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Bloggers Who Don’t Disclose Are Giving Us All a Bad Name

A few weeks ago, Terry and I were invited (by a brand) to spend the weekend at… I’m just going to call it a particular type of luxury accommodation.

A very nice, very expensive one, which we’d really have loved to have experienced, but unfortunately for us, while the stay itself would have been free of charge (By which I mean I’d obviously have been expected to blog about it: there’s no such thing as “free” with this kind of thing…), we’d have had to cover our own travel expenses to the South of England, and we just couldn’t justify the cost at the time.

Anyway, we couldn’t make it ourselves, but the invitation had made it clear that the weekend we’d been invited on had been set aside for press (including bloggers), so I figured I’d get to read about it soon, and I was interested, not only in the … thing… itself, but also to see which other bloggers I’d have been rubbing shoulders with if I’d gone.

Sure enough, last week I was scrolling through my Bloglovin’ feed, when I came across a post by a very popular blogger who had obviously been invited to the same… thing. She’d posted about it in detail, and I read through the post, and it was only when I reached the end that I realised there had been absolutely no disclosure whatsoever to tell her readers that she’d spent the weekend in this luxury accommodation free of charge, on the understanding that she would post about it on her blog, and on social media.

I scrolled back to the top of the post and read it again: nope, nothing. She’d basically made it sound like she and her boyfriend had randomly decided to have a weekend away, which she’d written about on her blog, and publicised on social media, complete with the official hashtags for the campaign the brand were running.

blogger flatlayAnd, I mean, maybe she did spend her own money on it. It’s possible. It’s maybe not probable, but I have no proof that this blogger got the same offer I did, so in the interests of fairness, I have to concede that it might just be a coincidence that she and her partner decided to have their mini-break on the exact same weekend a bunch of other bloggers were staying there for free – and to hashtag it almost as if she’d been asked to. I suspect otherwise, though, and sadly, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Time and time again recently I’ve had offers of sponsored posts or gifted items from brands, and I’ve either turned them down or accepted and disclosed them, only to see other bloggers write about exactly the same thing, with absolutely no disclosure. And it makes me mad.

Why? Well, for one thing, it’s illegal. Bloggers are required by law to disclose any incentives they receive in order to promote brands or products on their blogs. That doesn’t just apply to sponsored posts, where you’re paid to write about the the thing – it also applies to free products which you receive in lieu of payment: they are also considered “compensation”, and they must be disclosed. In this case, a comped stay in very expensive accommodation has been exchanged for coverage on a popular blog: that’s very different from a blogger deciding to spend their own money on something, and then writing about it, and readers deserve to know that.

Bloggers are required by law to disclose any incentives they receive in order to promote brands or products on their blogs.

As well as being illegal not to disclose, it’s also highly unethical, and the main reason it bothers me is that I feel it’s ruining the blogging industry and giving us all a bad name. I, for instance, always disclose sponsorships and freebies, but so many bloggers DON’T that I know some readers probably won’t trust me anyway, because they’ll assume we’re all the same. In the example above, for instance, I found myself wondering what else this particular blogger has failed to disclose: because if she doesn’t know or doesn’t care that she should be disclosing a free holiday, she probably doesn’t know/care that she should be disclosing other forms of compensation either. How do you trust someone who you know will accept a free holiday, and make it sound like she paid for it? You can’t, can you?

That’s not, of course, to say that I don’t think sponsored content can be trusted. I have absolutely no issue with sponsored content, as should be evident from the fact that I do sponsored posts myself, and accept gifts from brands, which I then write about. It’s the lack of transparency that bothers me. As a blogger, your integrity is everything, and once you lose the trust of your readers, there’s really no coming back from that. That’s why it’s so important to be honest, and that means disclosing everything you’ve been compensated to write about.

As a blogger, your integrity is everything, and once you lose the trust of your readers, there’s really no coming back from that.

