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12.04.16 / UK rules and law on (paid for) blog or blog content marketing

Content marketing – it’s an awful term. Thankfully this post isn’t a diatribe on that, but a digest of the current rules and recent developments (especially around the Competition & Markets Authority – CMA – guidance and rules), as apply to UK content marketing. Which matters because you could a) get in a lot of legal trouble, and b) really let down your customers or audience. We’re more concerned about the latter, to be honest, but we’ll help you with the former.

So, first, for those less familiar to this, remember it’s common to pay for a blog/vlog to talk about a product or service. Indeed many ‘influencers’ make it a default. They simply don’t cover something if there’s no $$$…

But, these ‘conventional’ operating processes online rub up against the law. Or at least they do if the posts don’t disclose the paid relationships.

Secondly, this isn’t sudden – the last year has seen a growing concern from supervisory bodies. The ASA/CAP produced guidance for vloggers, following a clampdown on some household brands like P&G and Oreo.

So, the CMA have issued new guidance. In multiple forms:

The key points:

  • If you paid, make it clear.
  • Everyone involved is responsible for it – not just the brand, or just the influencer.

Some people have recently got in trouble on this. A brand called MyJar (no, us neither) and Starcom.

Now Google are already on this (no-follow links have been mandatory for some time), but they got even tougher in March – requiring the disclosure whenever a product is provided, not just payment (although it’s not apparent anyone is actually doing so…).

Now what’s interesting there is that it covers the more frequent situation – people give product, not necessarily cash. But if that’s followed through on, media would have to do so too, and Google aren’t suggesting that.

The challenge here is knowing what to do.

  • Disclose more? Most bloggers/vloggers will tell you their  audience hate appearance of #spon content.
  • Disclose, but lightly? Works well, but there’s ambiguity over what would be sufficient.
  • Don’t disclose – what do you risk? Reputation if ASA get cross? This is where CMA could be interesting. But they will need to show teeth…

So, in conclusion, on the CMA blogger rules (indeed, law!), it is important to note that operating models for revenue, reputation and disclosure are fundamentally different online. The idea of national-level bodies effectively policing an international medium seem dubious. There are two points: 1) how sophisticated are consumers to online operating models for content publishers, and 2) could and should the internet be regulated in the same way as traditional mainstream media. The answers to these are still in development, we’d suggest.

Further detail, for those interested: note that Facebook announced changes to how branded content ought be labelled. It isn’t necessarily quite the same – the significant issues here are not yet apparent. Firstly, Facebook position this move as helping marketers – enhanced stats for example. That may well be, but it does also give Facebook an automated way of noting what content to eliminate the last vestiges of organic reach from, as well as sell ads at the brand concerned. On the flipside, it marks a structured way for people to trade their earned reach. That’s a change, but sadly it only applies to verified pages, at this point.

Also, note what the US situation is, with the FTC also pursuing people…

You may be wondering what the point of law concerned in these CMA changes is, and what the penalty is? Well astroturfing has always been illegal since the Consumer Protection legislation was passed in 2008, and this falls within it. Oh yeah, you can get 2 years in prison and an unlimited fine. Wowser.

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