What’s the Deal With Sponsored Content?

This blog is mostly about style for short(er) men. But sometimes I like to pull back the curtain and give you a glimpse into the business of blogging.

That's why I wrote a post about how I make money blogging, and that's why I publish income reports.

Jerry Seinfeld what's the deal meme

…with sponsored content?!

Whether or not you've read those posts, you're probably aware that many bloggers generate revenue by publishing “sponsored content”.

But what is sponsored content? What's the difference between a sponsored post, a review, an advertorial and a plain old advertisement?

And how do you know when content has been paid for?

These are important questions. Most websites have a mix of non-sponsored content and sponsored content, and it's increasingly unclear which is which.

As consumers, we want objective information. When we're reading a product review, for example, we hope that the reviewer is being honest. We hope their opinion hasn't been bought with marketing dollars.

The goal of this post is to explain what sponsored is on this site (this isn't a universal definition).

I'll also explain why I work with sponsors and how I choose them.

Why am I doing this?

Because I want you to know exactly where I'm coming from, and I want you to feel totally comfortable with all of the content on The Modest Man (most of which is not sponsored).

Why talk about this now?

Because TMM has grown, and sponsored content has become a bigger part of the business. And every time I publish a sponsored article or video, I get at least some negative feedback.

YouTube comment

I get comments like this almost every day (although most aren't nearly as polite).

Most of it is just standard trolling (internet anonymity brings out the worst in all of us), but I believe some of it comes from people being genuinely uncertain about what they're reading or watching.

This is important because you – reader, customer, fan, partner, peer – are my number one priority. And I would never want to betray your trust.

Got it? Let's do this!

What Is Sponsored Content?

It's any piece of content – from a blog post to a YouTube video to a Tweet – that a company or individual was paid to publish.

Here's the litmus test:

Would that content exist if money hadn't changed hands?

If the answer is no, it's definitely sponsored.

Do Publishers Have to Disclose This?

Legally speaking, yes. According to Federal Trade Commission, publishers are required by law to disclose any “material connection” to a brand. Even a one sentence Tweet should include the hashtag #sponsored or #ad.

The FTC gives publishers detailed guidelines about how, when and where to disclose this info. Basically, they want it to be as clear as possible.

They don't want you (the reader) to have to scroll past the actual content or read the fine print on some other page to figure out that the post you just read was sponsored.

Sponsored post disclosure

An example of a sponsorship disclosure on TMM

That's why I put my disclosures just below the post title and intro paragraph, in a grey box where you can't miss them.

Does Everyone Follow These Laws?

No. Many, many publishers do not.

I think many smaller bloggers simply don't know about these rules. After all, the FTC probably isn't going to come after a style blogger because they didn't disclose that the jeans they just recommended on Instagram were sent to them for free.

What's worse, many big publishers – who definitely know the law – hide their disclosures in order to blend their paid content in with their non-paid content. This is sometimes called native advertising, and it's not cool, man.

Is Sponsored Content Bad?

No. It's not inherently bad. Many sites (including this one) publish sponsored content in a tasteful, respectful way. I try to do this by:

#1: Being VERY selective about who to partner with

Right now (mid-2017), I get about 2-3 pitches per day. Most of them are terrible. Here are a few recent examples of pitches (requests for promotion) from PR agencies:

PR email example 1 PR email example 2 PR email example 3

I might end up working with 1 out of every 50 potential advertising partners.

#2: Trying out the products first to make sure they're a good fit

If you're reading one of my sponsored reviews, that means I've had the product in my hands for at least a few weeks (possibly a few months or longer).

I've talked to the company via email or over the phone. With smaller brands, I'm usually able to get to know the owner a little before creating any content.

If the company doesn't seem legitimate, or the products just don't work (which is often the case), I simply turn down the opportunity.

Not a good fit

Most products don't make the cut. After all, as you know, most clothes don't fit well on the shorter body type. I can't promote something that doesn't fit us modest men, right?!

With other types of products, such as grooming products, I usually test them out on myself to see if they work.

Not a good fit

This heavily promoted Dazzle Pro home whitening kit didn't work AT ALL for me (which is why you didn't see it show up on the blog or YT channel).

If, for example, a teeth whitening kit doesn't make my teeth noticeably whiter, there's no way I'm going to tell you to buy it – no matter how much the brand is willing to pay for your attention.

