Influencer Marketing – A whirlwind guide to Advertising Standards Compliance

by Emma Lourie

Tuesday, August 20th, 2019

Everything PR practitioners should know about working with influencers

Digital PR agency talks Advertising Standards Compliance

INFLUENCER marketing continues to grow extremely fast and will maximise its potential from ever-changing social media and modern technology opportunities.

With advertisement formats continually changing to reflect paid, sponsored and gifted content, there is no shortage of products for influencers to endorse and no shortage of new creative ways to share the message.

However, one significant problem that has surfaced over the past few years is the way influencers are engaging with their audience. There is often no clear distinction between whether the influencer’s ‘opinion’ is based on their actual feelings and when the communication is a brand-led endorsement… aka an ad.

It’s become really important that guidance is provided to make sure the public is aware if the influencer has been paid to endorse a brand or product. This helps to provide some level of transparency and authenticity by allowing the individual consuming the content to make an informed assessment of what they’re being presented with.

PR practitioners utilising influencers on behalf of a client must adhere to regulations and requirements from the following organisations:

  • The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – The self-regulatory organisation of the advertising industry in the United Kingdom
  • The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) – The CMA enforces consumer protection legislation which prohibits unfair commercial practices
  • The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) – The CAP maintains the UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing, to regulate non-broadcast marketing communications

Understanding the guidelines below will help to allow you, your client and the influencer to maximise the potential of Influencer Marketing in a transparent and compliant manner.

Digital PR agency talks Advertising Standards Compliance

According to the guidance by the ASA anything is considered advertorial if:

  • A brand has ‘paid’ or provided a form of compensation (i.e. freebies/gifts)
  • A brand has had editorial ‘control’ over the content

Both payment and control must be evident for advertorial classification to apply.

ASA require influencers to use clear labels such as ‘Ad’ ‘Gifted’ or ‘Sponsored’ to inform consumers that the endorsement has been ‘paid for’. If this isn’t clear, the post risks breaking the law.

If the influencer has been ‘paid’ (either in money or gifts/freebies) but it is not as part of an affiliate arrangement (when an influencer receives commission due to results directly from their content tracked via a unique affiliate link), and the brand doesn’t have any ‘control’ over what (or even if) the influencer posts, it’s unlikely that the content will count as advertising under the CAP Code.

The CMA state, similarly to the above, that influencers must adhere to the following:

  • Disclose when they have been paid, gifted or loaned items across all content
  • Be clear about a relationship with a brand or business (including previous relationships established)
  • Do not mislead their audience by suggesting they use a product they haven’t used or signifying they have bought something which was actually gifted

Digital PR agency talks Advertising Standards Compliance

All complaints received by the ASA are assessed for compliance with the advertising codes, with an investigation into the complaint to understand if further action is required. In an ideal situation, the content will be reviewed informally, working with the individual to resolve the situation by providing advice and guidance, with acknowledgement of wrongdoing in writing – this would be the end of the matter.

More serious complaints are managed differently. When a formal investigation is opened, the accused individual will have the opportunity to explain and defend their position with continual updates reported throughout. The ASA council will decide if there have been serious rules broken and publish all rulings online.

If the council deem the content problematic, it has to be changed or removed. Any non-compliance may be referred by the ASA to the CAP compliance team who may impose sanctions.

Sometimes, a rare case arises of an individual repeating the same mistake, which results in sanctions being applied.

One of the most persuasive and powerful sanctions is bad publicity. It’s very easy to damage an individual’s reputation by identifying them as someone who doesn’t adhere to the rules which are designed to protect consumers.

Digital PR agency talks Advertising Standards Compliance

It is the responsibility of all parties involved – the influencer, the PR professional and the client – to make sure the rules are being followed.

Each party should only work with those who are producing content that complies with the guidelines in order to minimise facilitating bad practice. The ASA will only act once there has been a complaint filed, so it’s up to us as professionals to demonstrate how good practice is executed and maintained.

Going forward, Advertising Standards bodies must become more agile to respond to the pace of evolution in media and technology. The way businesses engage with consumers now and in the future will be ever-changing and it’s important to have clear rules and regulations to protect consumers.

Influencer Marketing will continue to grow, evolve and develop in new directions and trusted Public Relations professionals will play a crucial role in making sure ethical practices and standards remain centrepiece to communication with target audiences.

For more information or expert advice click here –

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Emma Lourie is an Account Executive at Edinburgh Public Relations agency, Holyrood PR in Scotland

Emma Lourie

Account Executive, Emma Lourie, is a part of the award-winning PR agency, Holyrood PR - based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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