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Adequate Disclosure and Blogging

January 16, 2013

secretLate last year, I received an email from a company wanting to “host an advertisement” on my site. I thought it was spam, so I deleted it. However, a couple of weeks later, the same person sent me a follow up email, including this offer:

“I believe we offer a very attractive system of advertising. You would be paid a yearly-renewable fee for placing a text-based advertisement that is appropriate to the topic of your site.”

Given the context and prior correspondence, this offer appeared to be genuine – so I looked into the media planning and online branding company behind the email. According to its website, the company uses “the latest technology and greatest minds in the industry, to meticulously source, plan and execute a cross-platform holistic campaign.” The company “forms partnerships with smaller niche sites.”

I was curious to find out more, so I replied. Here’s the offer the company made:

“After reviewing your website, we think that a new blog post would be the best and least intrusive option for you. We have two ways of doing this:

A) You are free to come up with the content of the article or blog post, but we do ask that it is in some way relevant to our client and is composed of roughly 300 words.

B) I can ask our copywriters to craft an article to fit your site.”

I was also given an example of how it works – a Citroën C4 review on http://www.mycarreviews.co.uk :

“The advert can be found within the third paragraph – ‘J.D. Power’.”

For my part in the scheme, working with a telecommunications, beauty, health, tourism or finance client would ensure me US$140USD per year, while working with an online gaming client (poker, casino, bingo, etc.) would get me US$150USD per year.

Looking at the UK-based My Car Reviews site, there is no form of disclosure I can see with regards to commercial interests or agreements.

The insidious nature of this form of advertising and branding completely undermines the whole concept of blogging and independent content and opinion.

Australian Government broadcaster ABC’s Media Watch program covered the issue of disclosure in blogs in October 2012:

“The fact is, whether Australian bloggers disclose their commercial agreements to their readers is entirely a matter for them. In the United States, it’s the business of the Federal Trade Commission which states firmly that :

…bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.

— Federal Trade Commission, Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, 2009”

Similarly, in the UK, the Office of Fair Trading has taken action against inadequate disclosure for example, with Handpicked Media, an operator of a commercial blogging network (OFT secures promotional blogging disclosures).

However, with the sheer number of blogs and the unregulated nature of the medium, how can any regulatory authority successfully enforce guidelines or legislation in this area?

For any readers of my site, please note that I will not be publishing any paid content or promoting companies or brands for money, and where any content relates to Explore Communications’ commercial interests or clients, I will disclose the relationship!

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