DISCLAIMER: The following post is not written by someone versed in the law. Only by someone with a passing interest. I encourage you to do your own research and consultant a lawyer if necessary.
Whether or not to state when a blog post has been paid for or subsidised (you've received a freebie from a brand) is a bit of a controversial issue.
On the one hand, sponsored blog posts help to keep bloggers going. They provide a little (and sometimes a lot of) recompense for the blogger's hard work and helps brands promote a product. Everyone's a winner!
So I set to work on finding out if and when you should state when a blog post has been sponsored. Let me tell you, I wasn't prepared for the amount of reading ahead of me. Bureaucracy, right?
Sponsored blog posts belong to the internet - a form of media that is young and in many ways lacks regulation.
After a search, I found the Advertising Standards Authority who have been doing a lot of work in recent years to clarify the rules on internet marketing. They're also responsible for defining the rules in broadcast and print media.
Blogging and vlogging (when sponsored) is a form of marketing and thus there are rules that you are subject to as the owner of a blog.
The section of the code that states this says;
An advertorial is an advertisement feature, announcement or promotion, the content of which is controlled by the marketer, not the publisher, that is disseminated in exchange for a payment or other reciprocal arrangement
-- Section 3, Subsection K of the Non-Broadcast Code
Q: So, do I need to mark my blog post as sponsored if I'm being paid to post it?
Yes. Rule 2.1 states this;
Marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as such.
There are two key words here.
Identifiable obviously means people should be able to tell it's an advert. You should consider stating clearly at the bottom of your post that it's sponsored.
Obviously means it shouldn't be too subtle. In fact the ASA have even stated that you should use the #ad hastag in your tweets and Instagram posts.
Q: Do I need to mark my blog post as sponsored if I've been given a product for free?
Yes. The product you were given is considered a "reciprocal arrangement". It's covered by the rules as above.
Q: Do I need to mark my blog post as sponsored if I've bought the product myself?
No. If you've bought the product yourself you don't need to state it's a sponsored post as you haven't received anything for posting it.
Q: Can a company pay me "admin fees" instead of marking the post as sponsored.
No. Not if you've received payment of any form. Admin fees are an obvious attempt to skirt the rules and it's probably illegal. Additionally, you've received the product from the brand.
Surprisingly (given there's a lot of confusion) the ASA have pretty clear-cut rules about this. Both your blog post and the tweet, posts or whatever that promote it have to be labeled as an advert.