ASA responds surprisingly to blogger and brand questions about sponsored content
Back in November last year the ASA released a reminder to bloggers about their responsibilities to their readers in regards to marking paid content as such. This caused a LOT of chatter in the blogosphere about the implications.
In my opinion it caused a further distrust between brands and bloggers. PRs and SEOs who had client outreach requirements to fulfil fell on the side of saying that there was no need to mark all content as sponsored, and bloggers on the other side, quite rightly concerned about breaking the law, and putting their sites in jeopardy. Bloggers felt that the brands and agencies were putting their blogs at risk, and brands felt that bloggers were over reacting.
The problem here was that it was all conjecture.
There was just debate and no facts. Assumptions were flying right, left and centre.
Assumptions are bad.
We all needed some clarification…
I contacted the guys at the ASA to see if they could give some more concrete guidelines and answer some of the key questions that were floating about. I have to admit that I was expecting to be fobbed off by a stuffy organisation that just didn’t get digital.
You know what? They are really nice guys, and they’re on the ball. From the first time we spoke they’ve been nothing but incredibly helpful and it’s clear that they’re just as keen for bloggers, agencies and brands to understand the rules as we are to understand them.
I suggested that I could send some questions for them to answer and they were very receptive to this idea. I polled some of the bloggers I’m friends with and distilled what came back into a set of questions that covered all the key points.
Disclaimer: I’m sure there are hundreds more questions I could have asked, so don’t hate on me if I’ve not covered your particular question… I’ll explain how you can get your answer at the end of this post.
Then I heard nothing back! I assumed that this was a dead endeavour and moved on… but yesterday I heard back from Matthew Wilson at ASA who explained that the questions went high up the hierarchy over there and it’s taken a while to get sign off. Great stuff…
What came back is incredibly interesting, for both bloggers and brands/agencies.
The ASA are posting the full Q&A on their site shortly.
UPDATE: It’s now live here: www.cap.org.uk/News-reports/Media-Centre/2014/New-words-on-the-blog
Some of the key points for me are the following:
To a question asking about marking content as sponsored if it’s been created by the blogger:
“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.”
Implication: Content you’re creating yourself, even if related to a paid campaign, is not considered advertising.
To a question about the inequity of focus on bloggers’ sponsored content, when commercial online magazines are “chock full” of paid content seemingly without punishment:
“If you’re concerned about any particular copy online we’d recommend you complain to the ASA so they can look into it with reference to the payment and control test.”
Impication: The ASA responds to complaints, rather than actively policing the internet. Someone must complain about your post breaking the rules before they will act.
To a question asking whether tweeting and socially sharing sponsored content must be marked as sponsored:
“Sharing links socially is not advertising. Being paid to share would be.”
Implication: This is pretty clear. Sharing content created with brands is not considered advertising
To a question asking with whom the responsibility lies regarding the accuracy of claims within a guest post e.g. for beauty products, the blog owner or the guest poster:
“If the guest post is by the advertiser then the advertiser is responsible for claims made about their products in the post.”
Implication: Brands and agencies need to vet guest posting content thoroughly as the veracity of the content is their responsibility.
There’s much more in the full piece which will be being posted on the ASA site this afternoon. I’ll tweet when it goes live so follow me on Twitter @TetradGus and keep your eyes peeled.
As I said, the team over at the ASA are very keen to clarify things for us, and will be responding to questions on their Twitter at @ASA_UK
Now, if only Google would be as open about their guidelines…