This article was co-written by Hugo Cox, a paralegal in the Commercial and Tech team.
A fundamental principle of advertising regulation is consumers should be able to tell when they are being advertised to. The phenomenon of ‘influencers’ presents a particular challenge. Influencers are individuals with huge followings on social media who plug products, sometimes for a fee.
This development has led to a series of rulings by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and last year a new guide, ‘An Influencer’s Guide to making clear that ads are ads’, explained by Alexandra Cooke in her article, ‘New guidance for influencers and brands: when is an ad an ad?’ In essence, the rules require the inclusion of a clear label which indicates influencer content is advertising.
ASA has now published a report, ‘The Labelling of Influencer Advertising’, examining whether its current approach to influencers is correct. The report reviewed existing evidence and carried out its own Ipsos Mori research.
The report confirmed ASA’s approach towards labelling, but highlighted its limitations, as expressed here in 2 key findings:
- Labels which are clearly visible and well understood do raise the likelihood of people positively identifying material as However, a significant percentage of participants in the public opinion research were not able to identify influencer advertising posts as “definitely an ad” even where the ASA’s current position on labelling is followed. These low levels of recognition were also found in the wider academic literature.
- The findings demonstrate the ASA’s current approach of requiring a suitably prominent reference to #ad (or similar) is necessary as a minimum. However, the findings also present questions about what other factors might assist people in identifying content as advertising which will require further consideration.
In the Ipsos Mori research, 1901 people were shown social media posts and asked if they thought they were adverts or not. They were shown direct advertising by brands, posts which were not adverts and influencer adverts. Also, in order to test the effectiveness of different types of labelling, different participants were shown the same post with different versions of the label (e.g. #ad compared to #advert, or labels in the text compared with labels reversed out of the photos).
Understanding of advertising and the effectiveness of labelling was limited. No more than 66% of participants identified the direct advertising by brands as definitely adverts. Conversely, for posts which were not ads, up to 10% believed they definitely were adverts.
Where the survey improved on the original influencer labelling, although the percentage of those who identified it as definitely advertising increased, this percentage rose from an average of 32% for the original posts to 41% for the most improved version.
In practical terms, the report does not change the ASA’s rules: influencers must include a clearly displayed #ad tag or similar. Nevertheless, the report illustrates the close attention being paid to influencer advertising by the ASA. This high level of scrutiny is being matched by the Competition and Markets Authority, which also regulates advertising and has in recent months been taking steps to ensure influencers comply with the law.
Infuencer advertising may be hard for consumers to spot, but it certainly isn’t slipping under the radar of the regulators.
If you would like further advice or information on any aspect of this article, please contact Matthew Pryke, who regularly advises brands, entrepreneurs, influencers and well-known individuals on advertising compliance and a variety of commercial matters.