Hoooo boy is this stuff confusing.
Part of the reason for all the confusion around what you should or should not be disclosing as a blogger or influencer is because of our proximity to America. And the rules are different, as far as I can tell, between the two countries.
Simply put, we’re a bit behind.
The FTC, or the Federal Trade Commission, is responsible for making up these rules in the US. And they updated their policies in late 2016.
In Canada, however, we’re ruled by The ASC, or Advertising Standards Canada. They also have gotten stricter with their rules, but they don’t have as many rules to go by.
Let’s look at blogger disclosure policies both north- and south-of the border:
- Sponsored content must be clearly marked. That means if you are posting an Instagram photo that is a sponsored post, it needs to be hashtagged with #ad or #sponsored, and that tag needs to be up front, and not buried in amongst a bunch of other hashtags. For sponsored posts, you must disclose, ideally up front, at the top of the post.
- Affiliate links must be clearly marked. That means having an affiliate policy, but also saying at the beginning of your blog post that it contains affiliate links, and even flagging affiliate links in the blog post.
- Disclosing things you have gotten for free. According to the FTC, you have to disclose and flag it as an #ad.
- Paid endorsements: ASC guidelines require bloggers and online influencers in Canada to fully disclose paid endorsements. I would use the same rules that apply to the FTC guidelines–#ad or #sponsored, and up front and clear.
- Affiliates & free stuff: yup, this is where it gets grey. I would argue that affiliate links are still paid ads, so it’s a good idea to disclose. The concept on which all of this hinges is “the credibility of both the advertiser and the influencer is compromised if paid endorsements are not disclosed.” (ASC fall newsletter, 2016). Affiliate links could possibly affect your ability to be impartial.
I still am super confused about whether or not to disclose if I get free stuff. I have a disclosure statement on my about page, but lots of times I pay for things with my own money. The truth is, I’m not going to talk about something unless I like it, whether I get it for free or not. It’s that simple.
In some ways, I like the American rules better. They are clearer about what you can and cannot do.
I will say this: if you are a blogger or an influcencer with a large American audience, it would probably behoove you to play by the American rules.
The big difference between the Canadian and the American rules is the size of their teeth: The FTC is authorized to fine, the ASC is not.
Bloggers! Influencers! Would love to hear how you are handling the whole disclosure thing. Please comment below.