On 28 September 2018, The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) published new guidance for influencers to assist them in abiding by the relevant advertising rules.

The term ‘influencer’ is used to describe those with influence over an audience across various social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube. The rise of the influencer in recent years means that we are now seeing more and more paid for advertisements from influencers on social media. These adverts can be in many different formats, including paid for or sponsored photographs and video content. From toothpaste to holidays, there is no shortage of products for influencers to endorse.

This ‘non-traditional’ form of advertising has grown rapidly. The relevant regulatory authorities have been required to adapt to the changing landscape of advertising by producing clear guidance to ensure that influencers know the rules of advertising which apply to them.

There have been a number of relatively high profile instances of social media influencers falling short of their responsibilities in this area. These instances include failures to disclose to their audience that they are promoting a certain product because they have been paid to do so, as was the case in respect of Louise Thompson of Made in Chelsea in relation to a video advert for a facial brush.

Why is the guidance important?

The public needs to be aware that the influencer, whoever they may be, is being paid for their comments and as such they have a vested commercial interest. This means that the public can make an informed decision in full knowledge that there may be some cases where the influencer is a genuine fan of the product that they are endorsing, even though they are being paid.

More and more registered healthcare practitioners have commercial interests, such as endorsing products from toothpaste to vitamins. As such, regulators need to keep up with the pace in this area. For example, the General Dental Council’s guidance on advertising states:

You must make sure that any advertising, promotional material or other information that you produce is accurate and not misleading, and complies with the GDC’s guidance on ethical advertising..."

Endorsing products

You should only recommend particular products if they are the best way to meet a patient’s needs. If you endorse products, you must ensure that you only provide factual information about the product which can be verified by evidence. You should also be careful not to express or imply that your view is shared by the whole profession’.

When is an #AD an #AD?

According to the guidance, it is an advertorial if the brand:

"1. ‘paid’ you in some way (can be freebies, does not have to be money’), and 2. has some form of editorial ‘control’ over the content, including just final approval.”

There has to be both payment and control for it to count.

There are some other interesting headlines from the new guidance, including:

  • Even if you are a ‘brand ambassador’ but not specifically paid to promote the brand, this could still count as ‘payment for advertorial content’.
  • The brand requiring you to post the content on a specific date or at a specific time could count as ‘control’.
  • The ASA like clear labels, such as ‘Ad’, ‘Advertisement’, but are not so keen on ‘Spon’, ‘In association with’, or just tagging the brand to the content. The ASA state these types of labels do not go far enough to make it obvious that the content is advertising.
  • There are separate rules for promotion of food or supplements, gambling and alcohol, and other specific content.

The new guidance should be welcomed by all, and particularly by influencers. The new guidance will hopefully level the playing field across the world of social media, ensuring that paid for advertisements are clearly recognisable to the general public, as all advertisements should be.

The ASA / CAP guidance for influencers can be found here.