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Bloggers beware says ASA

December, 2013

With bloggers having an increasing influence over consumers and the general public, many brands are increasingly offering authors money to write a positive piece on behalf of a company, with the danger that it could break the Advertising Code.

While the majority of blogs are literally a labour of love, an increasing number of people are looking to exploit the commercial opportunities that their followers may deliver to brands and businesses.

In a move designed to clarify the position on the legality of these deals, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has declared that bloggers who accept payment to write positive reviews or comments about a product or service must be up front with their followers by making clear that it’s advertising.

Andrew Metcalf, who has developed the blog for Maxim, said: “Efforts to secure impartial coverage from a blogger have been driven by a legitimate recognition among many PRs that they represent another opportunity to reach a targeted audience. Among some SEO agencies bloggers are increasingly sought out as a way to secure important backlinks for their clients’ websites in order to try to influence page rankings.

“The danger lies when the relationship between agency and blogger becomes a commercial one. The rules don’t prohibit a company sending free gifts or samples to bloggers for them to review, or stifle free expression and opinion. However, if a blogger is offered, and accepts a payment to say something positive then it becomes an advertisement and under the ASA rules the blogger must disclose it.”

The ASA’s intervention into the debate is a concerted effort to stop people misleading customers by breaking the advertising rules, and so potentially stop them from breaking the law.

Maxim approached one of its clients for a legal viewpoint on the ASA’s latest pronouncement.

Kathryn Rogers, an associate in the Advertising, Technology & Media Team at Cripps Harries Hall, the county’s largest law firm, added: “In order to comply with the applicable advertising rules, those who are receiving payment to write a favourable review need to make it clear to their readers that the post contains paid-for content rather than being an impartial opinion.

“This does not require the use of a lengthy disclaimer explaining what payment has been received and from whom. Instead, in a similar way to promotional articles in magazines being flagged with the words ‘Promotional content’ in the top corner, bloggers can simply mark the relevant post with the words ‘ad’, ‘advertorial’ or ‘sponsored content’ to flag to their readers that they have been paid for the article.”

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