Sunday, 27 January 2019

To #AD or not to #AD | Blogging Stuff

Back in September, the ASA issued this document called 'An Influencer's Guide to Making Clear that Ads are Ads'. It's only become a thing on social media in the past week because a number of high profile celebrities were called out for lack of disclosure but it's a case of better late than never as there is much uncertainty out there around influencer content and how exactly it should be represented to readers.

I should say here, I hate the word influencer but it's the best term to describe the audience for these regulations because it's not just bloggers or celebrities, it includes pretty much anyone who has a following on social media and uses it to feature a gift from a brand or a trackable link, which in turn may influence you or I to follow or buy from this brand.

So it's all about making it absolutely clear to readers if a brand is driving content, either through payment or gifting or both. It also covers the usage of affiliate links, where the brand knows if a sale has come to them via an influencer and will pay said influencer a commission (typically 3-5%) through a third party, if the customer keeps that item.

Up until this, almost all bloggers would have used the word AD to indicate that a piece of content was being paid for. If an item had been gifted however, the guidelines were not clear about using the word AD. Nor was it clear in the case of affiliate links. It was always just good practice and fair disclosure to indicate gifting and affiliate links and most bloggers did this using words at the foot of the post or in the body of the text.

This most recent paper stipulates that content that includes gifts or contains affiliate links, even where no money has been exchanged, must also now have an AD indicator at the beginning of the content so that it's obvious to readers before they go any further or click through. 
On this blog, I've previously disclosed affiliates at the end of a post and if something was a gift, I'd include this information under the image or in the wording. So I'll be changing how I do this from her on in. I should say in the case of gifts, AD should be used when the brand has requested certain wording, pre-approval of content, hashtags or links so in theory, gifts without those requirements are a bit of a grey area and so you won't see all bloggers declaring them as an AD and that doesn't mean they're in breach of the rules. The flow chart does need to be clarified on this particular point.

There are also guidelines around referencing your place of work or your own business, if you're a blogger with another business on the side - say as an example, when I had my scarves/jewellery shop. Additionally, if a blogger is running a competition, it needs to be tagged as an AD even if you bought the item yourself or it was gifted to you. This is because competitions are classed as promotional marketing and the blogger is regarded to be the 'promoter'.

On the one hand, it's great to get more clarity on this to ensure that everyone is working to the same rules, however it's still down to the honestly and integrity of the blogger in the first place. Because how would you know if you weren't told? It's easier to spot if a group of bloggers are used for the same promotion and not all of them declare in the same way. But if a brand only approaches one blogger at that one time - which would be common in a local context - you're relying on that blogger to declare it as an AD.

The other bit I'm struggling with is that effectively, everything on social is a form of advertising. Anyone I follow, whether a professional blogger or my sister is usually showing me what they are wearing, what they've bought or what they're getting up to. Just because they paid for it or did it of their own accord doesn't make it any less of an inducement to buy. Mostly they're tagging the business involved. Instagram is really just a big advert machine, churning out brand name after brand name, some more subtle than others.

And I'm aware that because I have a following on social media, anything I do whether it's brand driven or 'me' driven, falls into the less subtle camp. For instance, I was in Craigavon yesterday. My kids were at a party in the ski centre so I went to visit Frances in The Bottom Drawer in Portadown. She's a Field Day stockist and I used to visit her in that capacity when I worked there. I also follow the shop on Instagram and Facebook and love the content they create.

So I visited the shop, showed some favourites from her different ranges, tried on in the fitting room and bought a couple of things. And shared it on Instagram. Is that an AD? Is it more about the person sharing the content and their 'role' on Instagram rather than the fact that the content was paid for or brand driven? I was effectively advertising The Bottom Drawer - I'm doing the same on here. But no money was exchanged - apart from my own when I bought what I bought so under the ASA guidelines it's not an AD.

It melts my head because I can't really see much difference between it and me going into M&S and selecting the items I wore on this last post. For the M&S post, I wasn't paid but I was gifted the items and used affiliate links. So that is technically an AD under the guidelines. 

I guess my point is that it's all one big AD....I know that, you know that. I don't follow people on Instagram thinking any different and I know being on there drives much of my purchasing. But I'm ok with that because it's the one channel where I can chose whose adverts I see....and I get entertained at the same time by these people. I follow lots of good accounts that are a source of information, inspiration and friendship as well as bits and pieces of brand led content. 

What does all this rambling on boil down to? I think it's this - do you trust who you follow and do you like their content? If you can answer yes to both, then keep following. For me, the new rules will make me more inclined to follow people sticking to them. At least I know they are being completely upfront and taking this seriously. And there are implications for those who don't via a simple reporting tool on the ASA website.

And on that, I'm inclined to unfollow where people have been taking the proverbial or moaning about the guidelines. I have definitely seen a bit too much of that over the past week. If you're a blogger on here, READ the guidelines, stick to them and don't mock them...no matter how frustrating you find them. Your followers will respect you for it and without them, where would any of us be?

Ax
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7 comments

  1. Your comment about whether you trust who you follow reminded me of a talk I went to at my daughter's school about internet safety. One of the key messages to give your child was that people on the internet don't always tell the truth. I think that this is good advice to anyone following people on social media!

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    1. Absolutely - it applies to life generally I guess! I think we all need to trust our gut and the open declaration will help to decide who is to be believed and who is trying to be vague about it all! x

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  2. It's a minefield and I think you are right. I love Instagram...its the only social media platform I really engage with....fb now only when necessary ie school/club stuff. I have discovered so many excellent brands from it....Lines and Current from you, Hari and the gang and Lucas and Stone from @smalltownthreads etc. So when I post me wearing my stuff, and chose to tag the brands, my friends see this and may or may not be interested and have a look.....so I am advertising to them!! Yet I am just a consumer.... We are all influencers and advertisers. I do only follow those I like and trust...but it's a minefield.

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    1. It so is - and it's at a relatively early stage too so these guidelines are part of what's going to be a long journey to make things more transparent. I will still do my best to showcase local small businesses - and hopefully the #AD won't put people off. I think it'll all work out in the end - the cream always rises doesn't it! x

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  3. Comment from Rachel in Oz via email

    Well put Avril. I am a bit cheesed off this morning with some others who #AD (whether paid or gifted) on IG squares where they have the biggest following, but then use the same items on IG stories, a blog post or YouTube without the same disclosures. I have DMd them to ask why, but will be unfollowing if they don’t make any attempt to comply. (We all make mistakes, but this seems blatant cherry picking!).

    Other than you, I’ve only seen three bloggers (!) making an effort to comply across all channels. Thank you.

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  4. I trust the content more if it’s disclosed if it is a paid or gifted post. I have been ‘influenced’ to buy and sometimes it’s been very useful to find out about a subject which I don’t have much knowledge about. In terms of fashion I find it helpful to see how looks can be put together in a current but age appropriate way. Sometimes I have bought an item sometimes have used the post as inspiration for something similar. I’ve always found you to be very upfront and enjoy your thoughtful content.

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  5. This is a brilliantly worded piece on this tricky subject, Avril. I agree with everything you say; I've always been very clear about what is a gift and what is sponsored. I'm not much of an affiliates person, so that doesn't apply to me. I wish there was a distinction between what was gifted with no obligation and what was gifted or paid with obligation to post it, but you're right, the whole of Instagram is one big ad anyway, so it doesn't matter that much!

    xx

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I love reading your comments and will reply as soon as I can if you have a specific question. If for any reason, you are unable to leave a comment, just drop me an email at avril@alifetostyle.com or leave a comment on the A Life to Style Facebook Page! Thank you xx

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