Last week, we announced some changes to the way we deal with influencer ad identification complaints and an updated version of the Influencers AdHelp Information. These changes come following a review of our process since the release of the Influencers AdHelp Information in September 2020.
We have had over 200 complaints and enquiries following the release, and many of these have been in relation to labelling of influencer ad content. In this article, we cover how the new process affects the way the ASA deals with a complaint, and take a deep dive into recent Complaints Board rulings to cover the basics do’s and don’ts of influencer advertising.
Am I an influencer?
You may be surprised to learn that the ASA’s definition of an influencer is not based on your number of followers. When it comes to applying the Advertising Standards Codes, the ASA uses the term “influencer” to describe people who have influence over the choice or behaviour of their followers – regardless of their audience size. If a person has access to an audience for their own organic content, and ad content they can generate income from (including free products and services), they may be an influencer.
When do I need to label my content?
The Influencers AdHelp Information sets out that all ad content must be easily identifiable by consumers at their first interaction with the content. This is particularly important in a social media feed where advertising content is integrated with organic content. Consumers must be able to tell when an influencer is posting ad content in order to make an informed decision about the products or services being advertised.
The ASA has a broad definition of advertising – any message, the content of which is controlled directly or indirectly by the advertiser, expressed in any language and communicated in any medium with the intent to influence the choice, opinion or behaviour of those to whom it is addressed.
When considering if your post is ad content, it’s important to think about the intent behind the post. If the advertiser is using an influencer to promote their products or services, it is ad content. If an influencer is posting about a product or service with any form of direct or indirect control from the advertiser, or it is in return for some form of payment, it is ad content.
If an influencer has purchased a product themselves, and has no other commercial relationship with the brand, it is unlikely to be considered advertising. However, if an influencer has an ongoing commercial relationship with a brand, such as a paid ambassador role, all posts that include the products or services related to the advertiser should be labelled, even if they have not tagged or mentioned the brand within the post. When an influencer is advertising their own products or services on their own personal page the ad content must be labelled. For more information and examples of when content may be considered advertising, view the Influencers AdHelp Information on the ASA website.
How do I label my ad content?
It’s a frequent misconception that all influencer ad content must include the label AD or #AD. This is not the case – influencers and advertisers are able to choose a means of identifying their ad content that best suits their content. The ASA requires that consumers should be able to understand from their first interaction with content that it is advertising – without having to click on, or further engage with, the content. This can be done in a number of ways – through using the paid partnership tools on the social media platform used, clearly showing within the post that the content is advertising, or by choosing to use a label. The ASA recommends the labels “Ad”, “Advert” or “Advertisement” with or without hashtags, as the clearest way of labelling ad content. This reflects the outcomes of consumer research conducted by the UK ASA. The Influencers AdHelp Information outlines the key requirements of label placement to ensure they are up front, prominent and understood by consumers.
Common mistakes with labels
Since the release of the Influencers AdHelp, we have seen a number of complaints regarding insufficient ad identification on influencer ad content. Some of the most common issues are outlined below.
Ad content must be identified before consumers interact further with the content. If a consumer needs to click on, listen with sound, or watch a story or swipe through photos before realising a post is an ad, this content is unlikely to be sufficiently identified.
Ad content must be identified on each post or segment of a story. The Complaints Board recently Upheld a complaint regarding an influencer who posted a series of stories on a range of activewear. The influencer spoke throughout the clips about the features and benefits of the products, with a caption included on the final segment of the story. The Complaints Board said this content was not sufficiently identified and noted that consumers may interact with the stories with the sound off, meaning a label was the most obvious way to identify the content as advertising.
Content featuring gifted products must be identified as advertising. When an influencer is gifted products and includes content featuring them, this content must be identified as advertising.
Influencers must disclose content as advertising if they have an on-going relationship with the brand. If an influencer is posting content for which they are a paid ambassador, salesperson, or receive affiliate discounts, this is considered advertising and should be disclosed as such.
New Report an Ad Process
Given the significant number of complaints the ASA receive regarding ad identification issues, the new “Report an Influencer Ad Identification Breach” process has been launched to deal with this workload. Consumers who are concerned an influencer is not sufficiently identifying their content are encouraged to report them on the new form on the ASA’s website. The ASA will prioritise reports where a pattern of behaviour is apparent and multiple examples of possible breaches are provided.
Influencers and Advertisers will then be provided the opportunity to respond to the report, explain why the content is not advertising, or settle the matter by amending or removing the advertisement. The outcome of these cases will be reported on a fortnightly basis on the ASA website.
The new process is exclusively for ad identification issues on influencer content. All complaints regarding the content of an ad, including the pictures used within an ad, will be processed through the ASA complaints process.
Need more information?
The ASA website contains a range of information on influencer ad content. Click here to view the updated Influencers AdHelp Information and a free webinar on influencer advertising. More information on the identification of advertisements is available through the ASA’s Guidance Note on Identification of Advertisements.
To support responsible advertising, the ASA runs the AdHelp Information Service, a user-pays service for advertisers, agencies and media with questions regarding advertising compliance. From general queries to questions regarding technical aspects of the Code, AdHelp can assist in guiding advertisers through Code interpretation and minimise the risk of offence.
For any further queries, please contact the ASA team at firstname.lastname@example.org.