When & How to Disclose Freebies, Advertising & Sponsored Content
As influencers, your mail box is probably fit to burst with emails from outreach and PR companies offering you free products or enquiring about paid content. What often fails to get mentioned in these emails is the importance of disclosing certain types of collaboration on your blog, vlog or social channels. If you don’t, you may be breaking the law.
Whilst the importance of influencers on decision makers is growing, so are the rules that influencers must abide by. As always, we’re pretty keen here at CollectivEdge for everyone to know the meticulous and often confusing rules behind brand-influenced content. Keep reading to discover when and how you need to be disclosing these collabs to your readers, if you’re in the UK*.
*Rules in the US and elsewhere may differ slightly – if you’re unclear on your local guidelines, you can’t go wrong if you clearly disclose all partnerships!
Does a PR sample need disclosing?
Freebies are an awesome perk of being an influencer, and there’s nothing wrong with accepting them, or with posting about them if you want to. But if you do press publish, must you always tell your readers that you received it free?
The answer depends on what you’d agreed with the brand when they sent you the item (or for a meal, or on a paid-for trip, or whatever type of gift it was). If it was your choice to feature the freebie and you created the content with no input from the brand, then the answer’s no.
However, if featuring it was a requirement of accepting it, if the brand asked for specific things such as a particular link, or if the brand approved or edited the content before you published it, then yes, a disclosure is necessary.
Example 1: a brand contacts you to say “hey, we love your stuff, can we send you our new lipstick range to try? We’d appreciate a shout-out if you decide they’re worth telling your readers about!”. There’s no obligation to post anything so you don’t need to tell anyone they were a PR sample. (You can if you want to, of course).
Example 2: the brand says “are you interested in reviewing our newest lippies? In exchange, we’d need a blog review published within 2 weeks that includes this video we created to promote the line”. You need to disclose it was a PR sample because you’re required to publish a review, plus required to include something specific.
Example 3: the brand says “we’re after an Instagram post about our new line of lipsticks, telling your readers they are a bargain at just £5 each! We can send you a few to try out”. You’d need to disclose them as a brand gift, because they’ve briefed you on what to say rather than leaving the content entirely up to you.
Do you need to disclose payment when the brand has no control over the content?
Sometimes when working with a brand for profit they will send you post copy or ask to see your content before it’s published, but most of the time your words will be your own. If this is the case, you may believe that as they haven’t been involved in creating your content, you need not disclose the relationship. Sorry, you’ve got to!
Consumer protection law requires that you let your readers know if payment has changed hands, regardless of how involved the brand was (or wasn’t) in the content. You don’t need to disclose the amount, just that the content was sponsored or is an advertisement. (Oh, by the way, those two aren’t the same thing. More on that below).
What are the disclosure rules when I have an ongoing contract with a brand?
Following on from the question above, you must include a disclosure if you have any kind of ongoing commercial (i.e. for money) arrangement with a brand, every time you’re promoting them.
So, although generally speaking you don’t need to disclose free gifts if you have the choice of whether to feature them and what to say, if you’re a paid ambassador for or partner of that brand, you do. If you sign a six-month deal to work with them and they just so happen to give you some freebies during that time that weren’t a part of that contract, you still need to label any content you post about those products as sponsored.
What about affiliate links?
So, what about affiliate links, which might lead to you getting a bit of dosh but also might not? Do those count as getting paid?
According to the ASA, you must make the ‘commercial intent’ of an affiliate link clear, because you are after all trying to monetise it even if the payment is not guaranteed.
This could be through labelling the content as an advert for example, or you may prefer to add a disclosure to your post telling readers that you will earn commissions when they click on the links and then make a purchase. This rule still applies if you’re sharing affiliate links on social media.
Are sponsored content and advertising the same thing?
Nope! Sponsored content is not a type of advertising, the two are separate things. Here’s an easy way to remember which is which:
Advertising: the brand sends you payment/product and controls the content
Sponsored content: the brand sends you payment/product, but the content is entirely your own
In other words, if you allow brands to send you pre-written articles for a fee, that needs to be labelled as advertising, not a sponsored post. The same goes for if the brand briefs you on what to say, makes edits to your content, or requires approving it before it’s published (even if they don’t make any edits).
Similarly, the hashtag #sponsored or #sp is not appropriate for a tweet a brand has written for you, you need to use #ad or #advert instead.
How should I be disclosing brand partnerships, exactly?
What is a disclosure anyway? Is writing “this item c/o Some Lovely Brand” enough? Can you leave disclosures off individual posts if your policies page says you occasionally accept payment or products from brands?
The answer is that your disclosure should always be:
- Clear (easy to understand)
- Conspicuous (easy to see)
So, saying something is “c/o” a brand, or popping a * after the brand name may not be clear enough if a significant minority of your readers don’t understand that this means it was a free sample. According to CAP, saying the content was produced “in partnership with” the brand is also too ambiguous.
Context is important, so adding #ad to a tweet is likely to satisfy ASA rules, but burying #ad in the middle of a string of 30 hashtags on Instagram may not – are your followers really going to read all those hashtags and see it? Pop #ad at the start instead.
In a blog or vlog post, include your disclosure at the start, or where you first mention the brand/item. This way it’s seen or heard even if someone doesn’t make it all the way to the end.
The label needs to be on each piece of content – it’s not enough to announce you’re being sponsored by a brand and then go on to post content about them without a disclosure, as your followers may not have seen that first post.
Here’s a useful video from CAP if you want to find out more. Still have questions about disclosure rules as an influencer? Leave them in the comments below!
When Should You Start Charging for Brand Collaborations?
How do you know when to start asking the brands who approach you to pay for your time? We can help.
What the ASA’s New Affiliate Guidelines Mean for Influencers
Affiliate disclosure guidelines have changed, here's everything you need to know about making affiliate links clear on your blog, vlog and social media channels.
Such a helpful and informative post, thank you for sharing!