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Meghan Payne
February 19, 2019

#Everything’sAnAd: What the CMA’s crackdown on guidelines means for you

It was revealed last month that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) had ‘secured’ agreement with a number of celebs and social media stars – i.e. influencers and bloggers – to be more transparent when it comes to posting content on their respective platforms. 

While it was, somewhat, a naming and shaming exercise – a very public telling off for flouting the Advertising Standards Authority’s (ASA) rules for sponsored posts – the message from the CMA was nevertheless very clear: continued non-compliance from anyone could result in hefty fines – and even jail sentences. 

Why is this happening now? 

Those with a large social media following have such sway these days that they can have a hugely positive impact on a brand – and ultimately its bottom line – with the mere mention of them in a post. 

And while this can be entirely innocent – i.e. “I like my new trainer from Sports Brand X and want to share it with my community (and that’s all).” – quite often these ‘endorsements’ are done at the behest of a brand. And usually in exchange for a payment or a gift. 

The problem with these ‘undeclared’ posts is that in addition to being deceptive they may also breach consumer law – that’s the message that the CMA is trying to get across. As Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, noted: “People could, quite rightly, feel misled if what they thought was a recommendation from someone they admired turns out to be a marketing ploy.”  

What are the new ad guidelines? 

Basically, if you have been “paid, incentivised or in any way rewarded to endorse or review [a brand]”, it needs to be made clear. Here are some specifics to be aware of. 

Paid partnerships 

The concept of declaring paid partnerships isn’t new – the requirement was introduced long ago by the ASA. However, the placement of #ad within the caption is now being stipulated. 

It’s advised to declare brand partnerships within the first two lines but always above the fold. No user should be required to press ‘more’ to find whether a post is sponsored or not.  

Gifted partnerships 

It isn’t just money that counts as payment. Anything that has been gifted – even without prior agreement to post – needs to be disclosed.#Ad or #Freebie are the labels suggested. This too needs to be at the beginning of the caption. 

Discount codes, giveaways and competitions 

Even posts that don’t feature a material product can be perceived as an ad. Promotional posts of any kind – for example, discount codes, giveaways and competitions – all need to be properly disclosed.  

Clarity of influencer-brand relationship 

Even if you haven’t worked with the brand in question on that particular post, it is advised that you still disclose that you have been ‘employed’ by them in the past (if within the last year). This may mean declaring multiple commercial relationships in one social post.  

Overkill or necessary? 

These new guidelines have been met with some backlash by both marketers and influencers on social media. Many argue that they are self-defeating and potentially more misleading than the previous regulations. Others argue they’re overkill. 

It’s clear there needs to be transparency – viewers need to be able to spot the difference between the brands an influencer genuinely loves and the brands they have been paid to post on behalf of. 

But disclosing all sponsored posts as #ad doesn’t tackle the lack of clarity that prevails. Restricting to one main hashtag, for example, leaves no way of telling whether a social post has been paid for, whether the item was gifted or whether the influencer just worked with the brand six months prior to posting. 

Consequently, how influencers declare sponsorship needs to be looked at on a more granular level.  

What does this mean for influencers? 

Influencers have long battled with the Instagram algorithm – that’s not new. However, many now worry posts littered with disclaimers will be ‘singled out’ by the social network resulting in less reach. And less reach means less engagement.  

Perhaps a more tangible outcome is that we’ll see fewer engaging captions. Instead, we’re moving to an era where everything within influencer marketing is now effectively an #ad. As such, captions are no longer a space for genuine and conversational descriptions – they’re sales disclaimers. 

Although that said, if the posts are all branded, then surely that implies that original, creative content, free of brand input, is on the decline? At least if we see #ad every time we scroll through Instagram we, as followers, begin to realise that brands have more control than we would like to think. That’s another conversation entirely though, so we’ll leave it there for now. 

If you’re still unsure what these recent changes mean for you, you can find more information here  

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