Through hard work and long hours you’ve amassed an enviable following online. Be it for streaming competitive games on Twitch, a vegan YouTube channel with a healthy amount of subscribers, or you’re #doingitforthegram with Instagram fashion posts. If this describes you, you may need to double-check your content to make sure you don’t come into the crosshairs of advertising regulators.
Research has shown that many of us are increasingly turning away from traditional adverts with obvious sales messages. Nowhere is this more clearly shown than in recent estimates that 12.2 million people in the UK will use ad blocker software at least monthly in 2018.
As a result, advertisers and marketers are consciously looking for other ways to market their brands by working ‘influencers’ as an alternative to traditional advertising.
Get this right and you could enjoy a lucrative relationship with a brand owner which can both provide new income and enhance your own brand.
Get it wrong and risk facing legal action from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) or Competition and Marketing Authority (CMA) and, arguably most importantly, losing the trust and respect of your followers.
Firstly you’ll need to know if any content you upload (regardless of what medium you use) complies with any legal requirements for advertisements.
The ASA has recently published guidance specifically targeted towards ‘influencers’. This can be accessed here.
In short, if you work with a brand to create content that you’ll be posting to your own followers, the post will be an advert if:
The CAP Code states that all advertisements must be ‘obviously identifiable as such’. This is the most common pitfall facing non-traditional advertised content.
You must make advertised content immediately clear to the average consumer on viewing the post. Adding #ad, #advert or #sponsored in the description is one way, provided it is not hidden in a cluster of hashtags. The CMA has stated that using #spon or #gifted is simply not clear enough.
Using a hashtag is not the only way to make sponsored or paid for content immediately obvious. Much will depend on your chosen medium and how you communicate with your followers. But how you approach the subject of making an ‘informed’ consumer aware of advertised content remains a vital editorial decision.
If you are concerned that you might not have satisfied your legal obligations to your followers, you should seek legal advice.
The ASA can take action if it receives just one complaint from a consumer. If it finds content that it decides should be labelled as an advert but isn’t, it can publish a ruling on its ‘wall of shame’ and request the advert be removed. (It goes without saying that if your sponsor paid you for a specific post, which is then forcibly removed, this is unlikely to go down well!)If the CMA gets involved, it has stronger powers to fine and even imprison those who repeatedly breach their obligations to consumers.
Chances are that if you have a significant online following, you will have come across sites offering (for a fee) to boost comments on your posts or increase your following count.
Making your adverts transparent, not misleading and keeping your profile free of automated bots is just the first step.
If any of your content includes the promotion of age restricted products such as gambling or alcohol; food or supplements; or if you are running your own prize giveaways, there are many other additional requirements that you should seek advice on.
Failure to do so may result in misleading your audience and breaching consumer protections, leaving you vulnerable to fines and damaging publicity.