You’d have to be living on Mars not to have noticed the stratospheric global rise of ‘the influencer’ as a new job title. According to the Digital Marketing Institute, 49% of consumers depend on influencer recommendations, and with some influencers costing less than £500 per post for a customer reach of approximately 500k, it’s no wonder that brands are looking to social media platforms for their marketing. However, the lines between what is an honest review and what is a paid-for post are being blurred – and the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) is not happy.
In its online Influencer Guide the ASA aims to educate both brands and influencers on the correct way to use social media marketing. The guidelines give advice on everything from identifying promoted content, how to properly declare an ad to what to avoid if you don’t want to incur its wrath.
What the ASA says…
When it comes to influencer marketing there are different ways to work. The ASA has tackled four distinct digital marketing approaches:
This is when a brand books paid-for ad space on an influencer’s social channels or blogs. The brand can have full control over the content or allow the influencer to take the reins. But according to the ASA, if an influencer has been paid with money or gifts for a post (regardless of the brand’s control), it still counts as an advertisement.
If an influencer includes a discount code for a brand, which means they earn money every time someone buys something using that code, this is known as affiliate marketing. These posts still need to be identified as advertisements if the entire content is about the affiliate-linked products.
An influencer who is under contract to be a spokesperson for a brand (both online and in person at events), including consistent promotion via their social media channels for an agreed period of time, is known as a brand ambassador. Even if the influencer’s followers are acutely aware of their ambassador work, the ASA says that each post featuring this particular brand is declared as an advertisement.
If an influencer has been paid with free products (known as ‘gifting’) but this is not part of an agreement with the brand (where the brand has control of what is posted, i.e. approving the post or controlling all content), this is considered to be sponsorship. The ASA is less likely to pursue complaints about content of this nature.
Genuine review or paid-for opinion?
The distinction can be made by the addition of one small word: ad (or #ad). By using #ad at the beginning of a post, the influencer is declaring that the promotional content has been paid for and directed by the brand (or its representing agency), even if the influencer’s own language and opinions are also used. Another way that influencers are declaring their ads is by including “paid partnership with…” at the top of their posts (typically on Instagram), which actively alerts the reader to the fact that they are viewing paid content. This is highly favoured by both influencers and brands as it highlights an ongoing partnership, rather than a one-off promotion.
In the past hashtags like #spon or #sp have been used to flag when an influencer has been paid as part of an affiliate arrangement but is expressing their own opinion about a product. But the ASA now recommends avoiding this route – fearing it’s not obvious enough. Therefore #spon is only appropriate in a sponsorship post where the influencer is under no obligation to post, but they have been gifted an item and feel moved to share their thoughts.
However, we can’t assume that all undeclared brand posts are not paid for in some way. Celebrities-turned-influencers such as Louise Thompson, Millie Mackintosh and Olivia Buckland have all come under fire from the ASA with claims they’d misled followers with promo posts that had unclear declarations – such as only tagging the brand in the image. As under-contract ambassadors they have not always felt the need to declare every post as an ad. The ASA was not impressed.
The importance of insights and clarity
Experience tells us that influencer marketing is a fantastic tool when used properly and professionally. Our Mapper® Influencer methodology enables us to match the perfect influencer to our clients’ brands. We create successful campaigns by analysing beyond the follower count and looking into influence, location, and interests. And that, coupled with skilful influencer management, really works – we have the campaign stats to prove it.
Such great results mean that this is not a marketing element that is going to disappear anytime soon, so we welcome improved guidelines for putting it into practice. It can only be better for brands and consumers when the status of paid-for relationships is transparent for all to see.
Four Engage uses unique Mapper360® technology to uncover data to help identify, classify and target high-value audiences to deliver effective, data-driven content. Our successful influencer campaigns span sectors as diverse as food, travel and health. For more information contact Kath Ludlow here.