Let's Talk About ADs & How I'm Disclosing For 2019

It's been a huge topic of conversation over the weekend, and I've spent a lot of time reading as much as I can. I've called and previously spoken to the ASA before, and I've even paid for and completed the recommend CAP eLearning module on this topic and passed 100%. I've spoken to all my blogger friends, and every FAQ has pretty much come up, with most answers being a little blurred at the moment.

Ultimately, it is my responsibility and with good intentions on my part, to make it 100% clear if I have been paid, gifted, told to post or am promoting a product that is classed as an AD. I have always been clear and never tried to hide it (quite frankly, I am really proud to do ADs and work with brands, and my audience are always very supportive, yay!). However, the guidelines have changed and so I'm ready to adapt the way I disclose, which basically means it might be a bit overkill at times and possibly confusing to begin with, but I promise it won't be. I need to tick the boxes to make it as clear as I can and comply with the law. I'm writing this post to tell you what AD means (in an easy to digest way) and how I'm clearly going to continue disclosing things across my social media and platforms.

Whilst we're here, I'd also like to add that I only ever work with brands I genuinely love, use, think are worth trying/using, fit with my content etc, and I am very proud of every brand and piece of content I've ever produced. It's a real honour to be asked to promote a brand, and I love that this is my job. I turn down many ads almost daily, so please know that a paid AD is a huge deal for me, and I am so grateful for your support in helping me secure work, which allows me to continue making content in the first place. I also currently don't have a management company between me and the brand/PR, so every piece of work I do, I do it from start to finish. A LOT of time and work goes on behind the scenes when I agree to work on something, including travelling for events etc too. I am constantly trying to keep up to speed with self-employment laws, invoicing, accounting, tax, contracts and of course, making sure my work is complying with the law is hugely important to me. I am not here to try and rebel against the changes, even if I don't 100% agree and think there is room for improvement. For now, I am doing my very best and am open to educating myself further, so please be kind.

Note: I'm going to refer to the different governing bodies and agencies who make these rules, guidelines and laws (ASA, CAP, CMA etc). These two links are worth checking out if you're an influencer, they also explain who they are too:

Influencer's Guide: Advertising guidance - (published 28th Sept 2018) be sure to download the PDF, there's a very handy flow chart on page 13 to use if you're struggling to understand it all
Social media endorsements: being transparent with your followers (published 23rd Jan 2019)

Another note: This is not legal advice, just trying to be helpful & transparent!

What's an AD? 
Short for advertorial, it's the promotion of a brand, product or service (we will go into more detail later). There are many ways brands can advertise, traditionally we know of TV ads or pages in magazines, then you have 'sponsored posts' where a brand can PAY a company like Twitter to have a space in your timeline, but there are also my type of ads, often known as third-party ads or paid-for space, where I incorporate them into my own current content. This is what I mean when I refer to AD, it's products, brands or services that I feature on my own pages and platforms, including videos, Instagram Stories and blog posts etc. It also includes any promotion of my own brand/service (eg. Merch, an e-book or a paid event I might run), and prize draws/giveaways fall into this too.

In this case, what are the different types of ADs?
First up, Affiliate Links. These are links that I can generate and if you click and buy the product I recommend to you, I earn a tiny percentage of money. When I say tiny, I do mean pennies but of course, it does add up. It's not my main source of income, and I don't often use these types of links, but it's important for later. It's worth noting that I sometimes use a mix of affiliate and non-affiliate links. These must be disclosed so we'll come back to them later. Secondly, you've got advertorials, work that I create for my own channels. If I work with a brand to create content, it qualifies as an ad if I am paid in some way, and they had some form of editorial 'control' over the content.

What counts as payment?
Previously, I disclosed an AD if I had been paid money to produce that content. This is simple enough however, payment is now also classed as any of the following:

- any sort of commercial relationship with the brand (eg. being a brand ambassador)
- Products or gifts
- Services (including things like meals, massages or a manicure)
- Trips (including press trips)
- Hotel Stays

I'm also including things like film screenings as they still fall into 'payment' as I'm being gifted that experience and opportunity to see the film. If I'm sharing a photo I took AT an event, but not promoting the brand, I believe that's okay. However, if I share a photo of me posing by a sign or writing in the caption that I'm at X event with X brand, that's where it falls into an AD.

