My Thoughts on the Latest Social Media Advertising Guidelines

Advertising Guidelines for Bloggers

Last week there was lots of heated discussion online about the latest ASA and CMA* advertising guidelines for social media. Along with (rightly) demanding that any content that has been paid for must be marked with ‘AD’ at the beginning of the post, the new rulings also state that:

– Any posts featuring gifted items (past or current season) must also be prefixed with the ‘AD’ disclaimer. Whether or not your content makes any reference to the gifted product.

– Any content containing affiliate links must also begin with the ‘AD’ disclaimer.

– If you feature an item that you’ve purchased yourself, you must again place ‘AD’ at the beginning of your content if you bought it from a brand that you’ve previously worked with.

So prepare to see ‘AD’ used a LOT more frequently on blogs, Instagram and in YouTube videos.

A number of online content creators were not happy about the latest guidelines – in part because if ‘AD’ becomes the blanket term for such a wide ranging selection of content it potentially becomes even harder to distinguish which posts have actually been paid for. (I will be using ‘AD’ for paid content, ‘AD – gifted’ for gifted content and ‘AD – affiliate” to try and make this clearer on my platforms).

For me the issue is not the demand for more detailed disclosure, but the continued implication that bloggers and Instagram influencers have been doing something illicit. For years it’s felt a bit like a witch-hunt. But the gifting culture you see across blogs and Instagram was adopted from the gifting culture within the magazine industry (which, rightly or wrongly, never gets criticised).

“For me the issue is not the demand for more detailed disclosure, but the continued implication that bloggers and Instagram influencers have been doing something illicit.”

Now, of course there are some bad apples in the bunch who deliberately mislead their audiences and refuse to properly disclose paid partnerships (and, let’s face it, they will probably ignore the latest rulings too). And there are also the influencers who disclose paid partnerships but remain tight lipped about gifting.

However, overall, the majority of women creating fashion and lifestyle content online are hardworking and passionate. And they genuinely care about building a level of trust with their audiences by being fully transparent (see Emma Hill, Erica Davies and Alex Stedman, for example).

It seems all too easy to attack young women for finding ways to monetise their skill-sets and passions online. In decades past most of the leading fashion and beauty influencers would have likely worked at glossy magazines and newspaper supplements, or in the creative departments at fashion brands (in fact, many influencers used to work in very these roles). But since the financial collapse, the death of the high street, and the growing desire for free, bite-sized content that can be viewed on a smartphone, those jobs are quickly disappearing.

So a generation of women stepped outside the box and found new ways to earn a living. I don’t think this entrepreneurial spirit should be mocked, shamed or belittled, but praised. And I worry that some of the rhetoric around the new rulings comes from a place of active distrust, and a suggestion that bloggers are “bad” and “dishonest”.

Whilst I find some of the latest ASA rulings a little excessive, overall I welcome the change and I would like to see this have a positive impact on the industry. My hope is that the new rules will bring clarity to audiences and create some much-needed space for more imaginative content that isn’t always centred around consumption. Let’s see how things pan out…

What’s your take on this? Comment below to share your thoughts…

Image by SC Stockshop 

* FYI, I can’t read CMA without thinking about the Country Music Awards. Anyone else?


  1. Azura says:

    I also wrote a piece on the subject, but from a consumer perspective, i.e. someone who sits on the other side of the table. Like you, I think it is a change in the right direction, in the name of transparency and consumer protection. –

  2. Shloka says:

    I agree with you, it is a bit excessive but I am trying to be as positive about it as possible. I’ve always made an effort to never to mislead my followers so honestly I don’t feel like anything has changed but I do agree with you that it does seem like these rules are coming from a negative place…


    • Ella Gregory says:

      Totally. And, as Katherine Ormerod pointed out on Instagram Stories, you can’t pick and choose which sections of the media to police whilst letting others get away with the same/similar behaviour. But I think everyone just has to take responsibility for their own content, and forget what everyone else is doing.

  3. Kelly says:

    The response to the new guidelines from many bloggers/influencers has been pretty shocking and disappointing to me – and highly unprofessional. Maybe it’s because I work in marketing full-time outside of my blog and I see both sides of the coin…but fact is, every business industry has a set of guidelines.

    Rather than taking the new guidelines as a personal attack, influencers/bloggers should see them as progress in the blogosphere business being taking seriously.

    For so long I’ve seen creators complain that their work isn’t taking seriously…and many of those same creators are now complaining they have to follow guidelines. Hello? You can’t have it both ways. Every business comes with a set of rules to protect the consumer. If you want to be seen as a business you have to operate as one. It’s pretty simple.

    xo – Kelly

    • Ella Gregory says:

      Hi Kelly.

      Thanks so much for your comment. I’m so glad you brought up this angle about the guidelines legitimising the industry, in a sense. And I also agree that the reaction from some has been rather disappointing.

      I do think there has been a bit of an “Ah-ha! Gotcha!” type reaction from some “content consumers”. And I don’t think it’s right to take the mindset that advertising/gifting is bad and bloggers should be punished/called out for working on paid projects (as it’s essentially the way the media has always worked, and blogging is just a newer form of media). But perhaps much of that feeling comes from the fact certain bloggers haven’t been transparent enough, and have created that pessimism amongst their audiences?

  4. I completely agree with you. I do feel there’s an excess of how much needs to be declared but the only people who need to worry about it is those who are not practising these techniques.

  5. Flic says:

    I love that you highlighted this in particular:

    “For years it’s felt a bit like a witch-hunt. But the gifting culture you see across blogs and Instagram was adopted from the gifting culture within the magazine industry (which, rightly or wrongly, never gets criticised).”

    I just nodded and literally said YES at my desk. As someone who works in Content and influencers through my current role (plus having had a blog in the past and a stint at Marie Claire in a past role), I’ve been lucky enough to have seen it from all angles.

    Print circulation is declining thanks to the internet and I see a huge amount of criticism from those in the magazine industry when it comes to bloggers/influencers (who can forget THAT Vogue piece!?), but it comes down to the simple fact that a dying animal is particularly vicious. Print has a place, but that place is online. The whole industry has had to rethink as a digital-first model and I think a lot of journalists see influencers as the competition and the enemy.

    Anyway! Love the piece and totally agree that all gifted and paid partnerships should be made clear. Kinda wrong that magazines – plus websites like Stylist and Sheerluxe – aren’t held to the same standards…

    • Ella Gregory says:

      Hi Flic. Wow, you’re in such an incredible position to have seen it from all angles. And I’m glad that you agree on that point. It will be interesting to see how this discussion continues to develop in the coming months xx

  6. Kim says:

    I totally agree with you! May I add that it’s done without any nuances? I mean, it’s the same rules applied to small or big blogs. And there’s a huge difference between those two. I don’t make money out of my blog, I’ve always been small and probably will remain small and I’d have to follow the same rules as bigger. They wanted to do that too in Belgium and the guidelines stayed less than 24h because we complained about that and the magazines having nothing to follow. Tranparency is necessary but I feel too it’s coming from a man’s world trying to undermine women being more and more freelance.

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