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When Is a Blog Post an Advertisement?

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By George Khoury, Esq. on November 01, 2016 11:57 AM

Since the BBB and FTC have issued guidance and new rules about truthfulness in advertising in the internet age, you might be wondering when a blog post is considered an advertisement. While blog posts can cover a wide range of topics, typically, the topic is less important than the purpose. Generally speaking, whenever a blogger is paid for their expression by a company, the paid relationship should be readily apparent, if not clearly disclosed, as the expression is promoting, or helping, the company in some way.

Identifying paid online advertisements is getting trickier and trickier, especially as advertisers understand how consumers use the various online platforms. Advertisers know that internet users will try everything to skip advertisements, such as using ad blocking software, disabling pop-ups, muting the volume, or even paying for premium ad-free memberships. To combat this, advertisers have started crafting ads that sneak by people's filters by actually providing useful blog content, or at least ads that mimic the appearance of useful content.

Crossing the Fine Digital Line

In our modern times where internet content generates income through advertising, arguably anything published on the internet for money, investigative journalism, is an advertisement. But there is a line past which a company must clearly identify that the blog post, or other web content, is sponsored, promoted, or a direct advertisement to consumers.

The BBB advises that companies should disclose whenever they have sponsored content if it is not readily apparent. Companies should particularly do so when a consumer could potentially be mislead into thinking that the content was not sponsored. For instance, websites for newspapers and magazines don't need to identify content as advertising because it is readily apparent that the content promotes the website itself. In contrast, when company pays a third party website that provides expert product reviews for a blog post reviewing their new product, that is a paid relationship that would need to be disclosed clearly.

Distinguishing the Fine Digital Line

While clearly a paid blog post, or review in exchange for free samples, should be disclosed as such, what about an unsolicited review? The unsolicited review is outside the control of the company so long as the reviewer is not associated with the company, and therefore, no disclosure is required as it can't be done. However, if the company promotes the unsolicited review via social media or another form, their paying for the promotion of the review would need to be clearly apparent or disclosed.

If you need help navigating the rules and laws surrounding online advertising, contact an experienced business lawyer.

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