25 January 2019

How To Properly Declare Brand Collaborations

By Vix
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Learning how to properly declare brand collaborations is a tricky landscape that many new, and experienced influencers have to navigate. Rules, guidelines and guidance are introduced and then quickly reworded, re-interpreted or misinformed.

None of us are experts and we are all learning as we go. This leads to a huge amount of confusion, tension and fear-mongering.

*UPDATED* The ASA/CMA have since clarified their stance on a few aspects which I’ve added in bold…

But it really doesn’t need to be! I am a hugely practical person who often needs things explained in simple, illustrative terms, so I decided to put together a guide on how to approach every form of brand partnership so that you can use it as a reference or starting point.

I have also included an FAQ for the most popular queries/misunderstandings that I am happy to add to and adjust as time goes on.

Before you read on, please go and read the CMA document and the ASA released flow chart (which I believe is really clear) from September 2018.

You may not agree or think the way the ASA/CMA want relationships to be declared is the right way, BUT there are loads of ways you can ensure your content is still amazing quality, whilst abiding by the ‘guidance’.

The important thing to remember is that this is all about making our work online as clear as possible for our followers – many of whom who have aired support for clearer guidelines.

I also ask that some common sense is applied. If you follow the simple measure that you are clear about your relationships in every piece of content where you are promoting a brand, you’ll be fine.

Further down the post I will also look at what I believe to be the easiest and clearest way to proceed, for all.

Shall we get cracking then?

how to declare brand collaborations

Posts Promoting Your OWN Products/Events

It should be obvious that you are promoting something of your own but the ASA/CMA has ruled that these still need to be declared as promotional content.

Many people find this confusing and cannot distinguish between a photographer, baker or interior designer promoting their products and services and an Influencer promoting their’s.

I personally can see the difference, but it would do no harm if the ASA/CMA could define who this point refers to (is it just influencers or every business owner?)

how to declare brand collaborations
how to declare brand collaborations

The ASA has ruled that the only term that is currently, universally recognised is AD (you don’t need to hashtag it) SO if you are promoting something that you are selling (book, digital product, physical product, event tickets etc) then this would be an example of how you could declare it, depending on platform:

Instagram Caption/Stories

[AD] Join me and 5 other AWESOME bloggers for my very first blogging event. Tickets here!


[AD] Download my new e-book on how to properly declare ADs and not get your wrist slapped by the ASA.

Blog Post Example

(title) [AD] How To Declare ADs Correctly

(first sentence) This is a promotional post for my new e-book

Post Promoting A GIFTED Item

Gifts = payment. And in my mind – so they should.

No, receiving a soap is not the same as an all expenses paid trip to the Maldives, BUT you are still promoting something BECAUSE you have been gifted it.

So let’s operate on the assumption that you are NOT promoting a gift you don’t like.

The ASA’s handy flow chart gets you to reflect on whether or not the brand has any creative control whatsoever over whether you post about your gift or not. But both outcomes are essentially one and the same.

how to declare brand collaborations
how to declare brand collaborations

I believe that as long as you denote [AD] at the beginning of your caption that it doesn’t matter if you also want to say that it’s gifted. So personally here’s what I would do in a common situation:

Imagine I have been gifted an outfit by Other Stories (LOL I wish). They are my favourite brand and I’ve fallen in love everything they’ve sent. I tend to write captions that are more think piece/discussion based so this is what I would say…

Any Social Media Post

[AD-Gifted Items] [Any sort of label that indicates it was a gift from the PR with no obligation to post like, PR Product, AD-PR Gift – any long as it’s clear to your reader] Monday mornings are different now I’m not teaching. I make sure I start the day slowly and only schedule things in that I enjoy doing – makes those Sunday blues disappear, that’s for sure! You know what else makes it easier? This beaut dress and bag from @otherstories that they sent me. I mean, now THAT is a start to Monday, right?

OR you might be more fashion/review based so you might say;

[AD-Gifted Items or a variation] There’s nothing like a beaut @otherstories dress and bag to brighten up my Monday. I was SO excited when they sent me these in the post.

