Disclosure: It’s Not A Dirty Word, So Why Do So Many Struggle With It?

When I first started blogging it was a simple business. We wrote about what lipstick we were loving, commented on the latest hairstyles and occasionally took awkward photos of ourselves in terrible lighting. It was an uncomplicated time where we were all just focused on our own little corner of the internet; there was room for everybody, there was no competitiveness and the lack of press samples and paid campaigns made everything a lot simpler. However, in 2014 it’s a completely different time: blogs are brands, serious money is being paid for collaborations, oodles of free things land on doorsteps and everyone is competing for something – be it for more readers, that latest lipgloss or to be the face of a new campaign. Since the waters have become a little murkier, the issue of disclosure has become a constant talking point. For me, it’s a simple black and white area. For others, not so much.

The majority of things featured on this site are sent to me as samples for consideration; in all honesty it’s extremely rare that I feature things I’ve bought myself, but I don’t see this as a negative thing. I’ve been writing for four years, posting seven days a week and in most cases twice a day – there is no way on earth I would be able to keep that up out of my own pocket, let alone come up with enough content ideas without brands sending me things to try and test. However, there’s a definite air of negativity against PR samples, many readers believing it means your opinion isn’t valid or honest; I know that I, like many others, couldn’t care less if it dropped on my doormat or I picked it up in Selfridges, because I’m still going to talk about it honestly, openly and with transparency. If I love it, it’s because I would happily re-buy it with my hard-earned cash; if I hate it then it doesn’t matter if I paid for it or not – I’m still saying it’s not worth yours. Most things that I don’t like don’t even make it to the blog; I prefer to keep it as positive as possible, avoiding featuring anything that doesn’t appeal to my senses or offer value for money. Even though 95% of products featured on the site were sent to me, they’re still part of an edit I really did want to feature. That’s what always should be remembered.

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to work with and collaborate with many brands, being paid to do so on many occasions. I never dreamed that I would ever make money
from my blog, but now I’m lucky enough to make it my full time job I have
to ensure that it’s regularly bringing in the cash. (A girls gotta pay the rent.) These collaborations may be as simple as bringing you interesting news, sharing a new product launch or hosting a competition, but I always ensure they’re worth writing about and believe they’re of interest to those reading. I always
declare at the end of a sponsored post that I have been compensated to
write it, letting you know that the topic (although never the tone or content) has been collaborated on. I have never ever compromised on this issue as I feel it’s important
to not only adhere to the law, but to be transparent with my readers. I
only ever work with brands I really believe in and only ever publish my
true opinion or thoughts; no amount of money can buy my integrity,
because it’s simply not worth jeopardising four years of hard work. 

Furthermore, I’ve always had a disclaimer on the side panel of my blog, believing it’s important to be honest about the fact that the majority of things featured have been sent to me for consideration. I don’t feel it’s necessary or relevant to mark every item individually, simply because the blog would become one massive disclaimer and detracts from (what I like to feel) is an engaging and positive platform. I’ve had a few negative comments and presumptuous messages about removing disclaimers or not stating when I’ve been paid; I have never ever stated individual samples (so there’s nothing to remove!) and I have refused to work with brands that ask for paid content not to be declared. This is an issue I’ve always felt incredibly strong about and have called out brands, bloggers and agencies I believe are operating in not only an unethical way, but an illegal way. (FYI you can read my full disclaimer here.)

However, I’m only one blogger in a massive pool of writers. The problem is that some of the biggest and most well established sites are not declaring a single thing, when they’re clearly taking part in a paid for campaign or have been compensated to flounce about in a designer’s clothes. How can we begin to tackle this issue of transparency and honesty when the biggest and most influential sites aren’t acting within the law? Declaring paid for content and collaborations is actually a legal requirement, as outlined by the ASA. They say: “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.” Having worked within a social media agency and with bloggers across a multitude of topics, I know how to spot sponsored content a mile off – it’s often incredibly obvious (for those in the know) when a blogger has been compensated to talk about a product they wouldn’t normally, or to squeeze in a promotional message that’s somewhat out of character. The amount of well known and hugely established sites making a full-time living from their blog but not declaring where their income is coming from is incredibly shocking.

