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Influencer Marketing: To Advertise or Not to Advertise?




From Wedgwood’s tea set promoted by King George III, to Coca-Cola's Santa and, not to forget, Coco Channel’s dominance in the fashion world, influencer marketing has existed since the dawn of time. It has expanded rapidly in recent years, taking the concept of ‘word of mouth’ to new heights. Influencer marketing is expected to grow to be worth $13.8 billion in 2021, compared to $1.7 billion in 2016. It refers to a marketing strategy involving endorsements and product placements from influencers, who usually have expert knowledge or social influence within a specific field. For example, a make-up influencer may endorse make-up products of a certain brand by using the products in their upcoming videos. However, there have also been a new range of problems 

 

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) regulates adverts in the UK and has found that many influencers are still breaking consumer and advertising laws. The biggest issue is when an influencer talks about a brand, it isn’t always self-evident whether they are expressing their own independent opinion or whether they are advertising the brand. Users need this transparency so that they are able to make informed judgments about the commercial intent behind the influencer’s content.  

 

Some of the CAP Code rules include: 


  • Marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as such (e.g. labelling as ‘#ad’)
  • Marketing communications must not falsely claim or imply that the marketer is acting as a consumer… must make clear their commercial intent
  • Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so

An ASA report focused on Instagram, the social media platform with the most advert complaints, finding that nearly ¼ of 24,000 stories were categorised as marketing and only 35% of those stories were correctly labelled. Some main issues had been about the visibility of adverts. For example, labels disclosing themselves as an ‘ad’ are often in small font or the label ‘#ad’ becomes lost in a sea of other hashtags. Charlotte Dawson’s Instagram account was banned for failing to disclose that her promotion of BPerfect make-up products were ads. Additionally, she used filters to exaggerate the benefits of these products.  

 

In response to this ongoing rule-breaking, in June 2021the ASA launched a non-compliance website that will name influencers who have broken the rules repeatedly. Currently, this is what the list looks like: 

 


 


Named influencers will be on this list for 3 months and will be subject to a period of enhanced monitoring. As a more extreme measure, should influencers on this list continue to break rules, then the ASA could work together with social media platforms to remove their content as well as implement a fine. It is yet to be seen how effective of a deterrent this ‘name and shame’ list will be. Nevertheless, brands may think twice before working alongside an influencer on this list, being weary of reputational damage and associations with non-compliance.  

 

Another much more contentious issue has been weight loss products or diet pill adverts. Both Instagram and Facebook have tried to clamp down on ‘miracle’ diets and weight loss products in 2019Meanwhile, as of July 2021, Pinterest was the first (and, currently, only) social media platform to ban these types of adverts completely. Pinterest explained that it developed this policy alongside guidance from the National Eating Disorders Association. Pinterest’s policy seems to be very broad and merciless for such promoters. For example, any reference to BMI or any products which claim weight loss are completely banned.  

 

The ASA stepped in by banning Katie Price, Georgia Harrison and Lauren Goodger’s uploads promoting ‘miracle’ diet products. For instance, Lauren Goodger was criticised as being Photoshopped to look ‘artificially thin’ and encouraging her followers to believe it was ‘necessary and advisable’ for people who were already slim to use appetite suppressants.