I don’t intend this post to be a guide on how to disclose. Unfortunately, one of the issues with this is that the law in this regard is fairy fuzzy, and open to interpretation – also, most of what’s written about blogging and disclosure tends to relate to American regulations, which aren’t much use to those of us in the UK, or other countries. I’ve read countless posts lately, all promising to provide “the definitive guide!” to disclosure, and they’ve all said something different, so no wonder people get confused. I also suspect that this is one of the reasons some bloggers don’t disclose: in fairness to the blogger in my example, I’m sure she doesn’t INTEND to mislead her readers – it’s possible she just doesn’t know that this is something she should be disclosing, or that she thinks her post makes it clear enough that she didn’t pay for the accommodation herself.

I really want to be clear here that I’m not writing this to shame or expose anyone (and I will definitely not be naming and shaming, as a few people have suggested – that’s not what this is about: I used this example purely because it was the most recent, but it’s just one example of many) – I am not the internet police, and everything I’ve said here is pure conjecture. I also think it’s important to realise that not every blogger who fails to disclose adequately (or who appears to be failing to disclose) is some big baddie who is out to dupe their readers – I think a lot genuinely don’t know any better, or are struggling to interpret the very vague – and often contradictory – guidelines that are given to us.

I do my absolute best to be totally transparent in everything I post on my blog, but I’ll admit to losing sleep at times wondering if I’m doing enough, if I’ve interpreted the law correctly, or if something could have changed without me realising, leaving me un-intentionally breaking the law. It’s actually quite a difficult line to walk as a blogger, and even those of us who do our best to follow the guidelines can struggle to know what’s really required of us.

The problem with that, however, is that ignorance is no excuse. If you decide to start a blog, you’re becoming a publisher, and that comes with certain rules and responsibilities which it’s absolutely essential that you familiarise yourself with. It’s also important to realise that your actions can reflect on the community as a whole, especially if you have a lot of followers or influence. It makes me sad to think that some people no longer trust ANY bloggers, just because of the few who don’t play by the rules, and I don’t want to be part of an industry known for its lack of ethics.

If you decide to start a blog, you’re becoming a publisher, and that comes with certain rules and responsibilities which it’s absolutely essential that you familiarise yourself with.

As I said, I’m not going to provide a long list of rules regarding disclosure – to be perfectly honest, they seem to change so often and I’ve read so many pieces of conflicting advice, that I actually don’t trust myself to be able to do that with absolute accuracy. At its most basic, however, what I’d say to you is that if you’ve received some kind of inducement to write about a brand or product (whether that be financial compensation, or a free item), you MUST find some way to make that clear to your readers: if not for the good of your own reputation, at least consider doing it for the rest of us.

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  • If it’s who I think it is she does it ALL the time & it’s the reason I stopped following her. The final straw for me when when she thought it was acceptable to slag off a luxury hotel who gave her free accommodation, dinner & breakfast because she had to pay for an add-on to her stay i.e. a spa treatment. Not only (usually) unethical but spoiled, if you ask me.

    April 26, 2015
      • I can’t believe bloggers are actively being asked not to disclose! Surely PRs know it’s the law to as well?!

        p.s. I should’ve also said the hotel post I mentioned above wasn’t disclosed either, I just knew it was comped as I’d been offered, and accepted and posted about, the same stay. Luckily it was fabulous but if it hadn’t been I’d have felt obliged to share some ways in which they could’ve improved my experience as a guest.

        April 26, 2015
  • Amber, it’s great that you write about this topic. It’s been pretty hot in Norwegian media from time to time, and the Norwgian marked council has made definite and clear guidelines for blogers. Still, some of the largest blogs in Norway seem unable to follow these rules. The council doesn’t really have a lot of sanctions towards malpractice. Some Norwegian blogers have taken the time to comment on the large blogs when they see a lack of appropriate labeling of ads. I think you should ask the bloger in question why she hasn’t followed the guidelines, and see what the answer will be. When she has the possibility to explain if she indeed paid for the stay herself, or if it was the event you were invited to, you have the option of revealing who this is. If the offenders are kept anonymous nothing will change.