Or you might want to tag the brands in the caption towards the bottom. Then you could do something like this…

[AD-Gifted Items or a variation] Is this the Mondayest, Monday ever guys? Dress: @otherstories [Gift] Bag: @otherstories [Gift] Shoes: @topshop (my own)

I mean, you’re probably better at coming up with captions but do you see what I mean?

This way you’re complying with regulations by putting the AD but you’re clarifying the relationship by saying that the items are gifted.

Does it matter to you if your readers think you have also been paid? If so, why?

Blog Post

Either something like…

[AD] The Other Stories Dress And Shoes Of Dreams


My Favourite Monday Rituals – AD

(first sentence) This post contains gifted items from Other Stories which have been marked in line with my disclaimer/policy (link your policy)

This way the reader is explicitly clear on the fact that Other Stories have sent me the items.

Post Featuring A Previously Gifted Item Or From A Paid Collab

Now this is the one that is confusing everyone. And quite rightly, IF the CMA are asking us to declare it as an AD and go into tremendous detail.

But I don’t think they are.

Past relationships matter too. Even if you don’t have a current relationship with a brand, if there was a past relationship (or you received product loans, gifts and/or other incentives) people need to know about this. Only relationships within a reasonable period need to be declared: anything within the last year is likely to be relevant to followers. If you aren’t transparent about these circumstances, you could be misleading people.

To me this says (and I don’t think it needs too much interpretation or misinterpretation), ‘if you’ve worked with a brand before, just be clear if you’re working with them again or not’. Which I think makes total sense.

Please note that they are not saying you need to detail everything painstakingly OR declare it as an AD. Just that you need to be clear on the previous relationship.

The key message being, JUST DON’T MISLEAD PEOPLE

Sure, you can list every single item and state your relationship with each thing, but I really don’t think you have to and I reeeeaaaally don’t think the ASA are going to be bothered, as long as you’re honest!

If one day you’re wearing a full outfit from Other Stories that was gifted or a paid AD and then two weeks later, you’re wearing the same outfit again – people are going to presume it’s part of the collaboration again.

I personally don’t think it’s enough (in the ASA/CMA eyes) to NOT declare AD at the beginning but just denote a single item with, ‘Gifted’. It’s not clear to the consumer if you were gifted FOR this post or previously and are just rewearing it because you love it.

So here’s what I would do…

Social Media Post

Today’s post brought to you by 5 shots of espresso, some of last night’s pizza and the strong urge to get home and watch more Netflix. It’s also brought to you in this INCRED @otherstories outfit from a previous (gifted or paid collaboration/partnership) with them. What’s your day enabled by?

You can’t argue that you haven’t been clear about the previous relationship AND it fits seamlessly within your caption without appearing clunky. Get creative with your captions so that you can work within the guidelines but organically, just make sure that creative doesn’t equal misleading or ambiguous!

Or if you want to tag the brands at the end of a caption, rather than just put ‘Gifted’ which I’ve explained can be confusing, depending on the context of the campaign, put ‘Shoes: Gift from a previous collab with @otherstories’

Blog Post

Title as per a usual post

(first sentence) Items included in this post were gifted/paid for in a previous collaboration with Other Stories

Can you really see the ASA/CMA being troubled by the above? Can you really see that a reader/follower would be misguided by the above? To me it’s very clear without going overboard.

Sponsored/Paid Partnerships

Now probably the easiest thing to declare!

Paid partnerships where: you are being paid (in MOOLAH) to promote a message, campaign, product, event, trip etc

[AD] at the beginning of the caption/Tweet/Facebook update

[AD] in the blog post title (beginning or end, whatever tickles your pickle)

(first sentence) This post is for a paid partnership with Other Stories

[AD] Somewhere in your Insta Story and definitely before any other copy. Like below…

how to declare brand collaborations

Posts Promoting A Gifted Experience/Trip/Meal/Tickets/Events

Are the exact same as promoting a gifted item or product.

For social media you could say something like;

[AD or Press Trip/Event/Review or a version] I have had a fantastic time tonight at Les Miserable with my tickets courtesy of @todaytix. What’s your favourite song? Mine is, ‘On My Own.’

[AD or Press Trip/Event/Review or a version] Just touched down in Tenerife. What an exciting trip (courtesy of EasyJet) to take! Where are some great restaurants?

