January 09, 2014

Over to You - Disclosure in Blogging: Does it Matter?

Blogging is changing at a pace so rapid that even those with the most active imaginations might not have anticipated how things now stand in 2014. Thanks to the power of social media marketing, girls and guys who started off innocently dabbling with Blogger, Wordpress and YouTube are now veritable stars in their own right. One of the most contentious issues in blogging is always the freebies - it's a sticky one. We've made our opinions clear in the past on this subject - if you're curious you can read this post and our disclaimer - but I want readers to be central to this post. This is all about your opinions, feedback and gut feelings on the issue.

Where We Are

I feel that we are at least a year behind the UK in terms of digital (and many other marketing/commercial trends) here in Ireland, so it is worth looking across the pond to see what's happening in terms of blogging and disclosure. Now, I am not 100% on the finer details, but as far as I can gather, as the law stands in the UK right now bloggers are only obliged to disclose if a post is sponsored not if they have been given free products. In the US, it's a little more clear-cut and the FTC states that bloggers and vloggers must provide a disclaimer in which they stipulate whether or not products featured are gifted from PRs.

This article (which refers to both the UK and Norway) is an extremely interesting read which illustrates both the staggering influence that bloggers have on young consumers, and discusses how important the balance between honesty and renumeration is for bloggers. I don't think there is any clear-cut regulation here in Ireland at all for bloggers - but do correct me if I am wrong.

Differing Opinions

I recently watched a YouTube video in which the vlogger displayed her makeup collection. Stickers on the back of certain items made it clear to me, as a blogger, that they were samples - I'm not sure if every other person would pick up on it, but the labels were pretty big. This same vlogger, I have noticed, has ceased to disclose over the last year or so which items she features are PR samples. I would personally disagree with this strategy, but that's just my opinion, and it's not up to me to make a massive judgement call on the one vlogger.

To put things into a clearer and perhaps more understandable context, it seems to me that she was actually worried that disclosing might actually backfire on her, and that she wanted to prove that her opinion was consistent across all products featured, whether purchased or gifted. We all have our individual ethics and, of course, opinions, and what I really want to get to the bottom of here is the general, public consensus among readers.

Over to You!

To kick off the conversation, I asked a close friend of mine what her own thoughts were on the subject, and here's what she had to say when I asked her if she thought it was important for bloggers to disclose:

"Yeah, because if they don't it's a bit like they're cheating, I go and look up reviews for things I want to buy and if someone is raving about a product the fact that they got sent it for free doesn't make me distrust them but it makes me want to read up more about it.

I find I trust the person's opinion more if they've been honest and said it was sent to them. If they're honest about that then I think they're more credible.

When asked if regular freebies might influence a blogger and perhaps encourage them to give a positive review, my friend came back with the following:

Well you build a relationship with the PR's. I think it's human nature to not want to slam a product when you've built up that relationship - it makes me trust a blogger even more if they do that. Most of the time I'd think its a subconscious thing."

To add to the above, back in 2012 we ran a short reader survey and, when asked what they least liked to see on a beauty blog, one respondent said:

"Posts that are full of products that where free PR samples and posts that are about the same event that a number of different bloggers have been to, as it's really the same thing across a number of blogs."

This is a topic that genuinely fascinates me, both as a blogger and as a person who has worked in social media (thanks to blogging!). So, what I'd love to know is - is disclosure a dealbreaker for you? Is it something that you'd actively think about as you read a post or watch a video? Do you dislike seeing an abundance of PR samples in general, and just how honest does a blogger have to be to win your loyalty?


  1. I love this post and the research put into it.
    As a blogger I think it's unethical to your readers to lie about your opinion of a product. I have not yet contacted or been contacted by any PR companies because I don't feel ready yet to be given a product and say I don't like it. But when I am, then I will begin to contact companies. I feel if you can't give a honest review for your readers don't give one at all!! xx

  2. As a blogger I believe in always disclosing samples as it's unethical to lie. I will only accept products I believe will fit with my website and audience, if a blogger starts accepting completely different products to their specialism, I'd probably be put off.


