Ever wondered why your favourite travel blogger is suddenly harping on about the benefits of a certain detox tea? Or a fitness influencer only wears a certain brand of leggings – which they mention in every post?
Yes, sponsored content is very much the norm on social media nowadays – we’re as used to seeing #spon and #ad tags as we are sunsets and avocado toast.
In collaboration with the Competition and Markets Authority, the Influencer’s Guide explains what the relevant rules are around social media advertising, what the ASA considers to be an ad, how to disclose a post is an advert, what the CMA’s requirements are and what happens if someone complains to the ASA about a post on social media.
It is illegal for brands or individuals to post sponsored content – which is most influencers’ main source of income – without disclosing it.
If an individual has been paid or given a freebie by a brand, and said brand has had either input into what content is posted or approval before publishing, that counts as an advert and needs to be disclosed as such.
Under the CAP Code, ads “must be obviously identifiable as such.” This means consumers shouldn’t have to work hard to figure out a post is an ad.
This can be done by adding labels such as “ad,” “advertising” or “advert.”
The guide recommends avoiding use of terms and phrases such as “spon,” “in association with” or “thanks to [brand] for making this possible,” as this isn’t entirely clear.
The new guidelines follow the announcement by the CMA of an investigation it’s launching following concerns that influencers weren’t declaring when they’d been paid for content.
This is problematic because fans of influencers and celebrities who have millions of followers often look to these social media stars for recommendations for where to go on holiday, what to eat and what to buy.
“If they do not label their posts properly, fans or followers may be led to believe that an endorsement represents the star’s own view, rather than a paid-for promotion,” the CMA says.
“They are then more likely to place trust in that product, as they think it has been recommended by someone they admire. They might not do so, however, if it was made clear that the brands featured have paid, or in some other way rewarded, the celebrity in return for endorsement.”
The ASA points out that they have in the past banned a number of influencer posts for failing to make clear they were ads, including those by reality TV stars Louise Thompson, Millie Mackintosh and Marnie Simpson.
However, studies suggest that disclosing when content is sponsored has very little effect on an influencer’s engagement.
In fact, research found that sponsored content is engaged with equally in comparison to non-sponsored content.
“Responsible influencer marketing involves being upfront and clear with the audience, so people are not confused or misled and know when they’re being advertised to,” said Shahriar Coupal, CAP Director.
“The relationship between influencers and their followers relies on trust and authenticity, so transparency is in the interests of all parties.”