If you’ve previously flown EasyJet/Seen Les Mis and now you’re going again just say, ‘Back at Les Mis (last time was courtesy of Today Tix) can’t wait to see my Jean Valjean big boi’ or, ‘Flying with Easyjet again (last time was courtesy of them and they were so fab, I’ve booked it myself)and can’t wait to touch down in Grenoble – any tips?’

Again, just fit it into your caption naturally!

Blog Post

AD – I Dreamed A Dream Of Les Miserables (or AD at the end of the title – you choose or AD or Press Trip/Event/Review or a version)

(first sentence) This review of Les Miserable is courtesy of complimentary tickets given to me by Today Tix

PR Hauls/Unboxings/Goody Bags

Treat the same as gifted products and follow those steps accordingly!

Affiliate Content

If the ENTIRE post is about the affiliate linked item

(You can’t link in an Instagram grid post but if you are directing people to a link in your bio that is an affiliate link, then you need to say that in your caption before you direct them there).

how to declare brand collaborations
how to declare brand collaborations

I KNOW Affiliate Links aren’t the same as ADs. We all do. But it’s what the ASA say we need to do for now. So just put AD by affiliate links.

Instagram Story Swipe Up

Lots of brilliant bloggers have done ‘affiliate link explanation’ stories for their followers that they have saved to their Instagram highlights.

If you find your followers are reluctant to swipe up on links that are marked AD, perhaps look at why, rather than think, ‘but it’s an affiliate link, why can’t I just say that?’

I guarantee if someone wants a product because they want it or you’ve promoted it well, they will swipe up if it says AD or if it says AFF.

The ASA have said AD, so mark it as an AD and explain to your readers about affiliates in another frame or direct them to your blog’s disclaimer. Or you could go for AD-AFFILIATE or a clear version thereof.

You can read my disclaimer here (I’m not an expert AT ALL but I feel like this clarifies things as best I can.

Tweet/Facebook Post

Again, just mark the link as AD… Or you could go for AD-AFFILIATE or a clear version thereof.

Guys, you absolutely HAVE to get these new joggers from ASOS [AD]

Blog Post

I would declare in the same way I would declare a paid promotion (for the title) and then in the first sentence say, ‘This post contains affiliate links. Click here to read my policy.’

It’s not the same as an AD but if you explain that in your disclaimer and still declare it as an AD, you’ve covered all bases!

Plus the only examples I can think of this are singular book, trip, event, product reviews/features so it wouldn’t look out of place to say it’s an AD.

Posts About Lots Of Things And Just One/A Few/But Not All Items Are To Be Affiliate Linked

Just mark the affiliate linked item as AD. Or you could go for AD-AFFILIATE or a clear version thereof.

It doesn’t need to be in a blog post title, just keep that first sentence from before, in and then within the post, put [AD] next to the specific link or links.

Examples I can think of where this might be the case, may be fashion/beauty/whatever edits or round ups.

how to declare brand collaborations
how to declare brand collaborations

If it’s on Instagram Stories, just mark the one affiliate link swipe up as AD and crack on as normal for any other pure linked items. I mean, I think you get it?

But The ASA Have Said That If There’s No Creative Control I Don’t Have To Declare It?

That’s not strictly true.

The ASA said that if you have received a gift/experience but the brand hasn’t told you what to say, what to link, any key messages, or hashtags then it’s not considered an AD and probably just a collaboration BUT they do go on to say that it still needs to be CMA compliant.

But CMA rules apply here – you must make sure content is clearly identifiable as being paid-for. For example, by using the label ‘advertisement feature’ or ‘advertisement promotion’.

So basically, just use AD, right?

Declaring Brand Collaborations FAQ

What if my Instagram post features current gifted items, previously gifted items AND items I’ve bought myself?

Ok well you know now that if it features current gifted items, it needs to be declared AD or ‘Previously Gifted Items’ – just something CLEAR, if there’s a previous relationship that needs to be clarified and if it features stuff you’ve bought yourself, that doesn’t need to be declared. SO just get smart with your captions…

‘[AD-Gifted] These rainy January days are saved by this beaut coat @topshop just sent me, coupled with these @riverisland boots from a previous collaboration and my favourite jeans. What’s your wet weather uniform?’

What if every single one of my posts now needs to have AD at the front, isn’t that more confusing?