  3. I'd sooner say it was sent to me. I don't see the point in hiding it. Personally, if a blogger/ vlogger raves about a product and then I find out that it was sent to them I dismiss the review entirely and look for other reviews. This is especially true when someone raves about every product they are sent without fail and never finds a single fault with a product sent for review. It just seems a bit dodgy to me.

  4. I think it's important to tell readers if products were freebies, honesty is the best policy. I always disclose this information on my posts and I think it would be better if every blogger tells their readers if they were sent free products to review or if they were sponsored for a post. It's becoming clear that some bloggers are getting a lot of freebies and not declaring it, in the interest of transparency I think they should be honest.

  5. I know what vlogger you are talking about and when she announced it I had a good think about the subject myself. I disclose PR samples on or blog just for the sake of transparency but I can also see how that may backfire - I've spoken to friends who are not bloggers & they said it would put them off as they would think that the product is only featured because it was a freeby. I think people who are not in the blogging/ press / PR / Marketing scene may not always realise the difference between sponsored posts & free PR samples...

  6. Brilliant post. Never really thought about the legal side of it funnily enough! But I think bloggers should disclose whether something was sent or not. No reason not too. A simple * will suffice.

  7. I've actually unfollowed people who have stopped disclosing. I hate it. I feel mislead and I really don't see why people feel the need not to disclose. I know it's not law yet in the UK BUT no doubt it will become law so why not disclose cos you're only going to have to go through all your old posts and add some disclosure.

    Its not lying when you don't disclose it's just with holding information which I would use to help decide whether I wanted to buy a product or not.

    One of my pet hates in the blogging world and I could go on all day about how much it irritates me haha

  8. This is a topic that has come up many times at blogger events. I do not always state that a product is a sample on my blog. I know some people might not trust what I have to say then. I accept this. I also don't always say that I used my own hard earned money because I know that some people out there can't afford to be going out and spending their money on beauty products because of their own financial situation. Sometimes I even feel uncomfortable saying when I have received something as a gift from a loved one because again I don't want to be rubbing it in readers faces. Sometimes I do if it has relevance. I feel if a person is a regular reader of my blog and know who I am and what I am about that they will also know I would never hype up a product or lie because I was sent it. I want my readers to read my posts and enjoy them. I never read bloggers post and think 'oh how did they get that'.
    Sometimes I receive product samples and don't mention the product on my blog until long after I have purchased it for myself because I liked it, so what do I say then?
    If it something that readers really focus on I suppose it is something I could think about doing especially in cases were I have before and after photos so the reader knows for sure that I have tested it properly and that I am giving my full honest opinion.
    I don't feel like there is a wrong or right answer on this issue. It is 100% up to the blogger. It is also up to the reader to make up their own decision, it's so easy to tell if someone is posting about a product because they are being paid to mention. In a way receiving a product is a form of payment. At the end of the day I am spending my time testing out products, taking photos, editing, researching and producing the post. I wouldn't bother doing the post in the first place if I didn't think my readers would enjoy it or gain something from it.
    There is one Irish blogger who really does my nut in. The blogger in question will instagram/tweet a picture of PR samples after the post man/woman has dropped them off and have a review up before dinner time the same day. That really bugs me because they haven't taken the proper time to try out and research the product. I stopped reading that blog a long time ago because of this. They do mention that they are PR samples on their posts so it doesn't make any difference. Just because you mention it doesn't mean you are still giving an honest opinion. The blogger could still be talking dribble.

  9. Personally, I think disclosure is important. For readers to know and because research shows being gifted items will influence your opinion even if it's subconscious. But I agree with Sarah that it needs to be tested just as vigilantly as any other product you try. Your only as good as your word, but I think readers are savvy enough too to pick up when a bloggers tone has changed. Great post ladies.

  10. I think that it is important to disclose when a product was sent by PR. That fact per se does not influence my opinion of the review, but does make me assess the blogger as more transparent and trustworthy. A number of the London bloggers have stopped doing this and together with the fact that they always feature the same products withing hours of one another and all attend the same events, this has made me take everything they say with a bucket of salt. I still read their blogs for the entertainment value, but I seldom make an off-the-cuff purchase due what I've read there.


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