An Influencer’s Guide to Making Clear that Ads are Ads

Last week saw the publication of An Influencer’s Guide to Making Clear that Ads are Ads. Produced by CAP ain conjunction with the CMA, it’s 20 pages of clear information and advice, nicely presented and written in a chatty style, and it’s very much welcomed, because we’ve needed something like this for some time now.

The CAP Code hasn’t changed and the rules aren’t new, but the guide clearly – and that’s a word I suspect I’m going to use more than once here – explains how the rules should be implemented. In my view there was never any excuse for not complying with the CAP Code, but there certainly isn’t now. For example, the guide clearly – there I go again – explains the two-part test used to determine whether an influencer post is an ad. The first question an influencer needs to ask themselves is whether they’ve been paid to post. The second is whether the company that paid them exercised editorial control.

If the answer to both questions is yes, then the post is an ad and needs to be labelled as such. On this point, the guide says, “At the moment we know that the ASA likes labels that just say how it is,” which of course means #Ad or a close variant should be used. However, and I freely admit I may be reading too much into this, does the phrase “At the moment” suggest that in the future the ASA may extend its list of acceptable labels? This is something I’ve suggested in the past and I do think it makes sense.

Anyway, what’s helpful about the guide is that it sets out what counts as payment – and that doesn’t have to be hard cash. An influencer is considered to have been paid if they’ve been given free products or services, trips or hotel stays or even simply a present. The first part of the test is designed to determine whether the influencer has a commercial relationship with the brand or not, and it’s worth noting that, yes, if an influencer has been paid to be an ambassador for a particular brand or product range, that does count as payment.

The guide also sets out what counts as editorial control, emphasising that editorial control doesn’t have to be exercised solely over words or hashtags, but can also be an instruction to post a particular type of image or do something specific in a video – the example given is unboxing a product. It’s pretty straightforward, really, isn’t it?

If an influencer has been paid but there is no editorial control, the post doesn’t need to comply with the CAP Code (although there is other legislation designed to protect consumers which does apply and is enforced by the CMA). And for any influencers who are still unsure whether to append #Ad or not, page 13 has a really helpful flow chart that will help them decide. There’s also a section on affiliate marketing, which merits a separate post.

Under the Influence, the research Prizeology commissioned earlier this year, identified that members of the public aren’t always clear about the commercial relationships between influencers and brands, and, as I said, I really welcome this guide, because it will undoubtedly help influencers, but more to the point it will help consumers understand when they are being influenced, so they’ll be able to make informed choices.

Sarah Burns is Prizeology’s Chief Prizeologist and author of Under the Influence: UK CONSUMER ATTITUDES TO SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCER MARKETING.

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