I’m often asked what the rules are governing promotional activities carried out by influencers, whether a hired-in celebrity or members of staff or partner firms. Until recently the guidance has been quite vague, but some recent publications from the ASA and CMA have clarified things a bit, at least here in the UK.
Back in September, the UK’s advertising regulator, the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority), issued a publication entitled “An Influencer’s Guide to making clear that ads are ads”. Their guidelines spell out that any communications in ‘paid-for ad space’ (like banner ads or PPC search results) count as advertising. So far, so obvious… But the ASA also went on to specify that:
“If you’re posting about your own products/services; e.g., products you sell and events you’re running etc., then this also counts as advertising – even on your own personal channels.”ASA, September 2018
Many marketers have turned a convenient blind eye to communications pushed out by colleagues and other employees on behalf of the firm. Some actively encourage staff to discretely rebroadcast brand messages. But few have properly understood that these are effectively adverts and should be managed with the same scrutiny and transparency as, say, a TV ad.
Furthermore, anyone who works with brands and publishes content on their own channels should recognise that their content becomes an advert if:
(1) they have been paid in some way (money or perks or gifts or freebies)
(2) the brand had some form of editorial control over the content
This ‘advertorial’ content type encapsulates most modern forms of influencer marketing, meaning that their content is now routinely treated as advertising by the regulator.
So, if your content is considered to be an advert, what additional steps must you take before it can be published?
Firstly, and most importantly, the content must be obviously identifiable as an ad wherever it appears. The ASA recommends prominently featuring words like Ad, Advert, Advertising, Advertisement or Advertising Feature alongside the content. Alternatives like #sponsored, #spon or trite statements like “Thanks to [brand] for making this possible” are not considered to make it obviously identifiable that the content is actually an ad.
And, of course, anything that’s an ad must also stand up to close scrutiny by being fair, substantiable and legal (e.g. not for age-restricted products like alcohol or breaching any other guideline in the relevant Code of Advertising Practice).
The CMA (Competition & Markets Authority) issued further guidance last month which includes some helpful advice to help brands and influencers stay on the right side of the law. They provided examples of insufficient transparency including:
- Tagging a gift from a brand in in either the text, picture and/or video of a post without additional disclosure
- Product placement where there is an associated (and undisclosed) payment or other incentive
- Disclosing the a commercial affiliation only on an influencer’s front, home or profile page (it must appear against every ad)
Complying with the CAP is far easier than many marketers and influencers sometimes think. Be sure to read through the guidance word by word and act on it immediately and constantly.
Making it blindingly clear what is and what isn’t an advert means much more than simply complying with some rules. It’s a powerful way of showing the world that you have the customer’s best interests at heart and have chosen to operate with highest ethical standards and transparency.