Are you confused about the rules about disclosure and blogs/influencers/social media? Here’s how to disclose sponsored posts in Canada.
How to Disclose Sponsored Posts in Canada
What’s sponsored and what’s not and what are your responsibilities?
As a blogger, the basic rule of thumb that you need to keep in mind is that you need to be transparent. It comes down to being 100% clear as to your motivation for the words that you’ve written (or video you’ve shot) because it is this motivation that makes the distinction between an advertisement and an organic blog post.
Were you paid to do write the post, make the statement or post the image, whether in product or in dollars and cents? Either way, your readers/followers have the right to know when a review or other post describing a product or service was sponsored or not. It all speaks to your credibility.
The argument has been made by many bloggers that despite the fact that they were paid for their writing or posts, their reviews were honest; that they wouldn’t endorse a product that they didn’t believe in, regardless of whether or not they were paid. And that might be true but the fact that they were paid makes it unclear if their review is truly without bias. This is where the distinction between honest reviews and paid statements becomes blurry.
Ultimately, we don’t live in other people’s heads and we can’t be sure what their motivations are for doing anything, but what is important is to remain transparent to your readers. In the age of social media, where influencers are being paid to talk up brands online, there’s no other way to be. NOT disclosing that material tie to the brand is misleading, at best, and could be costly if a complaint is filed against you.
The Advertising Standards Canada are clarifying the need for disclosure statements on blogs and in social media, so here’s a rundown of what you need to include and when:
A disclosure statement must be ‘clear and conspicuous’.
A statement that is any way hidden and is therefore not necessarily read by the reader is not a proper disclosure. So for example, if you put up an Instagram of a product from a brand that is paying you and in amongst your fifteen hashtags, you bury one that says #ad, that’s not disclosure. The reader could easily miss it. The Code of Ad Standards clearly states: “No advertisement shall be presented in a format or style that conceals the fact that it is an advertisement.”
- Other ways to ensure that your disclosure is ‘clear and conspicuous’:
- It is located near the claims that it relates to;
- It is in an easy to read font, with colors that stand out against the screen wallpaper/background.
- That it is on screen—for videos—long and large enough to be read and understood;
- That is read clearly and slowly for audio disclosures (podcasts, for example).
- What NOT to do?
- Hide the disclosures at the bottom of the page, in footnotes or behind hyperlinks.
- Hide the disclosure in a white text at the top of the page.
- Written in clear, simple language, not ‘legalese’. Also, use the same language as your post!
Disclosure statements cannot be site wide.
A reader might not visit the particular page that contains it—so it’s best for disclosures to be declared with every post, whether blog, vlog or on social media.
Example? YouTube uploads need more than a disclosure in the description, as not everyone reads the description or sees the feed on YouTube directly (for example, they might see it on their Facebook feed), so the statement must be part of the video itself.
A written post, or video/image post, MUST clearly indicate at the beginning of the post if the post is sponsored and in what form that sponsorship took place (money, product, etc.) Example Company XYZ gave me samples of this product to try.
Social media posts
The posts should begin and/or end with clear hashtags, separate from any others, including options like #ad or #sponsored. The reader needs to know RIGHT OFF that they are engaging with media that has been paid for, like an ad, rather than an organic statement.
Note: if you are doing a sponsored video and sharing it on Facebook, the ad message cannot be within the first three seconds of the video. You also cannot have the ad message longer than 3 seconds. See Facebook’s Branded Policies.
If you are being hosted at an event
Then #hosted should be sufficient on posts, as long as you clearly identify who is hosting you.
This is a copy of what the Code for Ad Standards states in their interpretation of disclosure for testimonials or endorsements:
“1. A testimonial, endorsement, review or other representation must disclose any “material connection” between the endorser, reviewer, influencer or person making the representation and the “entity” (as defined in the Code) that makes the product or service available to the endorser, reviewer, influencer or person making the representation, except when that material connection is one that consumers would reasonably expect to exist, such as when a celebrity publicly endorses a product or service.
2. If such a material connection exists, that fact and the nature of the material connection must be clearly and prominently disclosed in close proximity to the representation about the product or service.”
The Ad Standards Council doesn’t require bloggers to go back into their archive and mark older sponsored posts with a disclosure but does require them going forward, from early 2017. While at this time, the ability to fine bloggers or other online influencers for misleading their reader / followers is still in the development stage (compared to the American regulations), it’s coming and it makes good business sense, so be sure to remain transparent and you’ll be just fine!
Check out these other blogging tips from Click Start Club!
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