Previously, we didn't need to disclose these with the word AD, as the ASA only accept an AD if I'm paid AND the brand have control. Now, the CMA have said ANY form of payment must be disclosed. We will go on to how I'm disclosing these later, but this is why you may see AD more often, as payment comes in lots of forms. Essentially if I'm gifted anything, I will tell you (as I always have anyway, but now it must say AD to be clear as gift = payment = AD).

What counts as control or adverstorial control?
This is slightly different for every brand I've worked with, and the ASA have worded it well so I'm going to copy from their guide. They say:"if you weren’t completely free to do and say whatever you wanted whenever you wanted, then there could have been some level of editorial ‘control’ by the brand. The simplest way for a brand to ‘control’ the content is by telling you what you have to say, e.g. if there are particular words, phrases, themes or ‘key messages’ you need to include, or you have to use a particular hashtag. This doesn’t just apply to text or words – if the brand has specified what needs to be in an image, required you to include a specific action in a video or specified the type of content you need to create (e.g. ‘unboxing’ the featured product), this is likely to count as ‘control’. Requiring you to post a specific number of times, on certain dates or at particular times could also count as ‘control’. If a brand reserves the right to check/approve the content before it’s posted and/or to ask you to change it, this could similarly count as ‘control’. They don’t need to actually ask for changes – if they could, and you would have to do it (e.g. they could stop you from posting), that’s enough."

What if there's 'payment' but no 'control'?
Sometimes I'm given a new product to try (often out of the blue, but sometimes I agree that they can send it if they wish), but I'm not asked to post or share about it, and I don't agree to any content/hashtag etc, so it's basically a freebie. More often than not, the brand hopes I'll love it and naturally want to talk about it, which of course, does happen. In this case, it doesn't count as an AD under the CAP Code, but an arrangement like this is still subject to regulation under the consumer protection legislation enforced by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). The CMA expects influencers to disclose whenever we've received any form of payment, regardless of control.

So, how am I going to make all this clear?
You will start to see three main disclosures from me so I meet the guidelines but you can clearly tell what I mean.

1) AD - paid partnership = obligation to post, control over content, 'payment' received in return.
Eg. Sent a free product but HAVE to post 1 x Instagram and tag the brand in return
Eg. Paid in money to write a Tweet with a few key words to be used
Eg. Asked to write a blog post and send for approval before publishing

2) AD - gifted = no obligation, no control, but payment still received and I'm sharing on my own account.
Eg. Sent a free product but I do not have to share or discuss if I don't want to, it's totally up to me!
Eg. Attend an event where the brand are paying for a meal, promoting the launch of their new product or invited me to a screening of a film
Eg. Receive a product completely out of the blue, and share an unboxing on my Instagram Stories.

3) AD - affiliate link = if you click the link and buy the item(s), I receive a small percentage.
Eg. Swipe up on my Instagram Stories...if the link is affiliate, I will use this in the top corner.
Eg. Link the description of my video...if the link is affiliate, I will use the wording BEFORE the link.

I will also be declaring in a post or verbally in a video if I'm a brand ambassador or I currently have/had a previous relationship with the brand within the past year. This one to me is common sense, but you may see me referencing it so you're aware.

Let's say I buy a Big Potato Game and I promote it on my Instagram. I wouldn't be required to use any of the above, but I would have to say at the bottom something like: Paid for myself as I really love their games, but I am currently a Brand Ambassador. For any of the above, it'll read as follows:

  • Social Media (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) = first line of the description. 
  • Instagram Stories = clear in the top corner or next to brand tag (basically not hidden on the frame)
  • YouTube: If the whole video is sponsored and therefore an AD, it'll say AD in the title and description.
  • YouTube: If only a segment or part of the video is an AD, it'll say AD in the top/bottom corner and in the description. Eg. If I go to an event, I'll make it clear verbally, on screen and in the 
  • description.
  • For my blog, if the whole post is an AD, it'll say AD in the title and first line before any text. (I don't usually have only a segment of a post sponsored but if the scenario rises, it'll say AD before the advertorial part of the post).

In summary....
If the brand has control and I have an obligation to post, it'll be AD - Paid Partnership. 
If the brand has no control, I have no obligation but I have been gifted something, it'll be AD - Gifted.
If I've bought something myself but I've generated an affiliate link so you can shop the same things as me, it'll be AD - Affiliate Link.

Finally, for whatever reason, if it's a mix and I've been gifted AND I'm using an affiliate link for example, it'll obviously say AD - Gifted & Affiliate Link. 

I hope that makes sense! My head really hurts now so I hope this is clear. Thanks for being understanding, I hope we can continue moving forward to keep this incredible community and space transparent.


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