Influencers and brands have no way out: advertising shall be clearly recognizable as such and this true also with regard to any communication addressed to the netizens.

Following FTC and ASA’s guidelines, this topic has been also into the Italian Authorities’ sights lately and several actions have been taken to regulate the phenomenon of influencer marketing.

A first initiative in this sector was taken by the Italian Advertising Self-Regulatory Institute (Istituto di Audisciplina Pubblicitaria, IAP“) which in 2016 launched the so-called “Digital Chart”, a code of conduct for bloggers, vloggers, celebrities and influencers on how to present advertising on the worldwide web.

The rules set out by the Digital Chart are very strict and concern all new forms of online communication. As for the Digital Chart, when an influencer enters into a commercial agreement with advertisers, the adv content shall comply with the IAP’s Self-Regulatory Code. This means that the message must be distinguishable and recognizable from the other contents by the author. The modalities through which the advertisement is to be made visible varies depending on the means of communication used, whether it is a video on YouTube, an article on a blog, a Facebook post or a selfie on Instagram. For instance, endorsers are requested to use hash tags such as #adv, #sponsoredby, #productprovidedby and could include the tag to the brand’s Instagram profile or the link to the brand’s website to disclose in a clear way the relationship existing between the endorser and the brand and the promotional purpose of his/her comment or opinion. As for videos, the IAP suggests for a number of arrangements to signal the promotional nature of their content, for instance by including in the video a disclaimer such as “the brand presents” or “in collaboration with” or a verbal statement in line with their own communicative style. Similar arrangements should be taken in case the vlogger intends to promote his/her own products or brands within the vlog. Brand promotions may come also from user generated contents. Users’ opinions on products are generally excluded from the scope of the Self-Regulatory Code, save for cases in which an agreement exists with the advertiser; hence, the promotional end-purpose of the comment or opinion expressed by the user must be disclosed to users via appropriate means.

The IAP’s orientation has been substantially confirmed by the Italian Antitrust Authority, which has recently addressed the topic of social media messages concealing a promotional nature, by sending a number of letters of moral suasion to influencers and brands urging for transparency. The objective of these letters is to highlight the importance to establish a truth-based relation with web users and recall that the ban on hidden advertising as set out by the Italian Consumer Code applies also to communications via social networks. Hence, the Authority formally invited the addressees of its action to make communications’ promotional purpose clearly recognizable, by inserting specific warnings such as, #advertising, #sponsoredby, #paidinsertion or, in the case of goods supplied for free to the influencer, #productprovidedby.

Within this context also the Italian Communication Authority has moved its first official step towards adv transparency, by signing an agreement with the IAP to consolidate their collaboration in a view of co-regulation of commercial communications on the Internet. The purpose of the agreement is to promote the correctness of commercial communications and the protection of consumers and the collaboration between the authorities to select new means suitable for the identification of commercial communications and criteria to verify compliance with advertising regulations.

To conclude, Italian Authorities are moving concrete steps towards the modernization of advertising regulations. Despite a legislative intervention on the topic is still desirable, the new system is already demonstrating its effectiveness.