80% of influencers across Europe are failing to declare adverts as adverts. Clearly much needs to be done by the whole influencer marketing value chain - that should start with greater transparency within this report.

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Last October I brought you the news that the European Commission, along with consumer protection authorities, were launching a sweep on creator content (Creator Briefing #122).

Well, the results from this spot-check are in and, they’re uncomfortable reading for our industry. 

Some key findings from the sweep

  • 97% published posts with commercial content, but only 20% systematically disclosed this as advertising;
  • 38% of them did not use the platform labels that serve to disclose commercial content, such as the “paid partnership” toggle on Instagram, on the contrary, these influencers opted for different wording, such as “collaboration” (16%), “partnership” (15%) or generic thanks to the partner brand (11%,);
  • 40% of influencers endorsed their own products, services, or brands. 60% of those did not consistently, or at all, disclose advertising;

Clearly, there is much work to be done to bring regulation awareness and ultimately compliance to this space within Europe.

The results don't fully explain the methodology, though. This is problematic. We now know the sample size, but not the breakdown by country or by industry sector. Are the French worse offenders than the Romanians? Are beauty influencers more careless about ad regs than fitness creators? Knowing such details would help target awareness building and compliance. 

We know the size of the following of influencers but not which band was most likely to break the rules.

Digging into the numbers:

  • Content from 576 influencers published on major social media platforms were checked
  • 82 influencers had over 1 million followers
  • 301 over 100,000 
  • 73 between 5,000 and 100,000. 

It is not clear whether the follower counts combine audiences across all platforms where the influencer posts. I suspect it is a combination. How does each social media platform fare in terms of compliance efforts? All but four of the selected influencers posted to Instagram. Were they ad-compliant there but not on, say YouTube? How can the influencer marketing value chain self improve without better understanding specifics around where the faults lie?

Breakdown of the social media platforms where the selected influencers published content

  • 572 influencers had Instagram posts
  • 334 on TikTok
  • 224 on YouTube
  • 202 on Facebook
  • 82 on X (formerly Twitter)
  • 52 on Snapchat
  • 28 on Twitch
  • The main sectors of activity concerned are, in decreasing order, fashion, lifestyle, beauty, food, travel and fitness/sport. 

    119 influencers were considered to be promoting unhealthy or hazardous activities, such as junk food, alcoholic beverages, medical or aesthetic treatments, gambling, or financial services such as crypto trading. 


    Sampling methodology

    It’s not clear how the list of 576 influencers was compiled. For context, in 2021 the UK's ad regulator, the Advertising Standards Authority, released findings from an influencer monitoring exercise. The ASA reviewed the Instagram accounts of 122 UK-based influencers. Crucially "Influencers were primarily chosen on the basis of having been previously contacted about non-disclosure of advertising by the ASA, either in response to a complaint or via our self-initiated, proactive engagements with them on the matter".  It is not clear on what sampling basis this recent EC sweep was conducted.


    Size of sample

    A sample of 576 influencers across 24 countries is a sample size of 24 influencers per region which seems limiting at best; nonrepresentative at worst.

    I found some of the pull-out stats confusing, too:

    “Only 20% systematically disclosed this as advertising” whilst also “40% of the checked influencers made the disclosure visible during the entire commercial communication.”


    Platform disclosure tools

    A key statistic used in the sweep report says: "38% of them [influencers] did not use the platform labels that serve to disclose commercial content, such as the “paid partnership”"

    As far as I’m aware influencers are not mandated to use the platform disclosure features i.e. Instagram’s “paid partnership” - rather they need only ensure their adverts are obviously identifiable as adverts.


    Still much to be done

    Still, there remains much work to be done. The work will be swifter if practitioners can work alongside advertisers, creators and regulators to better understand the details behind the issues to protect consumers from online harms. 

    There, too, is an irony that this sweep - an initiative designed to make influencers more transparent to their audiences - is not so transparent with the details of its findings.

    This article is an extract from this week's Creator Briefing newsletter. Sign up here to receive weekly updates on the creator economy.

    Scott Guthrie is a professional adviser within the influencer marketing industry. He is an event speaker, university guest lecturer, media commentator on influencer marketing and active blogger. He works with brands, agencies and platforms to achieve meaningful results from influencer marketing. That tells you something about him but it's not giving you a lot of detail, is it? So, read more here.

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