On the 23rd March, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in conjunction with the CMA and CAP updated their guidance for influencers across all social platforms.
Why is this interesting? Well as the old saying goes; ‘Regulation trails innovation’, so there’s an element of catch-up. Moreover, what we’ve seen here is a lot more clarity and definition.
This may be due in part to the recent appointment of the Influencer Marketing Trade Body to CAP (the first new member in over 10 years), or market reports showing rapid increases in Influencer Marketing spend. Either way, clearer guidelines are a good thing.
In our opinion the updated guidance still leans more in the direction of Instagram and Facebook text posts, but there has clearly been more focus applied to video posts this time around.
Dealing with the biggest updates first, let’s look at; a) what content qualifies as an ad, and b) what you now have to do about it.
Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs) is the mechanism that makes unfair commercial practices illegal. This is dealt with extensively on page 5 of the guidance, but broadly…
The guidance states:
Payment received should be pretty obvious to all of us, but the update deals with the grey area of incentives much more effectively on pages 6 and 7…
This includes if you are given products, services, trips, hotel stays, event invites, loans, leases, rentals, or shares etc. for free (whether requested or unsolicited).
It doesn’t matter if the brand provides these with no obligation to post, it still qualifies as ‘payment’ and needs to be disclosed.
Ambassador programs and affiliate links are a little more complicated, so we’ll come back to that in another post.
OK, so now it’s clearer that the content is advertising, what’s changed regarding declarations to audiences?
From the guidance:
This is where we would like to see more detail from the ASA.
It’s now clear the ASA and CMA want a minimum of #AD at the beginning of the posts’ text title (more about labels in a sec), but that may not be practical or sufficient in live streams or long-form VOD, or if clips or short-form derived content are shared without the upfront declaration.
Hopefully we will see additional guidance for social video content later, but for now the content creator and the brand still need to ensure declarations have proximity to the advertised content, making it clear whom the commercial relationship is with and for what product or service.
So in the case of a Twitch livestream, the expectation appears to be; #AD at the beginning of the title, a declaration when the sponsored content is started, i.e. when that game category is selected, or when the brand, product or service is first talked about, then further declarations to inform new viewers joining the stream. Yeah. Not easy. But not impossible.
The ASA and CMA expect the following…
They both advise AGAINST using labels or hashtags including…
… Or any other abbreviations or words that consumers are unlikely to be familiar with.
So there we have it. We’re all going to be hearing #AD a lot more.
We would still like to see clearer specifications for video content regarding onscreen text disclosures, like how big in relation to the screen, where to place (to avoid ad overlays), how often and for how long, what contrasting colours are acceptable, etc.
There’s also an outstanding question of whether existing advertising content up to 12-months old needs to be updated, but we’re still trying to unpack what the implications of that are for the day-to-day of Influencer Marketing.
Overall, as we said, more clarity is a good thing. Time now to see what the other regulators say and do.