FAQ: Disclosures on the Lon.TV YouTube Channel

So lots of people ask why I’m now making these super long disclosures on the videos I make. The reason can be best summed up by watching this video:

The tl:dr is that I feel as though influencer marketing is broken. Too many reviewers on YouTube are not disclosing the fact that their videos were sometimes bought and paid for by ad agencies or brands. It’s ok to take advertising and endorse a product, but it’s not ok to hide the fact that compensation and/or free product was sent in exchange for the review. In the interest of making things more concise I have created this FAQ to better answer exactly what I’m going to do moving forward.

Why do you take so long to disclose things?

US law requires that I make these disclosures in the video itself, not the video description or anywhere else. If your favorite YouTuber is not making disclosures in their videos they should be.

I’m a subscriber and I’m tired of your disclaimers, can you stop or just run a ticker on screen?

No I can’t. I need to properly disclose things to be in compliance with the law. 85–90% of my monthly viewership does not come from subscribers so it’s important for people who have never seen one of my videos to know where I’m coming from and hear from me directly on it. Given how bad things have become in the industry I think an on-air read is more important to do vs. just running disclaimer text on screen. Other YouTubers should be doing the same.

Do you pay for everything you review on the channel?

While I purchase many of the products you see reviewed, some come in directly from brands or indirectly from a brand through the Amazon Vine program (see more on that below). My preference when accepting products from a brand is to have the product come in as a loaner that I can send back to the company when I am done with my review. Often, however, a company doesn’t want the product back. In those instances I will either integrate the product into my workflow on the channel, sell the product to help offset my production expenses, host a giveaway for viewers, or donate it to a local school. It will vary based on the item. When a company doesn’t want a product back I will tell you that in the video disclaimer.

Do you ever get products in to review ahead of their official release date?

Occasionally I do, yes. And when I review a product ahead of its release I will tell you that the company reached out to me to review it ahead of its official release. This is important to disclose because there are sometimes economic advantages to the channel when we’re given an opportunity to review a product early.

Are you paid for reviews?

No, I will not take money for a review. But I do produce sponsored posts for brands from time to time and I may appear on a brand’s channel or website talking about products I feel comfortable endorsing.

Tell me more about sponsored content!

I will disclose what posts are sponsored in the video itself and in its description. My YouTube thumbnail will also be dark green to separate it out from the yellow thumbnails that indicate the video is a review. Sponsorships usually involve a brand or agency paying and/or sending me product free of charge for the production of the video. You can see an example of a sponsored post here.

What is your criteria for accepting sponsorships?

It must be a product I feel comfortable recommending to others. If I am not comfortable with a product or think it stinks I won’t take their money. I’ve turned down many of these offers in the past and will continue to do so.

If you get something for free will you still call it a review?

I have thought a lot about this question. The answer is yes, it will be called a review so long as the brand is not directing input into my editorial process. If a brand asks for certain things to be in the video or requires a video be looked at prior to posting it’s no longer a review and will be labeled a sponsored post. When the yellow band is on the thumbnail and the video title is a review it means that nobody (except me of course) has provided editorial guidance.

Do you participate in affiliate marketing programs?

Yes. Affiliate marketing programs provide the channel compensation for sales driven by affiliate links that you will see in our video descriptions and sometimes in the video itself. If you click an affiliate link and purchase a product we receive a portion of the sale. These links will be labeled “affiliate link” or “compensated affiliate link.”

What is the Amazon Vine program?

Amazon Vine is how I got my start doing this! You can read more about the program here, but this is how it works: Amazon receives items that a brand wishes to be reviewed on the Amazon sales platform. Amazon offers it to reviewers who are members of the Vine program based on an algorithm.

I review the Vine items on Amazon’s site along with my YouTube video. There is no direct communication between the brand and me, and Amazon is the one doing the matchmaking. Amazon and the brand have no editorial control over what I post in the review.

Do you get to keep items from the Vine program?

Yes every item received through Vine is a keeper. I am required to hold onto the item for at least six months and then I am free to do what I want with it. It’s important to note that every item received through Vine is reported to the Internal Revenue Service in the United States and I am required to pay taxes on the value of the items. So there is a cost to participating in the program if I don’t donate the item to a charity (which is what I often do).

How do I join the Vine program?

Nobody knows how they got into the Vine program, myself included. Amazon says they look at your reviewer ranking and how engaged and helpful you’re being with other Amazon customers. So try that :).

Why should I believe you?

I can’t make you believe me. But I am making a very strong effort here to be up-front with viewers as to the nature of my business relationships. One of the challenges new media creates is that there is no longer a “firewall” between sales and editorial. I am the CEO, host, video editor, technical director, business manager, sales manager, and probably a few other things too. So I have established these guidelines for myself to follow until such time the channel is large enough for a sales department :).

Changes to this document since publication:

9/16/2023 – Updated the Vine language as I was recently invited back into the program.

4/27/2022 – Moved the document to my own server (away from Medium) and also updated the Amazon Vine language to indicate that I am no longer a member.

12/14/2020 — Added language about affiliate links & pre-release access to products for review. I also swapped out the old video embedded at the top with a more recent and relevant one.