I don’t believe that working with brands is a bad thing; I’m proud that brands want to work with me so much that they financially compensate me for my time and space on this site. I have no issue with stating when I’ve been paid to post something, because I always retain 100% creative integrity and always write 100% of the content myself. I don’t post pre-written content (that’s often optimised for SEO) because I believe it would damage the standard I have set for myself and that my readers expect. I don’t feature brands I don’t believe in and I certainly don’t promote products I haven’t tried myself. I’ve always wanted this space to be a positive and informative one, providing advice and opinions that really mean something and can be trusted: I want my readers to feel like they can believe in what I’m saying and that they can ask me questions.

So what are the guidelines? Have a look at this article by CAP which outlines sponsored content and how it should be labelled. Essentially, if you’ve been paid by a brand you must always declare it in a clear and easily identifiable way – writing your thanks to a brand for being part of a post isn’t a clear statement that you’ve been paid to talk about their product, neither is adding asterisks or using some kind of complicated code that needs research to understand. This declaration also covers social media platforms, so if you’ve been paid to tweet you must always add a simple hashtag to make it clear (i.e. #ad or #spon) However, being in receipt of a press sample or gift is not classified as sponsorship: because the brand has no impact over what you’ll write or the outcome of the review (if you even review it at all.) Therefore press samples do not have to legally be declared in the UK, although this is different in other countries. It’s not difficult to understand and the ASA leaves a lot of room for interpretation and personal preference, but it’s vital that we’re all transparent and operate within ethical boundaries set out by UK governing bodies.

There are so many opinions on disclosure, with every blogger having a different approach and their own standards to fulfill, but the most important thing is to operate ethically and within the law. Working with brands should be celebrated, as should young men and women being able to turn their passion and hobby into a fully fledged career. Any individual that tries to damper that or feels negatively should simply move on and read something they feel more comfortable with. Currently there is no governing body that monitors and represents blogging in this country, something I really feel is missing. Because blogging is still so new (having only really exploded in the last couple of years,) the usual advertising bodies haven’t quite caught up. I really believe that we, as a blogging community, should regulate ourselves and work together to set standards that ensure we’re transparent; I’m seriously considering setting something up myself. But for the meantime, I’m going to be adding clearer disclaimers and explaining exactly what they mean at the end of any collaborative or sponsored opportunity. Although there are thousands of bloggers that are 100% honest and transparent, there are still a huge amount operating in grey areas and know full well what they’re doing. (Or not doing.) Regardless, I want to take a stand and do all I can to put my best foot forward – because blogs are going nowhere fast.

What do you think about the issue of disclosure? Do you worry about collaborative or sponsored posts? As a reader, are you put off or feel distrust? I’d love to know your thoughts.



  1. Rebecca O'Hare
    July 9, 2014 / 1:40 pm

    This is a great and well thought out post. Very well written and thank you for sharing. I'm not that big of a deal that I get sent heaps of samples but I do get invited to events which is fun and a great way to meet other bloggers in my area. (Manchester) – I've been thinking of branching out more now that I'm in the UK so I'm glad you've shared the rules and regs above!

    • Hayley Carr
      July 9, 2014 / 7:44 pm

      Thank you. Glad you found it helpful.

  2. Anya Wandowski
    July 9, 2014 / 1:57 pm

    I've read a few posts similar to this and i feel like people are blowing it way out of proportion, yes you can lose integrity if you dont state when its a PR sample or not, but at the end of the day if you dont like it then simply unfollow the blog. So many people get to uppety about it and its really not that big of a deal, I've always loved your blog and your blog posts but even i can tell that a lot of them are samples although i never doubt your opinion. This post was thoroughly well written and something that needed to be said! x http://anyamaybeauty.blogspot.co.uk

    • Hayley Carr
      July 9, 2014 / 7:43 pm

      Thank you. I agree that there's been a lot of unnecessary drama of late – isn't there always! – which has stemmed from disclosure discussions, but in my opinion it's pretty straight forward. Be honest!

