How to understand the new rules about sponsored content

9 Jul 2019

Influencer Marketing

Hannah Wilde

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At the start of 2019, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) – after coming under a great deal of fire – finally released a complete set of guidelines on how they expect social media influencers to post about paid ads, gifted items and brand relationships in order to ensure transparency. 

You can take a gander at the full guidelines here.

It would be putting it mildly to say there has been a mixed reaction. Some people say things are finally clear whereas others say the lines are more blurred than ever. 

So with that confusion in mind, let’s take a closer look at it all, shall we?

Why are the new sponsored content rules needed?

Online influencer marketing is still a baby when you think about it. And as such it’s only natural that it should evolve and grow as it becomes more and more popular. As it has done so, it has attracted the attention of brands and companies who want to use it to further their reach and increase sales. 

People with big and loyal followings are powerful. Their fans trust them to endorse products and brands that they not only use themselves but are also good quality and do the job properly. This is where the problem with paid social media spots arises; if people are being paid to show their followers a product, how can you be sure that they believe in it for the right reasons?

Prior to the new rules being introduced, people could post and promote anything they want without any obligation to declare they were being paid for it and no consequences if they didn’t. But thankfully, after an uproar from the influencer and blogging community, some of the biggest stars thrown into the spotlight have agreed to the new changes.

But let’s take a closer look at one of the biggest examples to hit the headlines; the infamous Fyre Festival.

If this is the first you’re hearing of it, then we highly recommend you check out the Netflix documentary ‘Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened’ and cringe in horror on your sofa as you watch the terrible events unfold. 

In a nutshell, Fyre Festival was a failed music festival that was pegged to be a lavish event, an “immersive” experience with the “best in food, art, music and adventure”. The advertisements promised things you had never seen before. At least 10 of the world’s most famous supermodels, including Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajkowski, were hired to star in the ad which even left us a little starstruck. 

See it for yourself – the original promotional video can still be viewed on YouTube

Festival attendees spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in total on tickets to the festival, expecting luxury accommodation, incredible entertainment, jet skies and supermodels swanning around, only to be met with no bands, hurricane tents to sleep in, and a cheese sandwich. 

To us, this shows just how powerful social media influencers have become; all it took was a few hundred of them to post a picture of an orange tile on their Instagram page to get ordinary people to open their wallets. 

The cinch? Each of these influencers was paid an eye-watering amount of money to promote the event – including Kendall Jenner who was reportedly paid $250,000 for a single Instagram post – but only one of them disclosed that they had been paid. This gives the impression that they are genuinely interested in the event and will be there themselves, which has an alluring pull that could win over any of us. 

In reality, that just wasn’t the case, and that’s the kind of behaviour that these new rules aim to change.

What are the new sponsored content rules?

Now that we’ve established the growing power of influencers and exactly why there’s a need for new regulations to be brought in, let’s take a closer look at what they actually are…

1. All paid content must be disclosed

This one’s pretty simple: all content that you have been paid to post on any of your social media platforms must be labelled. This includes if you have received money in return, if you have been sent the item as a gift (even if you weren’t required to post anything in return), marketing your own products and services, prize draws and giveaways, and affiliate marketing. 

2. What counts as paid?

Money, a service, a product, a trip or a hotel stay. 

3. What is an ‘advertorial’?

ASA has defined an ‘ad’ as a post you have been paid (see first point) to upload and you (the influencer) must have had some form of creative control, including everything from idea conception and photography to ‘the final say’. 

4. Past relationships must be disclosed

If you have worked with a brand or company in the past year, and you feature those products again for example in an Instagram story or photo, then the past relationship must be disclosed.

5. Language must be clear

The language used to disclose any relationship with a brand or paid post must be clear and leave no room for misinterpretation. The following labels are great:

  • Ad
  • Advert
  • Advertisement 
  • Advertising
  • Affiliate link

These next ones are a little riskier, so we’d say steer clear:

  • Sponsorship
  • Sponsored
  • Sponsored content
  • Spon
  • #Spon
  • #Sp
  •  In association with
  •  Thanks to [brand] for making this possible
  •  Just @ mentioning the brand

What do we think?

Here at TAL Agency, we’re all about transparency. Not just in everything we do ourselves, but we feel it’s important that people fully understand what it is they are seeing and being exposed to when using social media. We have a strong respect for social media influencers and how they earn a living; we don’t mind seeing #ads here and there on Instagram as long as they’re clear and creative. And whenever we work with influencers for our clients, we’ll always work to ensure that they are on the right side of the new rules. 

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