How blogs and brands work together has been an ongoing topic of conversation in the blogging world as well as at the Office of Fair Trading and the Advertising Standards Agency. This week the ASA has issued new guidelines for online advertising and marketing that have provoked mixed reaction.
The goal of the guidelines is to promote clear and truthful advertising and marketing to protect consumers.
So what does this mean for you?
According to a conversation I had yesterday with a man at Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), what you say on your blog is not affected. CAP is the committee that writes the advertising rules for the industry. Using his example of a shampoo review, you can write your review as usual – eg, “I loved this shampoo. It left my hair shinier than my usual brand.”
If the shampoo maker wants to include what you wrote on its website, Facebook page, Twitter feed, and so on, it still can. It can use your comment that you loved the shampoo without a problem (as long as it gets your permission) since that is a testimonial opinion. If it uses the bit about leaving your hair shinier, it has to be able to substantiate that claim that “adding shine” is something the shampoo does. That doesn’t mean they have to pop round and burst in on your in the shower. The company can substantiate with consumer trials, their existing research, whatever.
What the code applies to, and what it doesn’t
When I attended a session on the ASA guidelines during social media week in February, the main focus of the discussion was online advertising, including things like comparison shopping websites, advertisements and companies’ own websites. When it comes to user-generated content, the ASA is not looking to regulate the behaviour of the consumer (something it says it couldn’t do if it tried). It’s striving to make clear when content is primarily for advertising and marketing.
It’s also important to remember that when user-generated blog or Twitter content is used for marketing purposes that simply mean it falls “under remit”, in ASA parlance. That means it has to be truthful and transparent and adhere to the guidelines, not that it’s banned or forbidden. Editorial content is excluded from the remit.
Another example, shown on CAP’s digital advertising webcast, is Debenham’s retweeting a consumer’s message that they love a cape and they’re going to go buy it in the shop. By RT’ing the message, Debenhams is considered to have incorporated the message into its marketing and the message then falls “under remit”. In this case, Debenhams must ensure that the cape is actually available in store … something they probably already know since they are promoting it.
Our Twitter parties
Using the example of our Twitter parties, which are sponsored editorial conversations, part of the conversation falls “under remit” and most is “out of remit”, according to my conversation with CAP. Obviously our blog posts about the party all mention the sponsor’s involvement – something we have done and will continue to do. During the party itself, any tweets about the company’s products or services will be marked with #spon and the content of them will adhere to the guidelines. But BMB’ers coming along to tweet their personal comments on, say, getting veggies into kids’ diets or tricks for banishing mice will keep participating in the usual way.
Going forward: Do you frequently work with brands?
If you work with brands a lot or do any kind of online work for them (such as social networking and so on), you should read through the guidelines and look at this CAP webcast around the 10:50 mark for how it applies to social networking like Facebook and Twitter and user-generated content.
As the industry’s understanding of the guideline evolves, so will the way we bloggers approach it. From our conversations and research, the new guidelines don’t appear to be anything to be alarmed about, and for many bloggers they will have minimal impact.
As one digital strategy director predicts in a Mediaweek article, “common sense will prevail.”