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Dublin: 16 °C Wednesday 12 August, 2020
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Should bloggers have to say when they're being paid to advertise? Damn right they should

It’s happened in the UK. When’s it going to happen here asks Becky Johnston.

Becky Johnston

IN AN AGE of digital overload, where you have a ‘go-to’ Instagram filter and you know your selfie angles, video bloggers (vloggers) have in some cases morphed from the stereotypical lone-ranger with a camera and a tripod, to gaining cult celebratory status in their own right.

And with celebratory status, comes celebratory endorsements.

UK super vloggers such as Zoella & Tanya Burr boast loyal YouTube subscriber fan bases that run well into the millions, with endorsement collaborations from major brands under their belts, not to mention the occasional book launch and self-titled cosmetics line.

Zoella’s estimated earnings come in at €420,000 a year. Did I mention she’s just 24?

Grey area

And so a grey area is formed. Where once vloggers voiced what was deemed to be their honest opinions, recommending favourite products and truthfully reviewing a brand’s latest offerings, there now stands the tricky incentive of a paycheck to muddy the water. Word-of-mouth is one of the most powerful tools a brand can hope to achieve, and what better catalyst for this than a YouTube sensation giving their gold seal of approval with relatable familiarity, positioning a brand in a certain favourable light to masses of younger, impressionable followers.

Following Kim Kardashian’s brazen plug of a US pharmaceuticals brand earlier this week, featuring a selfie of her shamelessly holding a bottle of morning sickness pills next to her face and raving about their effectiveness (complete with an ‘OMG’…) advertising authorities sat-up and took note.

The selfie that had originally been posted to her 42 million+ Instagram followers was pulled by US regulatory authorities while the FDA wrapped the pharma company on the knuckles for their shady promotional practice.

Ripples spread across the pond to the UK, where the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), basically the UK’s equivalent of the Advertising Standards Authority Ireland, issued their first guidance around the ethical conduct of vlogs in relation to advertising.

Source: Zoella/YouTube

The guidelines offer situational scenarios, highlighting the need for absolute clarity around product placement in vlogs, sponsored content or advertisement features being outlined as such.

These latest CAP regulations are aimed toward putting a stop to vloggers keeping quiet on any thinly veiled sponsorship deals. Until this point, the truthful and earnest disclaimers outlined on all decent blogs and vlogs were sufficient to cast bloggers and vloggers in a relatively honest light.

However with certain vlog subscriber numbers exceeding the population of our emerald isle, the value and influence of new-media spokespeople has started to feature on advertising authorities’ radars, essentially recognising bloggers and vloggers as legitimate marketing communications channels; which was never really the point to begin with.

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Fanciful lying

The idea of blogging and vlogging is generally to pursue a passion and document this online, a medium for creativity or performance. And yes, if YouTube culture pumps your vlog to superstardom success, brands will naturally want a piece of the pie – which is fine, once it’s positioned as just that.

Secret sponsorships and shady collaborations are basically just fanciful lying, which in an online world with a ferocious social media appetite, will surface eventually.

The Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland describes the essence of good advertising as being legal, decent, honest and truthful. But what about when it’s technically not a marketing communication? This is where the vlog loophole is being closed in the UK, with blog & vlog-specific transparency guidelines likely to follow suit here. Branded content rules are a necessary evil, with online content being no exception.

Bearing in mind the average age profile of a lot of vlog followers is generally on the younger side, there is if anything a stronger need for enforced guidelines around new-media celebs.

Becky Johnston is editor of fashion, beauty & lifestyle journal Pink Elephant Blog.

Tweet her @PinkElephantDub.

Read: This Irish girl’s spot-on Snapchat parody of beauty bloggers is going viral

Read: Vaping is now officially less harmful than smoking, and it’s time the Irish health authorities acknowledged that fact

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Becky Johnston

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