Who: The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)
Where: United Kingdom
When: 9 August 2023
Law stated as at: 14 September 2023
Influencer marketing has grown dramatically over the last six years and the industry is now worth a projected $15 billion. With 84% of the UK population as active social media users, it is clear to see why brands are making the most of influencer marketing. However, this has led to several influencers encountering issues relating to advertising rules and regulation.
The ASA has been tackling ad disclosure for some time now and there have been several high-profile ASA rulings that have established case law and set strict parameters for influencers, advertisers and agencies. The main issue relates to influencers collaborating with companies or brands and being unclear when their posts are adverts, which often results in misleading followers and breaching advertising rules.
The ASA has put together guidance for influencers, which highlights the requirement in the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing for ads to be “obviously identifiable” as advertising. It should be quick and easy for individuals to identify that content is an ad. Most influencers deal with this by a clear, prominent, upfront and timely #ad label. While the ASA cannot make this label obligatory, it is now seen as a widely accepted way of disclosing that a post is an advert.
Ad disclosure rules are particularly important in the social media context in which most influencer marketing takes place. On social media channels, paid posts are typically mixed together with other content, ultimately blurring the lines between what is paid-for content and what is not. For example, native advertising (when a post looks the same as the content surrounding it) makes it difficult for followers to differentiate between genuine content and paid-for content. Furthermore, people live fast-paced lives and tend to scroll through social media at speed, therefore it can be difficult to analyse whether content is an advert. We also tend to follow influencers whose views we align with or have an interest in, therefore this increased trust in influencer content can make it harder to spot advertising.
The ASA commissioned some consumer research, which suggests that individuals typically struggle to spot influencer advertising. Even when content included indicative signs such as a discount code, only one third of 18-64 year olds exposed to influencer adverts were able to identify the content as an ad. Therefore, it is clear that there is potential for consumers to be misled if a recognisable label is not being used.
The ASA and the Competition and Markets Authority have worked hard over the last few years to provide influencers with clear guidance on these rules, increase public relations activity on this topic and train influencers, advertisers and agencies alike. This has helped raise awareness of the #ad disclosure label, which has become synonymous with influencer marketing. This work will be ongoing to ensure that influencers are provided with the right tools and guidance to comply with advertising rules.
Why this matters:
Influencers, advertisers and agencies need to understand the vital importance of ad disclosure and ensure that advertising is instantly clear. If influencers receive payment or any other incentive from a brand, they will need to make it clear that content is advertising and label sufficiently. No one should ever be in doubt!
These ad disclosure rules are also linked to the law, which prohibits businesses from paying to use editorial content to promote its goods and services without clearly identifying that it is an advert. Therefore, it is even more important that influencers understand how to comply.