30th May 2019

What Does New Advertising Guidance Mean for Brands & Influencers?

Graham Allchurch

Influencer marketing is still considered a relative newcomer to the digital marketing mix, having gained momentum in the past five years thanks in large part to our ever-growing use of social media, particularly Instagram.

The boundaries of influencer marketing are still being defined, and one significant point in this evolution came earlier this year, when the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published fresh guidance for social media endorsements.

In this post, we will take a look at what the guidance means for brands and influencers, how influencers have interpreted the advice since it was launched and what's next for the influencer marketing landscape.

What are the Rules on Influencer Marketing Advertising?

In September 2018, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and the Committee of Advertising Practice Ltd (CAP) collaborated on a guide for influencers on how to declare if something was an advertisement.

January's guidance was all about how to correctly interpret and implement this guide. The document goes into detail on a range of scenarios and should be kept as a useful resource for both brands and influencers to refer back to each time they collaborate.

The main points to remember are all about payment and control:

  • If you work with a brand to create some content that you'll be posting on your own channels, it'll qualify as an ad if the brand:
  1. ‘paid' you in some way (can be freebies, doesn't have to be money), and
  2. had some form of editorial ‘control' over the content, including just final approval. Its not an ‘either/or' there has to be both ‘payment' and ‘control' for this type of post to count as an ad under the CAP Code.

So, if you are a brand that gifts products to influencers with no obligation for them to post about the items, this does not qualify as an ad.

If you do have approval or any sort of input on what they post, then this must be clearly marked as an advertisement - which most influencers do via the hashtag ‘#Ad' - otherwise the ASA may have a case against both parties.

  • If you've been ‘paid' (either in money or in gifts/freebies), but it isn't as part of an affiliate arrangement and the brand doesn't have any ‘control' of what (or even if) you post, it's unlikely that the content will count as advertising under the CAP Code.

This relates to the point above, so no parties will be pursued by the ASA for failing to declare #Ad if there is no arrangement or control over the final content.

To be on the safe side, this is where many influencers use #gifted or state to their followers that they were sent products but with no obligation to post about them.

#Ad or #Spon?

The guidance does not state one sole way to declare that something is an advertisement, but the main takeaway is that it has to be obvious to the influencer's audience.

We examined how popular the guide's suggested hashtags were and #Ad is currently the most used (correct as of May 2019).

  • #Ad: 8,794,302
  • #Advertising: 7,852,858
  • #Advertisement: 1,378,324
  • #Advert: 306,807

Other hashtags such as #sp and #spon - meaning sponsored - continue to be used, but the ASA recommends staying away from these labels, which can be less clear to followers.

Whichever tag you use, it must be in a prominent position and not buried beneath a long caption or at the very end of a post.

Influencers largely seem to be clear on the rules when it comes to #Ad, but one area that continues to provoke discussion is when an influencer features products that were part of a previous paid partnership.

For example, if an influencer shares an image of their house today, which includes products that were previously gifted or part of a collaboration that was declared at the time, do they still have to mark that content as an advertisement? Technically the answer is yes, this relationship should be disclosed, but different influencers have taken different approaches in doing so.

How Have Influencers Interpreted the Rules?


In this post by RVKLoves , the influencer has chosen to reference previous relationships but not list them individually, or use #ad, writing in the caption:

Slowly filling this nursery up with cute little wooden rainbows, bunnies with crowns on and magic wands. I've discovered that with shopping for a baby/nursery there are way too many cute things to resist ✨????????????♀️ #rvkprojecthouse #rvkbabylove #nurserydecor // contains some previously gifted items {the pull along basket, laundry basket, shutters, yellow toy, wooden rattle and hanging baby grows}, paint was part of a paid campaign earlier this year.

This approach has been adopted by many influencers, who have taken to being overly cautious in disclosing relationships with their followers. Others have commented that it should not be classed as an advertisement when the influencer is clearly enjoying using the products without being obliged to post about them.

Discussing the issue on her Instagram Stories, influencer @sarahakwisombe said: “If someone got paid for a collab last year and they're still talking about the product now don't you think that love for the product is genuine?!"

How Should Brands React to Influencer Marketing Advertising?

While the onus in the ASA guidance remains firmly on the influencer, brands have a duty to ensure they are not misleading people. If you are planning on gifting products to influencers or collaborating with influencers as part of a more formal agreement, you should ensure you read the guidance and understand not just the content, but the ethos behind it.

If appropriate, you could consider offering tips to the influencers youre working with on how they should mark their content to ensure it is compliant. Be aware that this could lead to the content being deemed as ‘controlled by your brand, which would make it fit into the advertising remit.

Or you could leave it totally open to the influencer, but link to the ASA guidance in any correspondence so that they can make their own mind up on how to comply. The majority of influencers will have their own style and approach and would rather not follow prescriptive rules from brands, so having an open, two-way discussion about the best fit is often a good approach to all collaborations.

This also presents a good opportunity for brands to review your influencer marketing strategy and see where you are getting the best return on investment.

There has been a shift towards micro-influencers during the past year, which is no coincidence when some of those with the strongest follower numbers are being hit with ASA warnings about misleading their audiences.

Engagement is usually the best metric to judge your influencer marketing, and the best engagement rates don't always come from those with six-figure followings.

Collaborating with smaller influencers who are truly engaged with your target audience could be a more effective - and less expensive - way to grow your brand.

Get in touch via our web form or call us on 0161 402 3170 if you would like to speak to us about creating an influencer marketing strategy, or to explore how influencer marketing could fit into your digital marketing and PR strategy.