  3. Anonymous
    July 9, 2014 / 2:30 pm

    When I first started reading blogs it made me a bit uncomfortable to think that someone had been sent a product for free and might be more positive about it in review because of it, but now that I understand more about it it doesn't bother me. The sites I really enjoy reading are ones with writers like you who are very clear about what they've been sent/compensated for, and who are honest in their opinions.I've only just found your site a few weeks ago but it's quickly becoming one of my favorites. I feel like you write about a lot of things that aren't talked about. If you haven't already, could you maybe do a post on your thoughts on the line between polite self promotion (if there is such a thing) and being obnoxious? For example, I've recently started my own blog just as a hobby because I spend so much time learning about makeup and trying new things but I often feel guilty for including a link to my site at the end of a comment on someone else's blog. I feel like people are going to think I'm only commenting to get more readers, which of course I would appreciate because I think interaction is the whole point of blogging, but if I comment I like it to be genuine.Aaaand now that I'm done rambling I'm probably going to go read all of your posts in the "Blog Advice 101."

    • Hayley Carr
      July 9, 2014 / 7:45 pm

      Thanks for your kind comments and I'm glad you're enjoying the site. Definitely read the blog advice series and I'll definitely think about a 'self promotion' post!

  4. Anonymous
    July 9, 2014 / 2:37 pm

    Great post.I think it would actually be very interesting & helpful to see a round up of things you didn't like or thought were bad value. Saves us from buying them!!

    • Hayley Carr
      July 9, 2014 / 7:46 pm

      To be honest, it's hard to get inspired and write about something you don't like! I do occasionally write posts where I dismiss the hype, but overall it's a bit of a challenge to form words around a 'meh' product. But something to consider…! : )

  5. Samantha Marriott
    July 9, 2014 / 2:59 pm

    Agree with everything you've written there! Sam xosjmcdf

  6. Katy D
    July 9, 2014 / 4:16 pm

    This is so well put. PR is a great thing for all involved in my opinion, it only backfires when people let it cloud their judgement, as unfortunately many do. Thank you for this. Katydesu.blogspot.co.uk Katy xx

  7. Charlotte
    July 9, 2014 / 4:18 pm

    I actually wouldn't mind a disclosure under every blogpost. It could just be a link to your policy. I think, it would make things even more transparent and I do not think that it clutters the page. I actually find it odd that it is NOT there under the indivudual blogpost.

    • Hayley Carr
      July 9, 2014 / 7:48 pm

      But is that because you've become so accustomed to it? I don't believe it's necessary and it's not a legal requirement, but many other bloggers add it for their own reasons. I declare under every individual post when it's sponsored, but my general disclaimer is visible on every page.

    • Charlotte
      July 10, 2014 / 1:27 pm

      It could be because I am accustomed to it, that's true. I read a lot of German blogs and the rules on surreptitious advertising are quite strict there. Some bloggers even put an asterisks in their headline and then the disclosure with the asterisk below the post. So it is even made clear in the headline that the product was sent to them.If a post is sponsored, some bloggers use the word "Sponsored" in the headline, too.

  8. Lydia Smyth
    July 9, 2014 / 4:42 pm

    Kudos to you for writing this – really sums up all of my thoughts on blogging! I am so disappointed to see so many of my favourite bloggers not disclosing their sponsored content. Sadly just as I started my blog, bloggers were starting to move away from being the girl blogging from her bedroom completely. I miss the honesty and accessibility of your average girl rambling about beauty. It's why we started turning away from magazines and making our own spaces in the first place, right?! Not that I don't admire the amazing, editorial standard of blogs – I just miss the honesty, basically everything you have said so well in your post.Lydia xwww.LydiaRosexo.blogspot.co.uk

    • Hayley Carr
      July 9, 2014 / 7:49 pm

      Thanks Lydia. I love the fact that blogs have become more slick, more professional, more inspiring and so many are doing an awesome job – but unfortunately the minority are starting to ruin it for the rest of us with their lack of transparency. Hopefully something will change soon or it will start to backfire.