The point is, I'm not just promoting anything companies will pay me to promote. If that were the case, I'd be writing this post from much bigger house with a sweet pool in the backyard.

#3: Maintaining 100% control over the actual content

Many brands offer to help bloggers create their sponsored post. This sort of “article” can be classified as an advertorial.

I prefer to produce the content and photos myself, when possible, although I will sometimes use photos provided by the brand.

Most sponsors want to see the post or video they paid for before it goes live, which I think is fair. But I try to make sure they know that I will only correct legitimate inaccuracies (if I stated the wrong facts about their company, for example).

I don't give anyone else final editorial say, and I think this is the case with most independent bloggers and YouTubers.

Why I Publish Sponsored Posts

Here's the bottom line: sponsors allow me to do what I do best, which is teaching shorter gents how to dress well.

Almost everything I create is free, from blog posts to videos to the Dress Taller ebook.

In the future, maybe I'll be able to make a living without sponsored content. But for now, I will continue to work with paid sponsors.

My goal is to create helpful content, regardless of whether or not it's sponsored. And please know that I owe any success I've had with TMM to you, and I really appreciate you!

What do you think about sponsored content? Leave a comment below!

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  1. Hey Brock,

    It makes complete sense. We can’t all just do everything for free out of the goodness of our hearts, because we all need money to live.

    In the case of sponsored content, it doesn’t even make sense why people are upset about it because they’re not being forced to purchase anything. It baffles me you felt the need to dedicate an entire blog post explaining why you post sponsored content.

    Perhaps I could understand a generally frustrated person who’s tired of having people constantly trying to sell them stuff, but once again, we all need money to live.

    I also don’t like the argument that because someone posted something sponsored, it loses legitimacy. “Oh, they’re being paid for this. I should take it with a grain of salt.” While I understand that some people advertise or do nasty things for money, it doesn’t mean every transaction involving money loses legitimacy. If so, then what even is the point of business? If a person has good knowledge, good products, good services, they have every right to sell said goods in exchange for money. It’s just economics.

    Thanks for the good work you do.

  2. As long as it’s identified as such and that you do actually recommend the brand, I think it’s fine. I just posted my first in a long time. But I’ve been wearing the brand for decades and believe in the quality, longevity and style of the company’s product. I, too, pass on 99% of what is pitched to me. If it doesn’t fit my ideas, doesn’t work, or is just plain not on target, it doesn’t get posted.

  3. Well put Brock. I think that the problem that most people would have with any organization/person is the lack of transparency. No one wants to misplace their trust only to find out that they’ve been tricked later on. Thanks for keeping it real and keep up the work on the podcast too

  4. David Oliver says:

    I appreciate you posting and sharing this. I like the way you do things. I feel like some other people have sold out and do it just for the money. One person I was following made a lot of videos that I enjoyed. Then he got someone backing him and things seem to change. He now puts out a video everyday and they are all sponsored. It is just a commercial basically. I stopped following him and watching them because it seemed too pushy and reaching….who can I get to give me money and I will make a video. I even sent him a message and told him how it made me feel, but he did not respond. It seems that too much is overwhelming and a turn off. There has to be a balance. I understand you need to make money, and a big way to do that is through sponsoring. But like you said if it is something you would use, or think would work for others that is good…otherwise it is a sells pitch.

  5. Hey Brock,

    Thanks for explaining sponsored content! I think your approach to all this is the main reason why you only have high quality posts and videos. Please keep this up!


  6. gentlemanwithin says:

    haters gonna hate! Keep doin’ you Brock.

  7. This is why I follow your blog. You have no problem with transparency. I personally have no problem with sponsored content as long as its done the way you do it: Retain control and try the product out yourself for a while.

  8. jacquestaillefer71 says:

    I respect you before, now even more so. Your integrity is what keeps me following your work. I am positive I am not alone.

  9. I got the same pitch from North Sails and Kaufmann Mercantile! HA. Keep up the good fight Brock.

  10. Great advice! Love the trust and transparency man.

  11. Jennifer says:

    Thank you for your transparency. I will always be a lone woman of a modest man following you.

  12. I tried to buy the ebook but payment didn’t go through. Also Chrome warned me that Gumroad payment popup windows was not using a secure (I think it means encrypted HTTPS) connection.I tried PayPal then but when I read that Gumroad would save my credit card (at least I understood that) I declined to go further. Kindly suggests using other payment gateway. Great work.

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