As the ASA unveils new simplified rules for influencer marketing, Adam Williams, CEO of Takumi, looks at how the ad standards watchdog has impacted the influencer marketing industry.
The social media landscape has changed immeasurably over the past few years and last month’s announcement from the ASA is another step in ensuring it doesn’t go unchecked.
Now the regulator will use a new monitoring tool to identify and report non-compliant ads that promote Botox on Instagram. This enforces the total ban on the promotion of Botox on social media that the ASA announced in December and, in the interest of protecting consumers, is a positive proactive measure which will further reduce unethical or fraudulent activity across platforms.
But not everyone might be so welcoming to the news. For some marketers, it could be seen as yet another rule imposed on the influencer marketing sector.
The influencer marketing landscape then
While it may feel like a regulatory headache for brands and marketers alike, they need to remember their responsibilities to consumers. The ASA is there to help them navigate the different platforms they advertise on in a way that is fair and protects the interests of users first and foremost.
Let’s cast our mind back to how the sector looked in March 2018 when the regulations on influencer marketing were still developing.
The ASA had just announced the first stage of a review into how paid-for influencer and native advertising was signposted amid increasing consumer concerns.
At that time, 71% of UK shoppers admitted to subscribing to the incorrect belief that influencer marketing was not regulated. And a further 49% said they weren’t aware of the hashtags and language used to disclose commercial relationships between brands and influencers – such as #spon, #ad and #sp.
Brands and influencers were failing to flag which online content was sponsored, leaving consumers to play detective to figure out if they were being advertised to. It was a confusing period, where the lines between advertorial and editorial content were regularly blurred.
The influencer marketing landscape now
But since then we’ve seen advertising industry bodies crackdown on influencer marketing, enforcing the correct labelling of paid-for posts and gifted products on social media sites via fines, penalisations and the removal of posts. In the UK, the ASA has flagged any influencer or brand not following their guidelines and #ad has now become synonymous with influencer marketing regulations.
The rise in regulations and rules on the sector has informed brands and influencers on how to legally operate on social media platforms. For instance, our recent whitepaper found that 88% of US and UK marketers felt the ASA and FTC respective guidelines on labelling paid-for influencer content were clear.
Similarly, 87% of US and UK influencers feel confident in their understanding of the ASA and FTC rules on labelling paid-for content.
The future influencer marketing landscape
However, while influencers and marketers may feel assured in their knowledge of the rules, the changing landscape of the industry means that legislation is an evolving process.
As we saw last month, the ASA is always updating the legislation and introducing new tools to clamp down on illegal promotional activity on social media. This means it’s up to marketers and influencers to keep up to date with regulations and ensure they are abiding by the rules.
But despite the mistakes of the past, the tide does seem to be changing. We are seeing more and more influencers and brands enter into exclusive extended partnerships, where both sides have a vested interest in adhering to ASA regulations for long-term campaigns.
These changes in the way brands and influencers work together, coupled with additional ASA regulations, suggests that this year will be a positive one for influencer marketing. A year where the errors of the past are overcome through tighter but fairer rules and perceptions of influencer marketing truly begin to shift.
Now the foundations are in place, the time has come for marketers, technology partners, influencers, brands and governing bodies to work together to evolve the industry towards a more responsible future.
By Adam Williams