ASA clarifies its sponsored content guidelines

keyboardThe way brands and bloggers work together have long fuelled heated conversation.

Ever since Advertising Standards Authority Guidelines were announced back in 2011, both sides have been trying their best to interpret and adhere to them. When we first wrote about this three years ago, it seemed to raise more questions than it answered.

Now, prompted by Gus Ferguson of the OMN blog (thanks, Gus, for the heads-up), the ASA has clarified its stance on the issues and some of them are quite surprising. It seems to allow a lot wider latitude before considering a piece of content to be “advertising” (note that the ASA only comments on matters that fall within the Advertising Code). The determining factors are payment and control, as in who has ultimate control over what is written. You can read them directly from the ASA website, but we’ve republished some highlights below.

For now, at BritMums we’ll still be following our current practices: If a piece of content has been developed in conjunction with a sponsor, we’ll state that in the text. If we tweet a message that a sponsor has written for us, we’ll mark the tweet #sp. If content comes out of press trip, we’ll disclose that in the copy as well while also stating the opinions are our own (we just can’t quit sharing our opinions). For quality bloggers, the name of the game will still be “transparency”. Thankfully, now we’re clearer on the ASA’s outlook too.

Excerpted from the ASA website:

Question from blogger: I sometimes post blog articles as favours to my readers that I’m friendly with…there is no money changing hands. How does the ASA look at this situation and how do you tell which articles are paid and which ones aren’t? Would I receive a warning before you implement sanctions, or would I have the opportunity to defend myself?

A: From what you’ve said, this doesn’t sound like advertising copy. If the ASA was to receive a complaint, it would only contact you if it thought there was a potential problem.  If it did, you would have an opportunity to respond and depending on the circumstances, it might be appropriate that the case be dealt with informally rather than with a full formal investigation resulting in a published ruling.

Q: If a brand pays for the travel and accommodation costs of visiting a specific destination, and I’m commissioned to write them a piece for their website, but I also write a piece for my own site that wasn’t required by my deal with the travel company, do I need to disclose?

A:  If an advertiser pays for you to visit and review one of their destinations and you replicate the content and post it on your website then it’s likely the ASA will consider it advertising, which would need to be labelled. If you choose to write a new article on your own site and the advertiser has no control over the content, then the article is unlikely to be considered advertising.

Q: Do tweets and other social sharing of sponsored content need to be disclosed?

A: Sharing links socially is not advertising. Being paid to share would be.

Q: If a blogger is on a press trip and sharing on social media, how should he or she make it clear that this is a freebie?

A: If there is no control by the advertiser over what is being written by the blogger (via the social media) then they don’t need to disclose the fact the trip is a “freebie”, because the comments aren’t covered by the Advertising Code. Please see this guidance.

Q: Image-based disclosure of a sponsored post…what are the rules around this? Is it legal? What about those using text readers who may not pick it up if the file/graphic name is unclear?

A: We don’t give legal advice but from an Ad Code perspective this would be taken on a case-by-case basis. Using graphics to indicate advertising content is likely to be acceptable but could be problematic if consumers cannot read them. Sites might want to make it clear that these graphics are used and by viewing sites in text form they are essentially missing out on the opportunity to identify ads.

Make sure you read the full post here: New words on the blog…



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  1. 25 March 2014 / 10:48

    I read this when it first came out and feel grateful to Gus and OMN for opening up the conversation. However I definitely feel it’s an ongoing discussion as there still seems to be some slightly murky territory in terms of figuring out who exactly has ‘control’ of the content, and where you might be crossing the line between straightforward sharing and promoting a brand. ASA does come across fairly relaxed about how bloggers work with brands, which can only be a plus!

    Although of course none of this takes the big G into account – that’s a whole other minefield!

    • 25 March 2014 / 10:51

      Uju, I definitely think it’s an ongoing conversation, as social grows and changes. This has taken away some of the needless anxiety for bloggers.

  2. 14 April 2014 / 21:27

    Thanks for publishing this, I hadn’t heard about it, and well done to Gus too.

  3. 13 September 2014 / 13:32

    Very helpful, thank you! In my experience ASA regs are fluid and we need to remain aware of changes.