Travel companies who pay bloggers to promote their products or services must make sure they don’t fall foul of advertising rules, writes Farina Azam, head of Intellectual Property at Travlaw LLP solicitors.
“The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has published new guidance reminding bloggers that they must make it clear if they are receiving payment for writing positive reviews or comments about a product or service.
Blogging is a popular practice within the travel industry, with many travel blogs and bloggers enjoying a strong following. However blogging is also a popular means of advertisement with many travel companies utilising the services of bloggers to highlight a particular destination or holiday they offer.
Advertising rules, which apply across all media including online, are very clear. Ads must be clearly identifiable as such. Put simply, a blogger who is given money to promote a product or service has to ensure readers are aware they’re being advertised to. On top of this, the rules also state that falsely presenting yourself as a consumer, i.e. giving a view that appears to be opinion but that is actually paid for, is a misleading practice and one that is prohibited under consumer protection laws.
It should be noted that the ASA isn’t trying to regulate those blogs where a blogger is simply communicating their opinion about a holiday or travel experience, or prevent bloggers from making money or being offered free products or services such as holidays. It’s simply trying to make sure it’s clear to readers when a blog is opinion or an advertisement.
So, why is it important for travel companies to follow these rules? Because although bloggers would be named as part of any ASA investigation into misleading advertising (and potentially subject to a variety of sanctions if they refuse to cooperate), it is the advertiser who would ultimately be held accountable if a paid-for blog entry was not disclosed.
Therefore ultimately the buck would stop with the travel company or any PR company acting on behalf of the company. Signposting the blog entry as “ad”, “advertorial” or “sponsored content” should be sufficient in making it clear to readers that the blog is actually an advertisement and avoid a sanction from the ASA.
Travel bloggers can have a great deal of influence amongst their readers and followers. That’s why it’s important to follow the rules to ensure readers aren’t being misled or treated unfairly.
The ASA could name and shame those bloggers that aren’t playing by the rules, potentially ruining the reputation of a travel blogger and any travel company associated with the blogger.
It’s important, therefore, that they treat their followers with respect and make it clear when a blog entry is actually an advertisement.”