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Advertising Rules and Online Influencers – Is it an Ad?

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United Kingdom

Increasing use of influencers to promote products makes it more difficult to distinguish between advertiser controlled content, sponsored content and an influencer's own editorial content. The ASA today announced the launch of a study into people's ability to recognise the difference and what is necessary to correctly label content.

Today, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has launched a study into people's ability to recognise online ads for what they are – ads. This will include looking at how online ads are labelled and whether people understand when content is intended to promote a product or brand. The study will have a particular focus on the growing relationship between advertisers and social media influencers, where people can be most unaware that they're being advertised to.

What is the issue?

Adverts must already be clearly labelled as adverts and the ASA has upheld a number of rulings against advertisers and online influencers where the content is not obviously identifiable as a marketing communication. The ASA has required advertisers to take steps such as including "#ad" within the post as an identifier. On sites such as Instagram, you will also now see "paid partnership with…" or "sponsored", to further ensure that consumers are not mislead.

However, there are additional concerns that the ASA wants to better understand and address. For example, whether such methods of identifying ads are sufficiently visible? It's also important to understand the extent to which people believe the content is still that of the influencer, or whether the advertiser has editorial control.

What is needed?

The ASA has issued a call for evidence to assist with its study and would most welcome evidence on:

  • what level and type of commercial influence over editorial content people expect to be informed about, through an ad label or other identifier;
  • how people interpret specific labels and the extent to which wording, placement, visibility and style might impact on people’s ability to identify an ad;
  • the extent to which people may differ in their ability to identify ads: including whether some groups are more or less likely able to distinguish advertising from non-advertising content and the reasons for that; and
  • current practices for the labelling of online ads, including national and international examples.

What next?

This ongoing issue will be at the forefront of the ASA's considerations on future rulings and so advertisers, social media influencers and online publishers should make sure that their content complies with the existing rules within the CAP Code on recognition of marketing communications (rules 2.1 and 2.4).

By not doing so, such content could potentially be misleading the consumer and damaging consumer trust in advertising.

For more information on this topic, please contact Sonal Patel Oliva or your usual contact within Fieldfisher's Brand Development Team.

Co-authored by Alex Harbin.

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