UK regulators launch new guidance to help social influencers stick to the rules by making clear when their posts are ads.


Today regulators responsible for overseeing influencer marketing in the UK have launched a new guide to help social influencers stick to the rules by making clear when their posts are ads.

The Influencer’s Guide has been developed in collaboration between the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).

It’s an online resource that aims to help all parties involved in influencer marketing follow the rules. The guide includes:

  • What the rules are
  • What the Advertising Standards Authority considers to be an ad
  • How to make clear ads are ads
  • What the CMA’s requirements are
  • What happens if someone makes a complaint about a post to the ASA

New guide helps influencer marketers be clear when posts are ads

Increased scrutiny of influencer marketing content

There is mounting talk within influencer marketing about disclosure regulations - particularly about stricter laws. UK regulations are not getting stricter. However, there is increased scrutiny by regulators of sponsored influencer content. This affects brands, influencers and media agencies who must all abide by existing regulations.

The most recent figures from the ASA, reveal there were 1,824 complaints about content on social networking sites in 2016, up 193% from 622 in 2012.

This new guide comes in response to calls from influencers, brands and media agencies for clearer, more accessible guidance.

Clearly marking ads

Under the CAP Code ads ‘must be obviously identifiable as such’. This means that consumers should be able to recognise that something is an ad, without having to click or otherwise interact with it. Since it needs to be ‘obvious’, consumers shouldn’t have to work too hard to figure it out.

Ultimately, if it’s not obvious from the context that something’s an ad, more needs to be done with the content to make this clear.

At the moment the ASA likes labels that tell it how it is:

  • Ad
  • Advert
  • Advertising
  • Advertisement
  • Ad/Advertising/
  • Advertisement Feature

The ASA is not so keen on other admarks and labels. It will always depend on the wider content and context, but the new Influencer’s Guide recommends that brands, influencers and media agencies steer clear from the following labels:

  • Sponsorship
  • Sponsored content
  • Spon
  • #Spon
  • #Sp
  • In association with
  • Thanks to [brand] for making this possible
  • Just @ mentioning the brand

The guide explains that these admarks are riskier because they fail to tell the full story and don’t go quite far enough to make it obvious that it’s advertising.

Key Takeaway

Ads ‘must be obviously identifiable as such'. You need to make it obvious – any label (or other means) you use to highlight the ad needs to be upfront (before people click/engage), prominent (so people notice it), appropriate for the channel (what can you see and when?) and suitable for all potential devices (it needs to be clear on mobile too!). 

An ad or affiliate marketing?

There are a few different ways in which something you post could count as ‘advertising’ and fall under the rules in the CAP Code. The guide details the rules around advertising via affiliate marketing. This is where you are effectively acting as a secondary advertiser.

It’s affiliate marketing when your content promotes particular products or services and contains a hyperlink or discount code that means you get paid for every ‘clickthrough’ or sale that can be tracked back to your content, this counts as advertising.

However if, as an influencer, you work with a brand to create some content that you’ll be posting on your own channels, it’ll qualify as an ad if the brand ‘paid’ you in some way. This could be a payment via freebies; it doesn’t have to be money. It will qualify as an ad too if the brand had some form of editorial ‘control’ over the content, including final approval.

Money is not the only payment

Obviously, if you’re paid a specified amount of money to create and/or post a particular piece of content, this counts as ‘payment’. However, the guide points out that If you have any sort of commercial relationship with the brand this is all likely to qualify as ‘a payment [or other reciprocal arrangement]’.

Commercial relationships with the brand include:

  • Being paid to be an ambassador
  • Being gifted products, presents, services, trips, hotel stays etc. for free

What counts as ‘control’ for advertorial content?

Whether or not a brand has ‘control’ over an influencer’s post will usually depend on the agreement you have with them. As a rule of thumb, if you weren’t completely free to do and say whatever you wanted whenever you wanted, then there could have been some level of editorial ‘control’ by the brand.

If you’ve been ‘paid’ (either in money or in gifts/freebies), but it isn’t as part of an affiliate arrangement and the brand doesn’t have any ‘control’ of what (or even if) you post, it’s unlikely that the content will count as advertising under the CAP Code. That said this does not mean you are exempt from regulations. The CMA expects influencers to disclose when they’ve received any form of monetary payment, a loan of a product or service, any incentive and/or commission or have been given the product they’re posting about for free.

The influences guide also includes a useful infographic flow chart. It captures how to check whether your post is an ad and whether you need to label it.

New flow chart withing the Influencer's Guide helps influencer marketers be clear when posts are ads

UK watchdogs have been sharpening their teeth recently banning ads from several high-profile influencers. Made in Chelsea star, Louise Thompson was forced to apologise for breaching advertorial rules with an influencer marketing post twice in as many months.

Last month the CMA launched an investigation into whether influencers are properly declaring when they have been paid, or otherwise rewarded, to endorse goods or services.

Download the Influencer’s Guide

You can download the new Influencer’s Guide here.

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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