As the popularity of blogging is constantly growing, utilizing blogs as a company’s marketing channel is likewise on the rise. Being an extremely cost-effective way of marketing, advertising in blogs has become an essential part of consumer marketing for many companies. In contrary to many other countries where blog advertising is strictly regulated, Finland has until recently lacked clear regulation, and bloggers have been able to advertise products on their sites without specific guidelines. Blog marketing has previously only been covered by general restrictions under marketing laws that e.g. forbid subliminal advertising and require that readers know when the content (e.g. an endorsement) is the blogger’s personal point of view and when it is an advertisement paid by a company. Based on this, the Finnish Consumer Ombudsman recently found it necessary to introduce new detailed rules for advertising in blogs.
The new rules are regarded important as especially young readers face a lot of subliminal advertising. Furthermore, young bloggers to whom companies send product gifts may mistakenly think that they have an obligation to write about the products they receive and may fail to disclose that they received the products from a company free of charge.
It is legal for a blogger to accept payment or other compensation for advertising a product for a company. It is also perfectly acceptable for companies to send products to bloggers in the hope of the blogger mentioning the products in a positive light in their blogs. However, the blogger should make it clear if there is a commercial connection.
According to the Finnish Consumer Protection Act marketing shall clearly indicate its commercial purpose and the party on whose behalf the marketing is carried out. The provision applies to marketing in general, regardless of the type of marketing, but the rules apply differently for professional and amateur bloggers.
The regulations of the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) are binding on an entity that engages in entrepreneurial activity. If a blogger has a company in which the blog is part of the operations, the writer must ensure that the marketing is in accordance with the Consumer Protection Act (professional blogger). The rules are not binding on private persons, who blog as a hobby (amateur bloggers). Regardless of this, the Consumer Ombudsman advises amateurs to consider the regulations on recognizable advertising, so that readers won’t be exposed to subliminal advertising.
An entrepreneur (company) who advertises a product through a blog is obligated to obey the regulations of the Consumer Protection Act. In practice this means, that a company has met its obligations when it has instructed the blogger to act in a way that no subliminal advertising is practiced. This is of key importance when companies are marketing through an amateur blogger, as the responsibility to obey the regulations of the CPA lies on the company. The topic of the blog has no bearing on the matter, as the same regulations apply on every type of blog.
If a company has its own blog on its website, the blog must clearly state that the blog is maintained by the company. Employees of a company are not allowed to market the company’s products in any media by pretending to be private individuals.
According to the Guidelines for Journalist given by the Council for Mass Media in Finland, the line between notifications and editorial material must be clear and subliminal advertising must be prevented. Therefore it’s allowable to advertise products in a blog e.g. in separate advertising banners. When a blogger reviews products, services or other benefits in their blog, the reader must know whether this is the bloggers own opinion or sponsored content. Marketing must stand out from editorial content so clearly that the reader can identify commercial influence. To sum up: transparency is the key also in advertising in blogs.
by: Liina Laiso, Associate at Lexia Attorneys Ltd.