    April 26, 2015
  • It might not be a popular opinion, but I’m completely fine with bloggers not disclosing anything, as long as they also don’t lie about it. I read these big blogs as if they were magazines, with nice looking lifestyles and beautiful photos, and magazines don’t disclose either. I don’t need to trust a blogger, or to like them at all, I just need to feel inspired by the content. And if I do decide something they posted might be worth trying, I’ll probably look up a thousand other reviews first.

    April 26, 2015
    • Sun


      Whilst I hear what you say and have some sympathy with your point of view the facts are that it’s illegal not to disclose. If you are going to publish in any medium then you should make yourself aware what you can and cannot do.

      April 26, 2015
    • Trudy


      Actually most of the bigger travel magazines will all disclose at the end of the article whether they ave been given the holiday or not. I have no problem with bloggers receiving freebies, but definitely it should be mentioned, as then I can keep it in mind when I read the review.

      April 27, 2015
    • But the difference is that any time you read about (say) an exotic trip in a magazine, you know it’s not that the writer chose to go there of their own accord and happened to write about it. I’m perfectly happy to read about a comped trip because the photos are real, the location exists, and they’re making me aware of a place I previously didn’t know existed. But making me believe that they lead some totally unachievable lifestyle does nothing except make me feel I’ve failed at life!

      April 27, 2015
      • How do I know that? What I do know is that both the magazine writer and the blogger are being paid to write inspirational and eye-catching things, and that brands will use it as advertising. I don’t find these blogs any more misleading than celebrity gossip and the likes. I’m not going to start doing extreme contouring on my face because Kim K. does it, or using a new toothpaste because that actor I like is in the ad, or drinking a glass of water with lemon in the morning because Miranda Kerr does, and I’m not going to a luxury hotel in the south of the UK because some random person on the Internet whose blog I like to “read” said she liked it – comped or not. I think it’d be a lot more beneficial in the long term if we educated people about marketing, how it works and where should we expect it, than it is to make sure everyone is 100% honest about how they got a trip or a bag or whatever. That and to stop comparing our lives to what we see in other people’s blogs, because that’s a tiny part of it, and it really shouldn’t make you feel like your life sucks! It doesn’t have to be instagramable to be great!
        I think another problem is that we’re still used to the old fashioned blogs, where people would be honest (were they all, really?), relatable, and write about their lives, and still haven’t embraced the fact that some of these new blogs are a different form of media, and need different regulations than simply forcing them to disclose (which isn’t even the same in every country, and according to a comment below isn’t very clear about cases like this one). I mean, what if my mom pays for it? Do I have to disclose I couldn’t afford it myself and it was a bday present? Do I have to mention that even though I’m lounging in beautiful beaches, I’m staying in trashy hostels and not the luxury resort? Where does “deceiving” start and stop being subjective to an individual reader?
        I’m honestly a lot more worried about how these strategies are making their way into actual journalism (John Oliver has a great clip about it), where things ARE supposed to be completely transparent and unbiased, which nobody seems to care about.
        But the old blogs still exist, even if they require a lot more digging to find now, and it’s up to us which ones to read. If enough people stop reading blogs that don’t disclose, they’ll have to start doing it or die. To me it doesn’t seem a cause worth the trouble, since I don’t care either way, but if it does to you all, then I wish you the best of luck with it! Make a website to rate bloggers based on perceived “ethic-ness” or something, where people can decide for themselves whether to keep reading them or not.

        (And how do any of you know I’m not being paid for by an SEO agency to try to talk people into being okay with non-disclosed posts? From the future, where they rule the world and are paying everyone to do everything secretly so that Google never finds out. )

        May 4, 2015
  • I completely agree with what you’re saying here. I think disclosure is really important from a trust standpoint, especially because I know a lot of people disagree with sponsored content or affiliate links etc – therefore it’s especially important to let readers know (in my mind at least) when you’re being compensated. Personally I don’t have a problem with any forms of sponsored content (although I’m not always bothered about reading sponsored posts if they just read like an advert for a brand) but I’m aware of the issues surrounding it. I try to make it very clear to readers whether I have or haven’t been compensated for content because I like to talk about brands that I enjoy and I think it can be misleading if you’re not careful.

