Last week the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced that 16 celebrities had agreed not to break the law. OK, that might be overstating it slightly, but the CMA says a number of high-profile influencers have made a ‘formal commitment’ that when they are paid to endorse products or receive products as a gift or loan, they will highlight this to their social media followers.
Via Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, influencer marketing comes under the remit of the CMA.
The CMA’s press release was entitled ‘Celebrities pledge to clean up their act on social media’ and the text explained that a number of influencers and their associated businesses have agreed that in future they will change their practice and always disclose if they have a commercial relationship with the brand they’re promoting. Obviously, my response is that they should have been doing that anyway, but nonetheless it’s a positive move.
There are some major names who’ve signed too, including Alexa Chung, Ellie Goulding, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Michelle Keegan, Millie Mackintosh, Rita Ora and Zoe Sugg. As regular readers of this blog will know, I have a bit of a soft spot for Louise Thompson, so I am also oh-so-pleased to be able to report that she made the list as well. I can’t quite be bothered to add up the millions of Instagram followers the 16 have between them, but safe to say it’s a lot.
Since August 2018 the CMA has been investigating influencer marketing and assessing whether influencers are disclosing paid-for endorsements. These newly announced agreements are one of the outcomes of that work, but the CMA’s announcement delicately sidesteps the issue of whether it found that any of these influencers had been failing to disclose.
However, we know that Millie Mackintosh and Louise have had complaints against them upheld by the ASA – in Louise’s case, not once but twice – so it seems reasonable to assume that the others may not have been completely upfront on all occasions.
One of the other outcomes of the CMA’s recent work has been the publication of Social Media Endorsements: Being Transparent with Your Followers, which is a valuable companion piece to the ASA’s An Influencer’s Guide to Making Clear that Ads Are Ads, which came out last September, and if you’re involved in influencer marketing I’d urge you to read them both.
The new CMA guidance reiterates that paid-for promotions should be ‘transparent, easy to understand, unambiguous, timely and prominent’. It also says, and this is quite interesting, disclosures should be ‘apparent without the need for people to click for more information, no matter what type of device they’re using to view the post’.
Having addressed the role of influencers themselves, the CMA is now considering the part that platforms play in influencer marketing, while the ASA continues to look specifically at what types of labels help people understand that online content is advertising (earlier this month, the advertising watchdog revealed that it had warned between 200-300 influencers that they had breached regulations).
I await the results of these deliberations with interest, but in the meantime I shall be keeping an eye on the Insta accounts of those who made the pledge and I’m sure the CMA will be doing the same, because this is a very clear message to all influencers that failing to comply with the rules and regulations around disclosure will not be tolerated, and those that don’t risk breaking the law.
Sarah Burns is Prizeology’s Chief Prizeologist.