In a ground-breaking report released this week, the UK’s Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) highlighted that only 35% of sponsored content is adequately declared by influencers on social media.
With influencer marketing continuing to grow at a rapid rate – 73% of marketers are increased their influencer marketing spend in 2020, according to Takumi – the ASA, and similar authorities globally, are struggling to keep up with influencer ads.
However, during three weeks of monitoring, the ASA analysed more than 24,000 pieces of Instagram content to find a “disappointing overall rate of compliance”. Here’s how they monitored the 122 UK influencers, and why it’s important to comply with their rules…
How The ASA Monitors Influencers
The ASA is the UK’s #1 monitoring body for advertising standards, including influencer advertising. Despite clearer ad disclosure facilities being rolled out across social media platforms, they are the organisation responsible for setting the laws and holding influencers – and now brands – accountable.
The ASA tends to monitor advertisers based on complaints. This includes all forms of advertising – newspapers, TV, and of course, social media – and in recent times, has seen a vast increase in complaints to about Influencer ad disclosure on Instagram.
While ASA usually investigates individual ads based on complaints, this time they set about hosting three week monitoring period of 122 UK-based influencers, analysing over 24,000 individual ‘Stories’, posts, IGTV and reels.
From this, they found 1 in 4 Stories were advertising a product or brand, but only 35% of those were properly labelled and identifiable as ads resulting in inconsistent disclosure.
In an attempt to rectify this, the ASA has “written to all of the influencers who were monitored and the main brands who had partnered with one or more of them.” On top of that, they requested that influencers provide an assurance of future compliance with the rules and will undertake monitoring to ensure that they comply – or face sanctions.
Declaring Ads: What You Need To Know
While we have previously written a guide on how to declare sponsored content, as well as sharing ASA’s guide to making clear that ads are ads, there were a number of new findings in this report that are important for all influencers to note:
1. Brands & Influencers Are EQUALLY Responsible
While previously stating that it is an influencer’s responsibility to declare ads, the ASA is now holding both influencers and brands accountable. “Brands are held equally responsible for failing to adequately disclose advertising content.” they state in their Influencer Monitoring Report, setting a new precedent for brands to ensure they work in an open, honest, and legal way when working with influencers.
2. Every Paid IG Story Must Be Tagged #Ad
Even if you use Instagram’s paid promotion feature, the ASA stipulates that “when a piece of ad content spans a
number of consecutive Stories, unless it’s absolutely clear that this is part of the same posting, each Story must be disclosed as an ad.”
On top of this, you must ensure that the #ad is clear. Do not attempt to obscure this by using “small font… obscuring it by platform architecture, making it difficult to spot, or using a similar colour to the background of the Story”.
3. Affiliate Links Must Be Denoted With #Ad (#Affiliate Is Not Enough)
The rule of thumb for all ads is potential monetary gain, and content control. If you stand to gain financially from a post, you must declare it as an #ad. This includes affiliate content – the ASA “noted the use of #affiliate or #aff with no additional upfront disclosure; those labels are not likely to be enough on their own to disclose to users the advertising nature of the content.”
Similarly, if you are promoting your own brand, it’s an #ad. “Influencers should not rely on bios or past posts to make it clear to consumers that they are connected to a product.”
4. Influencers & Brands Can Be Sanctioned By ASA
And, in the worst cases, the ASA is now threatening to sanction repeat offenders. Influencers and brands that continually break ASA rules will be featured on a dedicated non-compliant page, and may find themselves blocked from using other advertising channels such as targeted paid search ads.