Feb 19, 2013

Sponsored Posts, Disclosure and Professionalism

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post, however it is possible that jumping on this bandwagon may bring me increased page views, which I accept is a benefit.*

If you are not a blogger, or you have been reading about this elsewhere, you may roll your eyes and click away at this point, because this may bore you silly. [Alert! Blog post about blogging follows!]

Bloggers in Australia have copped some flak recently about sponsored posts. The arguments can be summarized as:

  • bloggers are not always disclosing when they have received a product which they blog about
  • bloggers are grasping and selfish, want stuff for free and expect to be paid for crapping on about their life and kids
  • companies attempting to engage with bloggers are disrespectful and clumsy and expect free advertising from bloggers
  • bloggers are already doing the right thing but readers are overly cynical/suspicious
  • sponsored posts should be disclosed at the top of the post
  • sponsored posts can be disclosed within the post or at the bottom 
  • readers don't like sponsored posts and will click away if they see a 'sponsored post' disclosure at the top of the post
  • readers don't like to be ambushed at the end after reading a post they thought was 'real', only to find it promotes a product or business
  • bloggers are no longer blogging from the heart; there are too many sponsored posts and giveaways
  • the brand-meets-blog PR outfits are doing a lousy job fitting brands to blogs 
  • 'sponsored' means you were paid money; gifts are not sponsorship
  • money or gifts are all benefits and should be declared equally
  • supporting a business you love is not a sponsored post
  • bloggers' disclaimers that "my opinions are all mine" are meaningless because you never see a negative product review on a personal blog

Bloggers are vexed by this issue because they want to do the right thing, want (and have the right to) earn money from their blogs, and want to retain the heart and soul and authenticity in their blogs at the same time.

image by Vlado via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here's my opinion, in a nutshell:

I think distinguishing between cash payment and gifts is pointless. We all know that advertising and PR take many forms, and that if a business gives you a gift or gives (or lends) you a product for review, they are hoping for a return. That return may be a glowing blog post or it may be a good relationship or increased goodwill leading to glowing blog posts later on. Declare it all. Even if that business is run by a family member or a friend, you should declare it. It doesn't matter how, as long as you do.

Everyone agrees a post should carry a statement at the top such as 'sponsored post' or 'advertorial' if you have been paid. If you have received a gift it should state this in the blog post, preferably somewhere near the beginning so you are giving the correct context to your writing.

Disclaimers don't need to be long or written in legalese.

If you do sponsored posts sometimes, and then you want to write about/recommend a product you love and paid for, then you probably have to say in your blog post that this is purely your opinion and you received no cash or benefit for it. That may be annoying or may seem like overkill, but it's the flipside of writing sponsored posts. The upside is you will retain reader trust.  (Here's a good example from You Learn Something New Every Day)

I loved this sponsored post from Edenland last year about magazines, though it divided opinion. I thought it was funny and really well written and I thought it was the model for how to write a sponsored post. Others found it false or the tone jarring, or were annoyed at the placement of the ad part at the bottom. I thought it was fine.

Blogging in Australia is clearly in a transitional phase at the moment, and all these issues will be settled and of no interest at all within a very short time I am sure.

I have written one 'sponsored post' on this blog: this one.  I didn't receive any payment or gift for it, but as I know that this kind of post can result in increased page views, there was the possibility of a 'benefit', so it had to be declared. I did this by including "Competition" in the post title, and a very clunky disclosure at the bottom. My post wasn't well written, and I don't plan on doing a lot more of these. I'm not interested in doing sponsored posts or being paid to blog, but I have no problem with others who are.

Readers will read what is good or useful to them. You don't have to read the blogs that annoy you (although, I know, sometimes you just can't help yourself!).

Today I left this comment at The Shake, where Veronica Foale wrote a thoughtful piece about sponsored posts:
If you were going to blog about a gift from your mum then usually there is no need to mention it. If your mum runs a business selling that item and you are blogging about the item specifically or in a way that showcases/advertises it, then yes you should mention the circumstance. It doesn't have to be ridiculous, just a line in the blog. 
If you receive a bag of peaches as a gift from your neighbor then you don’t need to mention it. If your neighbor sells those peaches or runs an agri-business or organic food business of some kind, then yes you have to mention it. 
If you are given a gift of any kind from ANY business, AND you blog about the item, you should declare it. If you are given ANY kind of benefit, or possibility of benefit (e.g. increased page visits) from any business, and you are blogging about the item or the business, then you should disclose that. I think most bloggers already do this, but a few are not very sophisticated in recognizing what makes a ‘benefit’ and this is what irks readers. In every other public endeavor this kind of disclosure is already in place, so blogging should be no different.

For guidelines read the Digital Parents forums, look up blog disclosure policies on Google (e.g. http://disclosurepolicy.org/), or take the lead from bloggers you admire.  E.g., I think Carli at Tiny Savages probably gets this spot on, based on her comments on the thread at The Shake.

What do YOU think?

* Disclosure: that was a lame attempt at humour.


  1. I'm with you on sponsored posts - not really interested in doing them, but have no problem with people who choose to. I very rarely read them though, and follow quite a few bloggers who do loads of reviews/sponsored posts. I suppose it can make blogging feel more 'real' - like you're getting something back - but must be a win, win for any company, because as you say the posts tend to be glowing. It appears to be a very safe PR market - no real fear of any negative publicity. And in essence it's a great idea, to get the people who use whatever product it might be, to review it. But I can understand why bloggers might feel uncomfortable being a little negative about something they've been given. Maybe it's all just too close?

    I should probably know this, but do sponsored posts/reviews tend to get more page views? Not that that's going to change anything!

    1. I think you've encapsulated here the ambivalence many of us feel on this issue. I admit I don't read them that much either, unless they are couched as part of a well-written story or I am bored!
      Not sure if they get fewer page views but suspect perhaps they do, although maybe that's made up for by hits from non-readers from Google searches for the product? I don't know.
      But it's probably a pretty cheap and easy strategy for the companies so worth it for them even if the post itself doesn't generate huge interest?



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