Yesterday’s ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) report on influencers highlights that over a three-week period, 65% of the Instagram stories monitored (over 15,000 stories) were not clearly labelled and identified as advertising content (as required by the CAP Code).

This ASA report has put influencers promoting products on social media back under the spotlight as so many have failed to meet the compliance standards required. The headlines focus on the fact influencers may be named and shamed if they don’t comply, but what does this mean for the brands and retailers that build campaigns around these partnerships?

 

The background

The code requires that any paid for advertising is clearly labelled with #ad or similar and social media companies have introduced tools to allow brands to advertise more transparently on their platforms, such as through the “Paid partnership” tag on Instagram. For a while, it did seem that celebrities and influencers were using the ad hashtag, after a few high-profile mistakes, but this has clearly fallen off the radar in recent times, at the same time as massive growth in this form of advertising.

The main issue is the huge disconnect between the ASA focus on protecting consumers from subliminal advertising and the influencer’s priority of maintaining an “authentic” image that is not tainted by sponsorship. The appeal of these social media pages is that they give followers an insight into the “real” life of the influencer or celebrity, which is aspirational and which many followers will want to emulate. If the followers realise that the content is only being promoted due to the financial relationship with the advertised brand, the content will naturally lose some of its appeal. In turn, this can lead to the influencer losing followers and this diminishes their appeal for other brands. It’s a bit of a vicious circle.

 

What does it mean for brands and retailers?

In the early days, big brands worked very closely with any talent representing their brand to ensure that the content they pushed out set the right tone and was compliant. Brands have moved away from this with influencers, most likely due to the push by influencers to maintain control of their channels and their image. In turn, brands have likely left responsibility for compliance with the influencer, which is not always the best move. Brands should consider doing their own due diligence on an influencer’s track record for compliance as part of their partnership campaign planning.

 

Brands have a lot to lose by picking the wrong influencer and falling foul of the CAP Code. Consumers often put a lot of trust in the accounts they follow and if they feel they have been misled or manipulated, they will quickly switch off from the influencer and the brand. It can be very difficult to come back from online setbacks as numerous brands have shown; but well targeted campaign can be hugely successful. Over the coming months, expect to see more collaboration and guidance from brands with influencers to make sure they hit the right mark. But if the media spotlight moves on to something else, you can expect to see these practices slipping back in.

 

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