This is sometimes tricky.
Blogging has gone a long way from simple internet diaries to this sleek, professional-looking medium. The problem is, unlike traditional journalism, it lacks standards that evolved through the decades, and that allow for easy distinction between what’s editorial content and what’s an ad. The advent of free-access internet media has influenced the traditional ones as well, and we can see those standards crumbling – many a fashion magazine publishes what amounts to advertorials, and the content that isn’t labeled as ads has little to do with any actual journalistic integrity.
But while in traditional journalism it’s more or less a breach of certain established rules, blogging still is a bit of a mess when it comes to even having any rules. One would want to believe that bloggers who fail to clearly communicate to their readers what’s their opinion, and what they were paid to write would lose their readers’ trust, and in turn: following. Unfortunately, my observations lead me to believe it’s not the case.
As you may already know, this blog has an advertising policy I stick to. A brand can buy a banner ad and a mention in a monthly advertisers’ blogpost. It does happen that I have products from those brands – I tend to select advertisers whose product I like and believe it to be good quality; featuring it on the blog outside of the monthly post is never a part of the deal though. If you see my advertisers’ products in photoshoots, it’s because I just wear or use this stuff.
I also do reviews of custom clothes – made to measure or bespoke – on conditions agreed upon on individual basis. It usually means reduced price, but I sometimes get offered to have something made with no charge in return for a review. I always disclose this in the review. And the reason for it is that I do want to try out new things, services and artisans, but it’s inherently risky with the ones you don’t know.
All of the above is available to read on my advertising policy page on the blog, and whenever I get a proposition that doesn’t comply with those rules, I invariably turn it down. That happens a lot – almost nobody reads the ad policy page, and I get asked to do a sponsored post, promote something on instagram, and so on.
I’m not saying it’s a bad thing to do, accept this kind of deals; a sponsored post can still have valuable and interesting material in it. The problem starts when there isn’t enough information for the reader to see what’s paid for by a brand.
Mikołaj over at Blue Loafers wrote a good post about this topic around a year ago. And I agree with his points. It’s important to label the sponsored content, preferably at the top, before anything else; it’s important to let the readers know what’s the deal. This is a sponsored post means the author got paid for writing it, either in money or products, and it’s a pretty good label. This post is in collaboration with XYZ brand on the other hand doesn’t really mean anything.
It’s better – by which I mean more fair – to say more than less, so I’m happy to see some bloggers put disclaimers along the lines of The photoshoot contains product placement for brand XYZ, or explaining the details of the arrangement in a sentence or two. This allows the reader to make up their own mind about whether they find the content trustworthy.
But there is still a lot of situations in which this clarity is lacking. Some of the biggest and most recognizable menswear bloggers don’t always disclose whether a bespoke garment they’re reviewing was made for them for free, or whether they paid for it. It may not influence their opinion of the item, but as a reader – I would like to know.
Another, and much more prevalent thing, is using affiliate links with no information about it. If you don’t know how it works: the blogger links to an item, or an online shop. If you follow the link, and buy something in that shop – the blogger gets paid. And it’s nothing wrong with it in principle. I mean, I don’t like it, so you won’t find any of those here; affiliate programs make it actually worthwhile for the blogger to accentuate the pros and underestimate the cons of the product, because it’s in their best interest that you buy something. But it doesn’t have to be like this; it really depends on the blogger. However, such links should be clearly labeled – and more often than not, they aren’t.
It all comes down to respecting people who view and read your content. Trusting that if you’re open with them, they’ll appreciate that. Believing that you’re better off with your audience informed rather than kept in the dark. And I believe that.