    April 26, 2015
  • Freebies are part of what enables bloggers to be able to review or feature so many products/experiences they otherwise couldn’t afford and share whether or not they’re worth it, so I’m quite happy to see them put to good use with a disclosure. What’s the harm of saying if you’re gifted something, especially if you’re breaking the law when you don’t?! I’d, however, be irritated if someone was passing off something like a luxury stay as something they just ‘do’ and then write a massive glowing review of without disclosing as it is basically bribery!

    April 26, 2015
      • Lisa


        Having witnessed bloggers who slagged off the food/product at an event, and then gushed all about how amazing and wonderful the food/event was on their blogs afterwards just because it was free, it makes me not want to trust their word on anything.

        I would rather read a blog post that was balanced, with full disclosure. (I do know that lots of people find it hard to write constructive criticism on a freebie, as they almost feel obliged to be nice.)

        December 17, 2015
  • This is a very enlightening post. I’ve come across the same kind of thing a number of times and it really is annoying. Even those bloggers who get caught up in this kind of thing usually started off in the same way as all of us – just wanting to write about the things we love. It’s a real shame that, because of a small few, it does give us all a bad name!

    Emily x

    April 26, 2015
  • Thanks for this! We were just talking about this since our blog is fairly new, and we want to make sure we’re doing things the right way. We’ve definitely seen other bloggers who clearly have been given things free, have affiliate links, etc. but don’t disclose. Totally riles us up! Can’t imagine readers care whether the item/holiday/whatever was given to the blogger free if they enjoy reading the post, and I think everyone knows bloggers are given comps anyway, so why not disclose? It’s kind of baffling considering it’s required by law.

    April 26, 2015
  • I think I may know who you mean, because I read the blog post and thought it was bizarre that there was no disclosure at all. Even to me, and I knew nothing about it prior to reading the post, it stank of non-disclosure.

    I don’t care if someone is paid to do something, or is given something for free. It doesn’t bother me – people have to make a living and if you’re lucky enough to do that by blogging then why not. I don’t think less of a post if there’s disclosure. I do think less of a post if there’s no disclosure when clearly there should be, because there’s absolutely no reason for the dishonesty. Readers aren’t stupid.

    April 26, 2015
  • I know exactly who you’re talking about and what the “thing” was because I saw it the other day and immediately knew she hadn’t disclosed. It angered me too but I suppose at least I picked up on the fact that it was clearly a press thing. Unfortunately, not everybody will.

    April 26, 2015
  • Rebecca Ellis


    I’m still relatively new to blogging, so this is a real eye opener for me because I don’t understand disclosing fully yet… nonetheless does this also apply to products you purchase yourself? or just when offered?

    I have done a few reviews, but they were reviews on products I’d went out and purchased myself…

    April 26, 2015
  • Awesome post, I couldn’t agree more with every remark.


    April 26, 2015
  • Thank you so much for this post and addressing this issue Amber. The amount of times when I see bloggers not disclosing properly has increased a lot. Like you I think most people don’t know about it or how to do it properly but is it really so hard to put an asterisk next to the product that marks it as a freebie? I’m a bit tired of reading bloggs were it states very vague or somewhere in between the lines ‘oh btw I was sent this and that or the lovely people over from xyz send me this’. Drives me mad!

    Hope you’re well and we’ll speak soon xx

    Caz | Style Lingua

    April 26, 2015
  • Kay Page


    This is a great post. It had to be said.

    Random question, where is that notepad from? I want one haha xx

    April 26, 2015
  • Before Mother’s Day, 3 bloggers I was reading had a similar post about an amazing new company who were selling flowers online and didn’t disclosed it’s a paid post. They even used the same pictures! Ohh, that was so obvious.

