So, in the last few of weeks we have been bombarded with news stories on influencer marketing, indeed Panorama recently investigated this often-misunderstood area.  Social media influencers have so much power and brands are keen to tap into their following, but many influencers have not been clear when their content has been paid for, therefore misleading their thousands of followers.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has recently managed to secure formal commitments from 16 celebrities with massive online followings including Ellie Goulding and Rita Ora, ensuring that they will clearly state if they have been paid to endorse products; this is following an investigation into some of the most powerful influencers in the UK.

Andrea Coscelli, Chief Executive of the CMA, said: “Influencers can have a huge impact on what their fans decide to buy. People could, quite rightly, feel misled if what they thought was a recommendation from someone they admired turns out to be a marketing ploy.

“You should be able to tell as soon as you look at a post if there is some form of payment or reward involved, so you can decide whether something is really worth spending your hard-earned money on.

“The enforcement action taken by the CMA has seen a number of social media stars pledge to be more transparent when posting online. It also sends a clear message to all influencers, brands and businesses that they must be open and clear with their followers. We will also continue our work to secure more improvement in this space.”

Just what makes a social media post an advert and how should we be telling our followers such?

For a post to be considered an advert on an influencers social channels and therefore be labelled as such there must be two things:

  1. – this can be literal payment for a post or endorsement or can take the form of a gift or loan of a product.  Any sort of commercial relationship with the brand such as being a Brand Ambassador or given products, gifts, services, trips, hotel stays etc. for free, are all likely to qualify as a payment.
  2. – this can be as simple as asking the influencer to use certain #’s, phrases or themes in a post, to asking them to post at certain times of day, or days of the week; or the most obvious one, where the brand has approval of the content and ability to change the way it looks or is worded.

It is not an either-or situation, there must be both, payment and control for a post to be considered an advert.

If there is payment and no control, then this would be considered sponsorship and should also be disclosed as sponsorship by the influencer so as not to mislead.  This may be as simple as saying that they have been sent this gift, or they are a Brand Ambassador or using #sponsorship for instance.

So how should influencers declare that a post is an advert?

As the CMA has said this must be obvious from the outset and not a #AD hidden at the end of a post.  The influencer could use the following words: Advert Advertising, Advertisement, Advertisement feature as either #’s at the start of the #’s or as a clear banner added to the post.

Posts that appear directly on a brands social pages are clearly advertising the brand and are considered obvious from the outset, they are not misleading anyone as long as the channel is obviously owned by the brand being promoted.  There is no need to declare that this is advertising in each post.

It is worth checking what you are doing as a brand currently and making sure you are in-line with the CMA and ASA’s rules on this subject.  Although we have tried to make it simple and clear what is required the ASA has produced a useful presentation along with a helpful flow chart, so that you can check you are complying with the law.