  9. Fahmida Begum
    July 9, 2014 / 6:20 pm

    When I first started reading beauty and fashion blogs a few years ago, it was common for those who I followed to mention that their posts were sponsored, but over the years it has become pretty apparent that that is taking place less frequently or not as clearly. Great post to read, totally agree with your thoughts! x

    • Hayley Carr
      July 9, 2014 / 7:50 pm

      I think clarity is the issue – sometimes 'disclaimers' are really vague and not clear enough, misleading the reader. I'm shocked that agents and brands are allowing it on their behalf; they're as responsible to remain within the law. Thanks for reading!

  10. Nicola Wood
    July 9, 2014 / 8:32 pm

    The statement you linked too looks like a growl in regulator speak. They're aware it's an issue and are giving bloggers an opportunity to do something about it. If things don't change then eventually a high profile blogger or two will get done "to encourage the others". The whole thing drives me batsh*t. If you read a blog regularly, it's usually obvious that content is sponsored or a message has been shoehorned in. I resent being treated like I'm stupid by both the brands and the bloggers. It influences what I purchase and read, but not in the way they hoped!!!

  11. Vicky M
    July 9, 2014 / 8:47 pm

    Said it way better than I ever could have! I'm firmly on the 'reader' side of the spectrum here; I'm not involved with any brands nor do I have any desire to be right now (I don't even have a contact email listed on my blog). Blogging is purely a hobby right now and I want to focus on growing an audience before I add any advertisements to my page and potentially lose the group of people (however small) who are reading my blog. I feel that it's a definite agreement between reader and blogger – if you're going to post twice or three times a day as a blogger and be involved with readers in the comments and on social media, you need to make money. As a reader, you just have to accept that there will be sponsored content. Since press samples are the norm these days, I don't think that they compromise all bloggers integrity, but I feel that some of the popular YouTubers and bloggers want to keep up a good relationship with some brands (particularly Benefit), so even if that particular post or video isn't sponsored, they may feel more pressure to write a positive review of things they've been sent. I noticed that pattern with their new Big Easy product – a lot of smaller bloggers said that it didn't work for them, when the girls who work closely with them gave it much better reviews. Oh well, that's a special circumstance where you just need to buy samples before you splash out. teenbeautylover.blogspot.com

    • Hayley Carr
      July 9, 2014 / 9:07 pm

      I think you've hit the nail on the head and used a perfect example. I got sent the same eyeliner and couldn't get it to work for me at all, so I thought I was doing something wrong! Turns out I'm not, but I'm not willing to preach its praises when I'm not sure if I even like it. Some bloggers are worried about PR relationships more than their relationships with their readers, which is a shame.

  12. Strawberry Scent
    July 10, 2014 / 12:38 pm

    I like how you clarify the situation about whats going on , and your opinion on it. I think its really important to just say their opinion(the bloggers) on the products that is being sponsored. In the end , all bloggers are about being realistic about their products and not just promotional ..if we wanted to hear/read only the good things(whether they are or not) we would read the magazines..ps. Applaud to all the bloggers who made it into full time job/ into business http://thestrawberryscent.blogspot.com/

  13. Amanda D
    July 10, 2014 / 9:32 pm

    Great post! There really is too much drama surrounding this area! It does not bother me at all. This is a lot of people's livelihood and brands are using blogs as they're a much better way to advertise! All bloggers have a wonderful platform for advertising, why should they not be compensated??I could ramble on but I won't… xxhttp://mrsdloves.com

  14. Nicola Wood
    July 11, 2014 / 9:21 pm

    There was a piece in today's Metro about how young women aged 18 – 24 are living beyond their means and getting into debt because they're copying celebs. This might be over thinking, but I wonder if lifestyle / beauty blogs are also playing a part. Some of them really push over consumption – gotta have this, must have that … If you don't know how the industry works – and many readers don't – then you're not going to realise that much of the stuff they're featuring is stuff they've been given and that they're being paid to talk about. Particularly if there's no disclosure of any kind.

    • Hayley Carr
      July 12, 2014 / 10:44 am

      I think you're right – and this is something I've discussed with people before on Twitter. Especially the fashion bloggers and those constantly giving the impression of going out all the time to fabulous parties, sipping champagne. It becomes normal to want to buy new things all the time; I even find myself doing it.

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