    April 26, 2015
  • Liz Tea Bee


    You have a much, much more charitable view of bloggers who don’t disclose than I do. I used to unfollow anyone I caught using undisclosed affiliate links but that left me with no one (except you) to follow. It’s really frustrating to feel like you’re being systemically lied to.

    April 26, 2015
  • I think readers are pretty savvy and are very aware that bloggers get free stuff, so I reckon they probably stick to the bloggers they like and trust. I agree that there should be a disclosure on a blog if you receive gifts/trips/expenses, but not necessarily on every post. I love your blog and think you do an excellent job of being clear to your readers and they will value your honesty as will brands and other bloggers. I think more industries could do with such transparency! X

    April 26, 2015
  • Tas


    The Londoner is ridiculously guilty of this.

    April 26, 2015
  • Yes! This winds me up so much! I remember one time reading a post on a blog titled “This is how I get my hair looking so amazing” and it was raving about how she couldn’t live without this conditioner and someone commented and asked the blogger (who had extensions) if it could be used with extensions and she was like “No,it can’t, I just used it once for the review.” ?!

    (Then again this was the same blogger who published a book about about how to write a blog and stole parts of it from one of the first articles that come up when you google “How to Blog.”)

    It’s just rubbish because whenever I google a product and randomly come across a review on a blog I’m now in entirely two minds whether to trust it or not.

    April 26, 2015
  • I completely agree with everything you’ve said on this, I just don’t see why people have such an issue about disclosing something, especially when it seems quite obvious otherwise. Honesty is the best policy after all!

    Louise x

    April 26, 2015
  • I don’t know who you’re referring to (I obviously don’t follow enough ‘popular bloggers’ but as a general rule, non-disclosure annoys me. It does feel unethical and I’ve seen this happen with samples lots of times before, when I’ve been gifted something so I know other bloggers have too, but they don’t mention it was a sample. I essentially don’t trust bloggers who do this and I stop following! I don’t want to add to any drama, it just isn’t cool and my closest blog pals agree. I also don’t like it when people write *this post could involve samples* or something equally as vague…But that’s just me. Hopefully this post will encourage everyone to be a little more open! 🙂

    April 26, 2015
  • Having worked on the brand side too, I find blog posts about “the definitive guide to disclosure” quite irking too, as they are more often than not wrong. I think the real issue is that there is so much misinformation being circulated that people genuinely don’t know what to do for the best. As far as I am aware its not the brand that get penalised if you don’t disclose as there is no proof that they have asked you not to. but with the ASA directly contravening Google’s guidelines I see how some bloggers get bamboozled. Its not right, of course, but I see how it happens.

    April 27, 2015
  • I completely agree with this, I had a friend tell me they wouldn’t disclose an event we both went to because it was an event and it would be obvious it was free but I think you have a responsibility to be a bit more clear than that. I don’t think blogging is comparable to other media where people expect everything to be gifted, so many of us blog as a hobby and even if ‘opinions are your own’, readers have a right to know that this isn’t something you bought yourself.

    April 27, 2015
  • Thanks for posting about this Amber. It drives me crazy and has totally put me off blogs. Generally, it seems, once someone goes full time/starts making significant money their ethics and ‘voice’ go out of the window. With few exceptions (yourself included of course) I just do not trust any ‘recommendations’ bloggers make.
    I am going to name and shame by far the worst I’ve seen- The Londoner, Rose Thomas. Dreadful.

    April 27, 2015
  • Erin


    I don’t blog, and I’m not into fashion. I found your blog a long time ago as a “SOMI” (Stay on my Internets) on GOMI. I’m sure this is not a popular site among this crowd, but I appreciate that the site has introduced me to several blogs I love. The reasons I read & follow your blog are your pictures, but more importantly your personality, good writing, and the fact that you DISCLOSE. One of my biggest problems with many bloggers is their obnoxious “unattainable” life. What people don’t realize is their lives aren’t really unattainable…if you’re willing to sell yourself. It’s nice to hear you say that you and Terry “couldn’t afford it.” I mean, obviously I wish you could have afforded it since you wanted to go, but the fact that you are so open and honest about that kind of thing is really refreshing. The bloggers (especially the big ones) that don’t disclose things and try and curate an enviable life make me bonkers. I find it really gross.

    tl/dr: I really appreciate your candor and think you’re doing things right.

