There's nothing new about laws around adverts and sponsored content but the UK's Competition and Markets Authority has helpfully recently clarified the relevant rules around social media advertising in an "Influencer's Guide to making clear that ads are ads".
In a world where more and more influencers are being paid to promote products and services, and companies use this as a strategic marketing channel, this is certainly a welcome move from the CMA. Influencers don't exactly go pouring through statutes while taking a break from doing yoga on a paddleboard in an infinity pool overlooking the Maldives.
I joined Instagram two years ago because I didn't want to be that person who floods their friends' Facebook news feeds with annoying dog content. I felt Insta was a more appropriate channel to chronicle the life of my adorable dachshund, Mildred, and would force me to narrow down the best of the 20k+ photos I have stored on the cloud of her on various adventures (ok, mainly sleeping).
Little did I know back then that my little sausage child Mildred, despite her inability to read, write or talk (I still have high hopes #pushymother), would carve out a career of her own and require me to consult lawyers and accountants. With 35,000 followers and counting, she is having a bad day if a photo receives anything less than a thousand likes. This puts Mildred/me into the category of a "microinfluencer" and we therefore receive regular enquiries from brands and their PR agencies looking to collaborate and push their products out to our audience. I obviously try to select the most relevant opportunities and go for products we believe in; I am conscious we have a loyal bunch of followers who do actually go and buy these products off the back of sponsored posts. It's crucial to maintain their trust and to be seen as credible.
I've received many a brand brief though which doesn't mention a single thing about the legal requirement to declare that a picture is paid for content. Thanks to my colleagues and from working on pitches to clients, I now know better than to sell perpetual rights to my images and that I need to disclose sponsored posts in a clear way. However, not so many social media influencers are as lucky as I am to be surrounded by a host of experts in advertising law and IP on a daily basis.
The general gist is to make it obvious that the post is an ad upfront. Leading with a hashtag like #ad #advert #advertising #advertisement is to the liking of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Consumers need to understand that what they're seeing has been 'paid for'.
Burying the detail in a long list of hashtags though will not cut it. #sausagedogcentral #cutedog #dogsofinstagram #dogsoflondon #canyouspotthisisanad #minidachshund #dachshundsarecute #animalsandco #dachshundappreciation #sp #ilovemydog
Of course, this is only the start and there are plenty other things to consider in addition to labelling. Perhaps the CMA might consider an Instagram ad campaign themselves to get the word out about this new guide! Mildred is happy to help on a pro bono basis.
In collaboration with the Competition and Markets Authority, the Influencer’s Guide explains what the relevant rules are around social media advertising, what the ASA considers to be an ad, how to disclose a post is an advert, what the CMA’s requirements are and what happens if someone complains to the ASA about a post on social media. It is illegal for brands or individuals to post sponsored content - which is most influencers’ main source of income - without disclosing it.