For who? It’s just showing your followers that what you’re promoting has been paid to promote, gifted or featured on an affiliate basis? Where’s the confusion?

**The ASA have clarified that not everything needs to be AD. They don’t care what the label is as long as it’s before any content proceeds and it’s clear to your audience what the relationship is.

Perhaps some reflection on our content needs to happen because if this is a concern it’s like you’re affiliating ‘ADs’ with ‘dirty content’, if you see what I mean?

If you’re proud to promote brands and items you love, does it matter how many times you say AD?

If all of my posts are marked AD doesn’t that make it lose its value?

Value to who? OK all of your followers will see that all of your posts have some sort of reward in it for you and that none of your content is 100% organic (even if you are totally genuine and really love it all). If you’re happy with that, your followers will be!

Do I have to mark it as an AD if I’m featuring a product I haven’t been sent or paid to promote?

The ASA flowchart answers that one. Nope. It’s organic content.

Celebrities, journalists, reality stars, magazines etc don’t have the same restrictions or don’t seem to follow the rules, it’s not fair!

I know. But we have been regulated. So we can realise it’s a steaming bag of shite and then just crack on with transparent declaring.

But it makes so much more sense to put Ad/Gifted/Affiliate

Yeah it does, so do that but clearly.**

Why do you have to declare AD for your digital products/ecourses when other companies don’t have to?

Those companies aren’t governed by the ASA in the same way within these ‘influencer’ guidelines.

Surely if these are just guidelines you can go ahead and do whatever you want?

Yeah you definitely could. But with this being so widely discussed, shared and published for all – why wouldn’t you want to follow the guidelines so everyone is on the same page?

Do I need to put AD if I’m linking back to my blog as *technically* I’m promoting my own brand?

I think you already know the answer to that. The ASA/CMA don’t say that we have to do that for our own WEBSITES just our PRODUCTS and SERVICES.

If I’m featuring 15 items in a post and each one is from a different type of relationship (paid, gifted, previous gift, bought with a voucher from a brand, paid with my own money, a gift from my Auntie) then what?

I’m not sure how often this would happen? But in that case I would just stick [a label] at the beginning of the caption for the ease of it/cover every aspect and continue with a normal caption.

What if I’m invited to an event and want to cover it on Stories out of the good of my own heart? What do I do then?

I’m not sure how often this would happen? But in that case I would just stick [a label] at the beginning of the caption for the ease of it/cover every aspect and continue with a normal caption.

What if I’m invited to an event and want to cover it on Stories out of the good of my own heart? What do I do then?

According to the ASA flow chart, I presume this would come under, ‘free visit’ and the bit where you’re not obliged to say anything at all but as it is still a free visit it would need to be declared as an AD.

This is ABSOLUTELY absurd. But it would make me think twice about covering an event on my social channels without payment or reward, if this is what it’s reduced to. Because *technically* the brand hosting the event are then getting ‘free advertisement’.

HOWEVER if you then get a goody bag, or a meal, or drinks then it is the same as the gifting process so treat accordingly.

I worked with Other Stories 4 years ago but still wear an amazing beige cardigan by them, do I declare it?

The CMA said that previous collaborations only need to be ‘clarified’ within the last year, so nope.

Please comment/DM/email me with any other queries and I will add them to the post!

I hope this has cleared up any confusion. I also hope you try not to worry too much. These guidelines are being enforced for people who are continually flouting the rules – not those of us who are doing our best to be clear and possibly not always getting it right.

We are all in this together and experiencing this mad ride as one big team so let’s all help each other, rather than be judgemental. It’s not the easiest thing to understand and we should give people the benefit of the doubt that they ARE trying to be clear but may have misunderstood the rules.

If you’re concerned that someone is deliberately breaking the rules, report them. Or send them this post and gently remind them of the correct way to go about things.

For the CMA guidelines, click here. And for the super easy to understand/follow ASA flow chart, click here.

And if you could share this post with fellow bloggers, I’m sure they’d appreciate it!

Finally, please sign up to the Exciting Emails newsletter. It is the first place I go to share news in the industry (subscribers have already had a comprehensive break down on this very topic, 2 days ago) and come and join our Facebook group which is full of amazing people always willing to help.

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