    April 27, 2015
  • Beauty Bird


    Great post Amber. Unfortunately in cases like this so many of us will be clueless, but when you realise it almost makes you wonder if they have something to hide. I put more trust in the blogger/post/brand when they disclose – it doesn’t bother me at all if it is a sponsored thing or freebie. I’d just rather know the truth out of principle. “This post may contain a PR sample” also frustrates me – well does it or not!! xx

    April 29, 2015
  • Although non-disclosure of paid for content is illegal and unethical, it isn’t actually against ASA or OFT guidelines to not disclose a free sample or press trip. They make it explicitly clear that unless money has changed hands or the brand have editorial control, it doesn’t have to be declared. She hasn’t broken the law by not declaring a free trip, although in my opinion a simple ‘trip provided free of charge by XYZ for review purposes’ would have been ideal.

    I do think there’s a lot of misunderstanding around the rules and regulations – but we’re not governed in the same way as blogs in the US are right now. It boils down to trust and whether or not readers understand the relationship between brands and blogs; a freebie doesn’t mean they’ve bought your soul or you have to provide a glowing review. It’s so frustrating for the focus to be on what you got gifted rather than what you have to say.

    My issue is with these blogs that have a paid for placement in practically every piece of content, and it’s not easy to identify. YouTubers have come under fire and now pretty much every video is declared as ‘ad’ which just makes me cross. How can you figure out who’s paid to be there when there are about 100 different brands featured?!

    Yes many bloggers give us a bad name, but grouping together a free lipstick with a £5000 paid for video that hasn’t been declared is somewhat dangerous.

    May 1, 2015
  • The Londoner immediately sprang to mind & I see I’m not alone. I read her blog for a hot minute years ago then found the GOMI thread which was an education.

    I mentioned you as a SOMI a long time ago and have found some great blogs via GOMI.

    May 1, 2015
  • Hayley


    I’ve been asked by a few companies to not disclose and in turn I’ve just terminated the working relationship. I think its a bit shoddy. But its the big YouTubers not disclosing that gets me. Their audience is mostly teenage girls. My 13 year old sister didn’t even realise that Zoella made money off YouTube until I told her.
    Love Hayley,
    Water Painted Dreams

    May 1, 2015
  • Just to add to this thread – there is a really handy set of FAQs here:

    I was intrigued by Hayley’s comment that unless it’s both PAID for AND the brand has editorial control, it’s not considered advertising.


    May 5, 2015
      • I was at an event recently and they had a session with a woman speaking about the law in regards to vlogging/blogging. What we were told was that if you are paid for it you have to disclose it, if it has been given for free but they have any editorial control/want to approve the content then it has to be disclosed. From what I gathered the only time it is OK not to disclose it is if its free and they have no control over anything you write about it. It is all very confusing and in my opinion the best option is just to disclose every time for your own piece of mind and to keep the trust of your readers.

        June 26, 2015
  • Ashley


    This happens everywhere! It seems like almost everyone does that, from celebrities, bloggers, even agencies. Google “Xiaxue Gushcloud Expose”. She went the extra miles (1 year investigation to collect evidence etc) for exposing an agency who specifically asks their bloggers to lie about ads/sponsored posts and give inflated blog statistics.

    May 8, 2015
  • Is it international law or UK/European law?

    I think it’s really annoying when bloggers don’t acknowledge that they’ve been given things for free or paid to write something, and I think it’s another way they need to create trust with their readers. But I was super surprised to hear it’s the law!

    I know places like ModCloth require you to let readers know that you’re using an affiliate link.

    February 20, 2017