Does this sound familiar? You log on to your favourite sex toy site, have a nose around the forums and community pages and before long you find a thread offering you free sex toys in exchange for a review.
It sounds great doesn’t it? After all who wouldn’t want a free sex toy? You’re going to use it anyway so writing a review about it is no trouble at all and as the site points out the more reviews you write the more fee sex toys you’ll get.
But did you know that if you post your sex toy review to your blog you could be breaking the law?
As a blogger you must disclose any payment that you receive in exchange for hosting content. This includes payment in kind via free products for a sex toy review or gift vouchers, it also includes being paid for hosting content written by someone else (sponsored posts)
Paid for content, including reviews are advertising and comes under the remit of the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) and your readers need to know when they are reading your editorial content and your advertorial content.
It comes down to trust. Companies want bloggers to be writing about them because it creates brand awareness into their target audiences. Bloggers spend a long time building their audiences and are rewarded with loyal readers who trust what they have to say about products and companies. How would you feel if you bought a product that someone recommended to you only to find out later they had been paid to do so?
Your readers trust you and a part of that trust, both legal and moral is to disclose a commercial relationship with a company.
This from the Office of Fair Trading;
“’The integrity of information published online is crucial so that people can make informed decisions on how to spend their money. We expect online advertising and marketing campaigns to be transparent so consumers can clearly tell when blogs, posts and microblogs have been published in return for payment or payment in kind. We expect this to include promotions for products and services as well as editorial content.”
Will a site wide disclosure do?
No. Having a site wide disclosure on for example your “About me” page will not be sufficient. Every post for which you have received a free product or direct payment needs to be disclosed.
Will an image do?
No. The disclosure has to be in text so that readers via RSS will also be informed of the paid for content.
Will “brought to you in conjunction with”, “Guest post by” or similar do?
No, these phrases are too vague and do not disclose that here was remuneration for the content created.
I’m a sex blogger in the USA, will this affect me?
Yes. Have a look here at this article by The Bureau of Consumer Protection about the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) endorsement guidelines.
What about social media?
Yes, that too. If you receive payment to talk on social media about a product or service, this has to be disclosed too.
Okay, I got it, so how do I do this?
It is really very easy, all it takes is a few words at the beginning or end of your post, here are some suggestions. What needs to be clear and without doubt is that you received a product or payment in exchange for writing about the product or company.
- For sex toy and product reviews: “I was sent Acme Sex Toy free to review by Acme Sex Toy Company”
- For sponsored posts that you are paid to write: “This is a sponsored post.”
- For content you are paid to host: “Advertorial” or “Advertisement feature” or “Sponsored post”
- For affiliate links: “this post contains affiliate links” or “(affiliate)” after the link
- For social media: #spon
So there we have it, a quick run down on the do’s and don’ts of sponsored and sex toy review posts, what’s your experience? Have you ever been asked not to disclose a product was sent for free or that you were paid to write a post?
Sources and useful links
CAP code of practice: http://www.cap.org.uk/Advertising-Codes/Non-broadcast-HTML.aspx
OFT press release on a ruling about non-disclosed relationships: http://www.oft.gov.uk/news-and-updates/press/2010/134-10#.URK5DqVKMXV
FTC endorsement guidelines: http://business.ftc.gov/documents/bus71-ftcs-revised-endorsement-guideswhat-people-are-asking
Excellent article, Ruby. Very informative and practical. Thanks!
I *wish* it was as cut and dried as this. As an overall “best practice”, yes, I 100% agree that this is what should be done by bloggers and affiliates. Where the actual *law* comes into place is a very grey area and has been something that the porn community has struggled with for years and years (especially when it comes to copyright infringement).
Let’s use the UK for instance. If you are a UK resident blogger, with a UK company sending you goods, targeting a UK audience on your UK hosted blog, then the OFT guidelines apply. That’s pretty cut and dried.
Someone like me, who is a UK resident, with American companies sending me goods, targeting a worldwide audience (as most my sponsors ship worldwide or provide online content), on my Australian hosted blog – which rules do you follow? That’s where it gets tricky. Do you follow them all? Do you pick and choose which apply? What happens when rules conflict? Should I be afraid of some random government having rules I haven’t the foggiest clue about coming after my site because someone from their country bought goods through my affiliate links? Very murky waters indeed!
IMO, as long as you are open, honest, and make it clear to your web site readers of who you are, what you do, and how you came to support said products you are covering yourself morally, but not necessarily legally.
I agree that it would be nigh on impossible to know the laws of every country that your readers are in, but for bloggers resident in the UK and the US the law is clear, all marketing / paid for content has to be unequivocally disclosed no matter who is paying you or sending you products.
Thanks for all of this great information. I just launched a media site that includes sex toy reviews, and these tips will be helpful reminders as my site grows and starts to accept advertisers / sponsored content.