When it comes to affiliate marketing promotions and how they should be labelled on social media, one could be forgiven for thinking it’s something of a grey area, as in the last few months there have been a number of high-profile influencers who’ve been tripped up by the CAP Code. And yes, I’m talking about you, Louise Thompson.
Louise got into trouble with the ASA when she posted a pic of herself wearing a nice watch, along with a personalised discount code, so her followers could purchase one for themselves, but she didn’t disclose her commercial relationship with the watch company. Then Louise got into trouble with the ASA again when she posted a pic of herself with a beauty product, along with a personalised discount code, so her followers could purchase one for themselves, but again she didn’t disclose her commercial relationship with the beauty product company.
The thing is, it’s isn’t a grey area and An Influencer’s Guide to Making Clear that Ads are Ads, the excellent recent publication from the ASA and CMA, which I wrote about previously here, puts it clearly in black and white. It says to influencers: “When your content promotes particular products or services and contains a hyperlink or discount code that means you get paid for every ‘clickthrough’ or sale that can be tracked back to your content, this counts as advertising.” There you go. That’s pretty straightforward, isn’t it.
The guide goes on to explain that if there are affiliate links or discount codes for only some of the products mentioned in a post, then those pieces of content rather than the whole post are ads, but influencers still need to make it clear which ones are affiliate-linked and which ones aren’t. It also points out that with affiliate ads influencers are effectively acting as what it calls secondary advertisers, so they need to make sure that their posts not only make their commercial relationships transparent, but they must follow all other relevant rules as well.
I do hope that An Influencer’s Guide to Making Clear that Ads are Ads has, well, cleared that up once and for all. Where there could be a small patch of grey, though, is if an influencer is promoting their own products or services through what the guide calls their “own channels”, which I take to mean their own YouTube channel, Instagram account or whatever. Here there is some leeway as the guide says: “If you are promoting your own products or services on your own channels – provided it’s clear that you’re talking about your own products – people are usually able to recognise that you’re advertising your own stuff.”
This appears to be what the ASA was thinking in a recent ruling in which it did not uphold a complaint about an influencer called Zoë de Pass. When promoting her design collaboration with a footwear company on Instagram, the ASA decided that de Pass had added enough relevant hashtags, plus a link to a waiting list for the rainbow-coloured shoes, to leave her followers in no doubt that these were her own products and she was advertising them.
The guide produced by the ASA and CMA emphasises that affiliate marketing and advertorial content are much less likely to be recognisable from the context alone, so influencers may need to make a real effort in order to be completely clear – and of course the most efficient way of doing that is to append #Ad to the post. I do hope Louise Thompson has taken note of all this, but you know I might just pop a copy of the guide in the post to her to make sure…
Sarah Burns is Prizeology’s Chief Prizeologist and author of Under the Influence: UK CONSUMER ATTITUDES TO SOCIAL MEDIA INFLUENCER MARKETING.