23rd October 2019

The challenges of labelling influencer advertising

By Matthew Pryke

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 in one of our recent articles, ‘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.

The challenges of labelling influencer advertising

Have a question? Contact Matthew

Have a question? Contact Matthew


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