The Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) recently published a report entitled 'The Labelling of influencer advertising' which brought into question whether the use of #ad in advertising content, as recommended by the ASA, is effective as was once assumed. The report used existing academic literature, previous ASA casework, a review of the international regulatory approach and its own commissioned research and found the following:

  • Native advertising: Consumers struggle to identify advertising content presented in a similar style to the editorial content in which it sits. This, by definition, looks like the influencer's normal posts, therefore presenting a challenge to consumers.
  • Labels are important: placement, visibility and the wording itself matter. For influencer content to be obviously identifiable as an ad, the label must be both noticed and understood.
  • Consistency: The wide variety of labels that are currently in use (#ad, #spon, #paidfor, #collaboration etc.) are confusing.
  • #ad is helpful: clear and understood disclosures (e.g. #ad) help consumers. They raise the likelihood that people will spot that content is an advert. However, many people were still not able to declare that such labelled content was "definitely an ad".
  • Brand ads: Interestingly, alarmingly even, many of those involved in the research were not even able to identify brand ads (which included product shots, brand names, logos, discounts and invitations to 'Shop Now') as advertising.

What does this mean?

Nothing yet. #ad remains the ASA's favoured position and for now brands should continue to require it from their influencers and influencers should continue to use it. That said, brands should continue to review how they display and use influencer advertising to ensure compliance with the ASA’s requirements. What is certain, is that this is unlikely to be the last that we hear from the ASA on this topic.