?
The guidelines aim to create a clear and consistent approach so it is clear when influencers are working with brands and on what basis. This means that consumers will know what to look for and will be informed right off the bat if they're consuming content that is a brand promotion or sponsorship. As many of us like to incorporate brand content seamlessly into non-branded content so it feels authentic to us, this makes it even more important to be clear on when consumers are being advertised to.
- WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW -
The pertinent points for me are as follows...
Gifting is advertising
This is the bit that I think is quite confusing to consumers because posts marked as sponsored or advertisements are commonly understood to mean that an influencer has received payment for content. However now the ASA considers gifting / samples to be an ‘unpaid advertisement’, whether it was something you got in a goodie bag at an event or products you were sent to feature in a promotion relating to a specific campaign. What we have to bear in mind is that these guidelines cover a really wide range of influencers in different niches and of different sizes; it's meant to be able to apply equally to huge YouTube beauty gurus being whisked off to Mauritius as it is to minor reality TV 'celebrities' getting free cosmetic procedures as it is for me, getting a few beauty products here and there!
There are guidelines on what terminology to use
There are guidelines on what terminology to use
Influencers use a variety of terms that can be open to interpretation - sometimes it's just a personal preference, other times people are trying to be underhand with disclosing paid-for content. The guidelines advise that the phrase 'advert' or its derivatives should be used as opposed to 'sponsorship' or ambiguous phrases like 'in association with' or 'shout out to [insert brand]'. This is to encourage a consistent approach and eliminate any confusion.
Affiliate links are a bit more complicated
If you use affiliate links on your blog - be aware that the linked product is considered an advertisement and if all of the post is about products with affiliate links - the whole thing is an advertisement. It doesn't actually differentiate between specific brand affiliation and plugins that automatically monetise whatever links they can - I personally think that they are two very different things (at the time of writing, it's unlikely you'd even know which links will be monetised in the latter scenario and it isn't advertising a specific thing across the entire post) but I may need to reach out to the ASA for official guidance on this.
- HOW CAN WE COMPLY? -
Even if a product that was gifted to me is in the background of a shot or the photo is just an illustrative image and I’m not actually talking about the products in the post or caption, I’m still flagging them as unpaid advertisements, as that is my interpretation of the rules, however I can’t help but wonder if this makes the disclaimer a little meaningless. As there’s a huge difference between a product on the shelf in the background of a photo and products being sent for a specific feature to promote a brand and it can be very difficult to get this nuance across in an Instagram caption. However if every beauty blogger you follow just got sent the latest launch from [insert brand] and you see it being posted about (because everyone’s PR package just arrived) - you could be misled into thinking ‘it’s everywhere because it’s so amazing’ whereas actually, it’s because the PR went out.
What also muddies the waters is that it should also be disclosed where you have a relationship with a brand, whether or not you purchased the products yourself or not. So, for example, I was sent 1 Charlotte Tilbury product a while back - as a big fan of the brand, I own probably a dozen of her products, bought with my own money and many of them waaaay before they ever got in touch with me to send me that single item. Another example is that I’ve regularly collaborated with Cult Beauty and shop on their site a lot outside of this (most recently I did a big haul and review of Milk Makeup products, which are stocked exclusively on Cult Beauty) - if I link a product I bought from their website to them, does that need disclosure of a brand relationship, given it isn’t even actually their product...? What about in the related Instagram post I’d share to promote my blog post? I'm not really sure of the answer - it's something we're probably all going to have to figure out over time together!
- CHANGES TO MAKE -
What should you do? Well step one is to update or create a disclosure page for your blog, which allows you the space to explain the guidelines and how you will be complying with them. I personally also link this at the bottom of my posts that contain gifted items or contain paid-for content - it just directs people to more information without having to put paragraphs of text under each post! Even my own disclosure page needs work - I want to make everything clear and cover off any concerns or questions readers may have, but I'm not sure if my desire to address everything makes it messy and difficult to digest... It's definitely something I plan on revisiting regularly to ensure it's as clear and concise as possible.
I'd also recommend using standardised disclaimers on your posts that feature any sort of brand collaboration - one for gifted products / experiences and one for paid sponsorships. If you use the same formatting and terminology every time you post, your audience will be able to more easily identify and understand the nature of what you're disclosing.
I think the intention of these guidelines is to encourage a mindset where we as influencers are proactively considering consumers when we share our content. It's standardising how we talk about these topics and making sure we have that extra little sense check on whether there's something our audience should be made aware of. It's just how we set our own rules on this in practice.
- MY PERSONAL THOUGHTS -
At the end of the day; guidelines are there to help protect consumers and allow them to make educated choices by understanding when they’re being advertised to. However I can’t help but feel as though these good intentions have made things more confusing than ever! Most influencers respect their audiences and are upfront about disclosure, even if there was no standardised language around it, however a minority are not and many of those who are not have the widest reach, so it’s important to impose some standard. I’m just not sure this was the right way of doing it or if a 'right' way even exists. You can check out the ASA's handy guide here.
What do you think of the new guidelines? Have you made any changes to how you disclose brand affiliations on your platforms?