The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), jointly with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), have published a new and improved version of their Influencers' guide, intended to provide greater clarity to influencers around ad labelling and how to make it clear in their posts that "adverts are adverts".
Need for clarity
Influencer marketing has a slightly chequered past.
The widespread media coverage of the Fyre Festival and the hit Netflix documentary that covered its unravelling brought influencer advertising into focus. A number of celebrities and influencers, including Kendall Jenner and Emily Ratajowski, were accused of misleading consumers by promoting the festival on Instagram when it was later revealed that they had been paid to make the posts.
Here in the UK, a CMA investigation in January 2019 into whether influencers were clearly disclosing paid-for endorsements led to sixteen social media stars, including Alexa Chung and Ellie Goulding, pledging to improve transparency in their social media posts by providing voluntary undertakings to the CMA to that effect.
An ASA survey conducted last year also found that many social media users still struggle to identify whether or not a post or story on Instagram or Facebook, is actually a paid promotion by a brand to an influencer. Hashtags such as '#sponsor' were found to be insufficient, and even 'platform labelling' – where online platforms label sponsored posts as such – were not clear enough for consumers to confidently identify an ad.
Following on from this, the ASA's new guide seeks to simplify the interpretation of the relevant rules and provide greater clarity to brands and influencers alike.
Key takeaways from the new guide
- Hashtag - Influencers should, as an absolute minimum, include a prominent label, such as "#Ad" in any advertising posts. Using hashtags like #Spon or #Sp to disclose a paid agreement with a brand is not adequate.
- Authenticity - Any label or other means used to alert consumers to advertising must be upfront (consumers should not have to click or engage with a social media post to learn whether it is an advertisement or not), prominent, appropriate for the channel and suitable for all potential devices (it needs to be clear on mobile devices and apps too).
- Control - if a brand is paying for a specific message posted on an influencer’s platform, it must be clearly marked as an #Ad. "Payment" is broadly construed - a commercial agreement between an influencer and brand extends beyond a financial payment and can also include gifts, services, trips and hotel stays.
- Enforcement - The CMA can take action against any influencer who breaches the rules where they have received payment for the advertising post. Influencers who accept editorial control by the brand (including what hashtags they use), must also ensure their advertising complies with the ASA's codes generally (the brand also retains responsibility for compliance). The ASA also enforces additional rules regarding adverts in the gambling, alcohol and dieting industries.
Advertising through influencers is an incredibly powerful forum and is only likely to increase and evolve in time. Indeed, we are already seeing more and more partnership agreements between brands and influencers than ever before.
This is a fast moving industry, and the ASA will have to continue to adapt and introduce new tools to ensure brands and influencers comply with consumer protection law. No doubt this will not be the last update to the guide.
At its core, both brands and influencers will know that authenticity is key to engaging with their followers and part of that is honestly and transparently letting them know when something is an advertisement.
The ASA has also published:
Other resources, including webinars and articles, are available on the ASA's dedicated influencer page.