Table of contents
- Blogs as marketing channels
- Legal regulations and legal praxis
- Applying the rules
- What do an enterprise and a professional blogger need to consider when marketing in a blog?
1. Blogs as marketing channels
Companies use blogs of different topics as marketing channels. The marketing methods vary considerably; companies sign cooperation agreements with bloggers, ask permission in advance to send product samples, or send them without asking. A blogger can also actively acquire advertisements for the blog, for instance through the advertising networks on the internet, or through affiliate marketing.
The keeper of the blog might be committed to evaluating the product or service that he or she has received - in return for a fee, or can freely decide whether or not to write about the received benefit at all.
The methods of marketing can therefore vary considerably, but a company usually has the goal to get the product or service mentioned in the blog for purposes of marketing. A blogger, meanwhile, can earn money with advertising and get free gifts from those he or she cooperates with.
2. Legal regulations and legal praxis
According to Chapter 1, Section 1 of the Consumer Protection Act, the legislation applies to the availability, sale, and other marketing of consumer goods, by businesses to consumers. The law is also applied when the trader passes on goods to consumers.
According to Chapter 1, Section 5 of the Consumer Protection Act, a trader is referred to in the legislation as a natural person or private or public legal person who, in order to obtain income or other economic benefit, deals in, sells, or otherwise offers consumer goods or services for consideration on a professional basis.
According to Chapter 2, Section 4 of the Consumer Protection Act, marketing shall clearly indicate its commercial purpose and the party on whose behalf the marketing is carried out. In the preamble to the regulations (Govt. Proposal 194/2001), Section 4 applies to marketing in general, regardless of what tools are used for the marketing. According to the section in question, marketing must clearly indicate its commercial nature. The recognisability and the ease with which advertising and other marketing can be distinguished from editorial material, for instance, is currently a legal requirement under the general clause of Chapter 1. In this respect, the new section does not change the legal state in this respect.
Marketing must also indicate who has commissioned the marketing. This requirement is also linked with the recognisability and openness of marketing. The purpose is to indicate, among other things, that material which seems independent, but which is commercially sponsored in reality, should also reveal the sponsor in question. Chapter 2, Section 4 of the Consumer Protection Act, does not require that, for instance, an advertisement that is clearly recognisable as a commercial communication, should specifically state the name of who commissioned the advertising. The marketer often is revealed on the basis of the content of the advertisement - that is, from the product or activity that is advertised.
One of the cases in which the Market Court has dealt with the recognisability of advertising was its ruling 1994:17. The publications of a company had been set up to resemble edited publications, and not all readers could immediately tell that the publications almost exclusively contained commercial material presenting products marketed by the company. Marketing claims in the form of accounts by private individuals and statements by experts, which would not immediately be identified as marketing claims, were seen to be inappropriate marketing from the con- sumers' point of view. According to the decision, an advertisement must be recognisable as an advertisement immediately without having to become more closely acquainted with it.
According to journalists' guidelines issued by the Council for Mass Media in Finland, the boundary between advertising and editorial material must be kept clear, and hidden advertising must be rejected. One of the times that the Council has handled hidden advertising was in its decision 4527/TV/11, where it is noted that the website of a television company had articles that looked like news items in the midst of clearly commercial material. Their purpose was to support an advertiser's commercial message, and to use journalistic means to add credibility to the advertiser's message. The Council for Mass Media felt that the television company was in violation of good journalistic practice.
3. Applying the rules
The marketing regulations of the Consumer Protection Act are binding on a trader – that is, an entity that engages in entrepreneurial activity.
The concept of marketing is a wide one. It refers to all commercial communications aimed at promoting sales of a product or service. A trader can market his or her product also via consumers by having the consumers recommending the product to others.
A trader who seeks to advertise a product through either a professional or amateur blog is obligated to obey all legal regulations in his or her activities. In practice this means that a company has met its obligations with respect to the recognisability of the advertising when it has instructed a blogger to act in such a way that no hidden advertising is practiced.
A blogger can also have a company in which the blog is part of the operations. In such a situation the writer must see to it that the advertising is recognisable according to the stipulations of the Consumer Protection Act.
The keeper of the blog can also be a consumer, for whom blogging is a hobby and not a means of livelihood. In such a case, the activity cannot be evaluated on the basis of the Consumer Protection Act, but in spite of this, the blogger would do well to take the rules on the recognisability of advertising into consideration, because the reader cannot otherwise avoid hidden advertising.
4. What do an enterprise and a professional blogger need to consider when marketing in a blog?
A company can have a blog of its own on its website, containing recipes, using the company's products, for instance. In such a case the blog must clearly state that the blog is maintained by the company. A company must not recruit its employees to advertise its products in any connec- tion in the guise of a private individual.
Companies can have different forms of cooperation with bloggers. There is not always an agreement on actual cooperation. Instead, a company might send its products or invitations to various events to a blogger in the hope that they might be written about in the blog. The company's aim, nevertheless, is generally to get recognition for the product or service in the blog for the purpose of marketing.
Products can be advertised through blogs in different ways. When using separate advertising banners, the recognisability of advertising is usually put in jeopardy, as they are clearly distinguished from editorial content, and there is rarely any doubt about who the advertiser is. However when a blogger evaluates a product, service, or other benefit that he or she has received or acquired in the blog, the reader cannot know if this is a sponsored opinion - advertising - or if it is the writer's own opinion that has been formed without any particular benefits, unless this is clearly expressed.
The marketing methods can therefore differ considerably, but the advertiser of a product always has full responsibility for his or her actions and the marketing methods that he or she has used. It is the obligation of an enterprise to make sure that the commercial intent of advertising comes out, and that no hidden advertising takes place. This means that marketing must stand out from editorial content in such a way that the reader will know when commercial influence is involved.
A hobbyist blogger is not directly bound by consumer legislation or journalists' instructions, but a company that advertises is nevertheless responsible for compliance with the law when marketing through his or her blog. A blogger who recommends a product, service, or other gratuitous benefits received from an enterprise, is, in fact, engaging in marketing on behalf of the company, even though the blogger would not be obligated to discuss the product in his or her blog. For this reason, a company that sends products to bloggers, hoping that positive reviews might be written about them, should instruct the blogger to act in such a way that cooperation or receiving gratuitous benefits should be disclosed openly in connection with the posting.
The topic of the blog has no bearing on the matter; the same requirements apply to all types of blogs, regardless of whether or not the theme is fashion, construction, or literature.
Advertising must be recognisable as advertising at first glance without closer examination. A blogger can be given the following kinds of instructions:
A cooperation agreement is disclosed on the front page of the blog, or in some other unambiguous manner, e.g.
in cooperation with company X /product X or
sponsored by company X / product X
The aforementioned method can also be used when a blogger gets remuneration for adding a link to his or her post to the company's online store or tells through the Kiosked logo, for instance, where the product can be bought.
In addition, evaluation of a product should include, in parentheses or with a ✱-footnote:
received via the blog from company X or
I got the product as a gift/for free/for evaluation/on loan from company X or
the product has been evaluated in cooperation with company X
Vague expressions, such as "some of the products have been received via the blog", or "product x dropped through my mailbox" should not be used because the reader cannot know on the basis of that information if it involves advertising or not.
When writing about a product, a reference to the company that markets it must be made each time that the product is mentioned, or if it is otherwise significantly connected to the post. Having mentioned it in a previous post is not sufficient.