It’s time for the ASA to treat bloggers and influencers fairly #nofreebie

woman writing on laptopThere is no such thing as a free lunch, but that’s something the Advertising Standards Authority has forgotten when it comes to online content creators. It’s increasingly asking content creators to use hashtags that are misleading and misrepresentative of the true nature of the content they’re meant to label. The latest suggestion — #freebie — whenever an influencer writes about a product they were sent for review purposes, casts this content as lightweight and fluffy and risks giving readers the impression that opinion online is either the same as a bought-and-paid-for ad or that the products and services bloggers receive to test and review are simply trifling little gifts, not part of the work.

The ASA guidelines when it comes to bloggers, content creators and influencers

For several years the ASA has been grappling with how to regulate and guide online content creators so that the blogs, social media updates, pictures and videos they share are transparent and ethical when it comes to brand campaigns.

This is something BritMums has championed since we were founded more than 10 years ago, with our pioneering Ethical Blogging and Blogging with Integrity Campaigns, the first of their kind in the UK.

Now the ASA is suggesting that bloggers et al. use the term #freebie on social media when they’re received a product or service to review. On the face of it, it might sound reasonable.

But this recent story on the BBC site demonstrates its one-sided approach. An article about online clean queen Mrs Hinch shows how the ASA puts a burden on online content creators that it doesn’t impose on print content. The piece reads:

Influencers must clearly label content that has been paid-for or for which they have received gifts or loans. #Ad or #sponsored are examples, and must now be prominently displayed at the beginning of the post, rather than buried away among other hashtags.

Sounds reasonable, yes? Naturally anyone who has been paid to produce content should make that apparent at the outset by using #ad or #sponsored in the title and at the top of the content. But here’s where there’s a problem:

Even gifts that are made without a requirement to post about them afterwards must be declared if they appear in social media content. #Freebie is suggested as a label

If it’s online it’s an ad; if it’s in print in editorial?

Consider this though:

Anyone who’s worked in print knows that the reviews, features and shopping guide newspapers and magazines do with beauty, packaged food items, fashion, and other products make use of gifted or loaned products. Every fashion spread features clothes provided by the labels, with models who’ve had their faces made up with makeup frequently provided for free to the makeup artists. But there’s no expectation that these will be called “Advertising” or even “Advertising feature”. 

(Don’t even get us started on the travel content. Much of the travel content in UK publications originates as group or individual press trips where costs are covered by the destination or a combination of hotels, restaurants, airline. To call write-ups about press trips “ads” is already a bit misleading in that unless the destination/hotel/etc is approving and vetoing content, it is under the control of the content creator.)

‘I think these rules are being put together by individuals who have no idea what we actually do.’  — Nell Heshram, The Pigeon Pair & Me

The #freebie tag also minimises, and even undermines, the work that online content creators do. ‘They’re just doing it for the freebies!’ uninformed people shout, not understanding the amount of hard work and tech know-how that goes into creating a successful online brand. Receiving product for free or as a loan to try, test and review is the only way many online reviewers can operate. That provision should be acknowledged in the review but considering the effort that goes into a review post means it is no freebie. This is something provided so an expert can pass along their knowledge to their engaged followers, not some bit of swag that they’ve picked up in a giveaway.

Why does the ASA keep getting it wrong? 

We can’t help but wonder if the ASA is pushing for this tag on tech gadget posts (which are mostly written by men) as well as cleaning products and beauty items (which are mostly written by women).

The ASA is trying to make online content that has brand involvement more clear. But this latest suggestion of #freebie demonstrates that it does not really understand online and its creators. What’s more, it continues to advise misleading practices online while ignoring the same behaviour that takes place in print.

#nofreebies

Join our discussion on Facebook:

Tell us what you think, either as a content creator or a reader. Are the guidelines and hashtags mislabeling and confusing? Or are they necessary to prevent unscrupulous creators from misleading the public?

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BritMums is the UK’s original collective of lifestyle bloggers and digital influencers, fueling the country’s most influential social content. We lead the online conversation with members who are parent social influencers creating content on topics ranging from food, parenting, travel, politics, style and more.

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4 Comments

  1. 14 June 2019 / 10:10

    I totally agree with this post. In particular, I’m incensed that the ASA would suggest #freebie because bloggers have to pay tax on goods / services accepted or received. I rarely accept anything gifted for that reason.

    The way bloggers and influencers are viewed is so different in the UK verses North America. I think this is partly because there are still many people in the UK who don’t really understand what blogs are or how they work. I’ve been blogging for 17 years and many of my close friends STILL don’t understand what I do!

    The ASA needs to better understand what blogs actually are – and that not all bloggers make money or are in profit. They also fail to understand the amount it costs to actually run a blog, and how much time and effort it takes to maintain it as well as create content. I have always operated a full disclosure policy with #ad or #sponsored or #gifted, but asking us to use #freebie is offensive.

  2. 14 June 2019 / 14:10

    It proves once again that the people being employed to regulate this know absolutely nothing about the industry. The majority of bloggers don’t want to mislead their readers – maybe the people making the rules should be talking to some of us about what is appropriate and what isn’t.
    Debbie

  3. 14 June 2019 / 14:36

    I am so glad that you are getting behind this. Even PR’s now are starting to act like they’ve sent you the Earth, when in fact they’ve sent you a jar of pasta sauce, or invited you over for a ‘taster menu’. While these things may be absolutely lovely, it actually costs my family for me to review them. It takes my time away from my family and afterwards I’m left with nothing, except maybe more photos to edit and a blog post to write.
    People refer to ‘freebies’, but that’s certainly not how they view their own payment in return for work done. Never will I walk up to someone and ask point blank for part of their wages or for them to ask their boss to send me some money. I won’t expect them to donate it all to charity or give it away to the kid’s school. That is what I earned in return for working my 60 hour split shift all-hours job. It certainly wasn’t a ‘freebie’.