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'Anything that counts as an ad should be clearly labelled as such.'' Guest post by Wura Sanusi of the Advertising Standards Authority
Wura Sanusi works at the Advertising Standards Authority as an Investigations Executive and has dealt with a number of cases looking at social media advertising. In her guest post, she helps demystify the confusion around influencer advertising.
If you have a question for the ASA, please post in the comments box below before 5pm on Friday 28 September. We'll send Wura up to 20 questions and post her answers below.
Posted on: Mon 24-Sep-18 16:45:29
(6 comments )
With the recent surge in influencer marketing we have been receiving an increased number of questions around what constitutes an ad, whether partnerships and gifts have to be disclosed, and how to label ads properly.
Why all the fuss?
Being transparent is key – consumers shouldn’t have to work out whether they’re being advertised to. We also appreciate that as parents, you’re concerned that the content your children might see online and on social media is easily identifiable as advertising. We hope this post clears up any concerns you yourself may have, in addition to talking to your children and teens about influencers that they follow featuring ads as part of their content.
Our guidelines are clear – anything that counts as an ad should be clearly labelled as such. The rules are in place to protect consumers and help maintain trust in advertising.
What counts as an ad?
When it comes to influencer advertising and what is classified as an ad, there are a few key things to bear in mind:
•If payment or payment in kind is involved; and
•Brand control – being told what to say in posts or videos, such as key messages to get across. (Editorial ‘control’ usually depends on the agreement between the influencer and the brand. As a rule of thumb, if an influencer isn’t completely free to do and say whatever they want, there could be some level of control).
Sponsorship arrangements, where a brand has paid for association with an influencer but has no control over the message, are not covered by our rules.
As parents, you're concerned that the content your children might see online and on social media isn't always labelled as advertising when it should be.
We aren’t prescriptive about labels, but recommend using #ad or similar to make it clear; in addition, this should be clearly positioned (i.e. does the viewer have to click ‘see more’ or scroll through paragraphs of text?). In our experience, people more easily understand the implications of #ad than of #sp or #spon. Using #sp or #gift can mean different things in different contexts - and if something is an advert, labelling it #spon is not acceptable.
A recent example where we’ve brought to task an influencer for not labelling ads sufficiently clearly is Louise Thompson, who did not label an Instagram stories post about a makeup brush as an ad.
What actually happens if someone complains about a post?
Once we’ve received a complaint and if we decide to investigate, we will contact the advertiser to inform them and we maintain contact throughout the process.
We monitor adverts proactively but also rely on complaints submitted via our website to determine whether adverts are legal, decent, honest and truthful. If an advertiser is found to have broken the rules, they must withdraw or amend the ad. If they’re unwilling or unable to work with us we can and will impose tougher sanctions which can include referring them to Trading Standards.
Our online resource library provides detail on different topics and we also offer a free copy advice service and e-learning modules. If podcasts are your thing, we recently launched one which goes behind the scenes of some of our rulings, where you an find out how we come to the decisions we do.
For more information:
By Wura Sanusi
Sponsored content in print publishing used to be called an 'advertorial'. This transparency should be standard across media.
Does product count as payment, and so define a review of said product as an ad?
(And if yes, do same rules apply to reviewers in mainstream outlets, who also recieve free products/services for review?)
Do some sponsorships or free gifts come under the fraud laws? At work we aren't allowed to accept a personal gift worth over a small amount of money (so e.g. a branded pen is OK), anything too valuable has to be turned down. So how do companies get away with, e.g. gifting a blogger a bag worth several hundred pounds? Surely that's bribing the blogger?
I would say anything that a blogger has received for free is an advert as they then promote it to their huge follower base. If they got it for free they need to clearly state it. They should also put any sponsored posts with #ad at the beginning of the post not hidden in amongst the other hashtags.
What's the position on sharing unique discount codes that can be used when a consumer makes a purchase? A brand will set up a discount code for the influencer to share with their followers and these are very often unique to that influencer. There is normally free product gifted to the influencer alongside the code. Do you consider this should be declared as an #ad even if the product received was marked as #gifted? Does the setting up of a unique promo code between company and influencer constitute "editorial control” and advertising.
Follow up - do you have any regulatory authority over affiliate link disclosure? Many influencers are using AF or AFF or AL to denote an affiliate link. What are the current guidelines on that?
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