BIG Partnership shares the latest influencer insights from the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP), the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and the Content Marketing Association (CMA) from their Influencing Responsibly training event in London last week.

Having worked on influencer marketing campaigns since my intern year in fashion PR (way back in 2012), I’ve witnessed first-hand how the industry has transformed itself from an unregulated addition to the public relations offering to a viable and quantifiable method of strategic brand marketing in its own right.

The Instagram influencer marketing sector alone was valued at $1.7 billion earlier this year and with that figure set to hit $2.3 billion by 2020, it proves the sector is clearly an effective marketing tool – no matter how many people eye-roll when they hear the word ‘influencer’.

While the numbers show that brands embracing the golden age of influencer marketing are on the rise, the number of posts that still aren’t compliant with advertising standards are also on the rise, with the likes of ASA, CAP and CMA enforcing necessary measures to protect consumers from dishonest and irresponsible influencer ads.

Let’s focus on honesty for now.

As with traditional advertising, influencer marketing communications must:

  • Be obviously identifiable as such;
  • Marketers and publishers themselves must make clear that advertorials are marketing comms by heading them appropriately e.g. #AD

It’s not as easy as classifying an advert as being paid content, as there are multiple methods of payment that warrant full disclosure and transparency. Any commercial relationship with a brand is an advertisement;

  • Paid to be a brand ambassador?
  • Gifted products and/or services?
  • Complimentary trips, holidays, hotel stays, meals?
  • Are you an affiliate?
  • Does a brand have any editorial control of your content?
  • Posting about your own brand on your own channel, but the relationship isn’t clear?

As will come as a surprise to very few, above are all advertising in one form or another and need to be disclosed with #AD, otherwise influencers are misleading audiences by appearing as a genuine consumer of a brand, when really that isn’t the case.

It doesn’t stop there though, if an influencer features a brand of their own volition BUT has had a commercial relationship with the brand within the last year, they still need to disclose that to their audience.

Sounds simple, yes?

Well BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours programme conducted research at the end of 2018, finding that on average 82% of people thought it wasn’t always clear when an influencer was being paid to promote a brand.

Who’s at fault?

This is the fault of both brands and influencers really;

  • Naughty brands and PRs have been known to specifically ask for non-disclosure, so the influencer appears as being a genuine customer, which isn’t on and is against advertising regulations
  • Influencers can be guilty of not knowing the rules of their industry, but let’s face it, if you’re taking payment, you should know what’s legal and what’s not when it comes to advertising to your audience
  • Influencers and their management teams may not want to appear as though they/their client is a modern day Del Boy and happy to flog anything *cough* Geordie Shore cast *cough*

Up there with not disclosing a commercial relationship, is hiding it in the comment section, amongst numerous other hashtags or at the bottom of a post caption or blog post. This also breaks the rules. All disclosure MUST appear without audiences having to take any action to further engage with a post, for instance, expanding the caption or clicking onto the comments.

This sort of behaviour comes across as deceptive which, in an industry where authenticity is a high-value currency, is a ridiculous move, especially given;

  • A YouGov survey found 89% of people agreed celebrities and influencers should make it clear when content is a paid advertisement;
  • A BBC survey found only 48% of people believe social media influencers only promote products they like

How to prevent dishonest influencer marketing?

So, what should brands and PRs do to ensure they don’t land themselves in the murky underworld of dishonest influencer marketing?

  • Keep records of those to whom you’ve sent freebies and payments – the ASA can ask for these records should you fall outside of the regulations;
  • Monitor influencer posts and check that disclosure is being made. If it isn’t, get in touch and push for this to be rectified;
  • Provide clear instruction that influencers you work with must conform to ASA guidelines and outline the top-level rules and regulations – at the very least send a link to their webpage;
  • All contracts should include disclosure as a term.

To save yourself time, you can get away with skim reading the above by reading this one-line summary;

If it was paid for in money or in kind, it needs to state #AD at the start/top of the post

Need help with your influencer strategy? Get in touch with us today.

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