Taking the detective work out of influencer marketing

As it signalled it would earlier this year, the ASA has launched a consultation on influencer marketing and consumers’ ability to recognise when influencers and the brands they work with are advertising to them. Regular readers of this blog (I know you’re out there) will be aware that influencer marketing disclosure is an issue close to my heart and I was particularly interested to see that the project will be looking at how labels – at present that’s basically hashtags – help people understand what’s being presented to them.

At the moment, the only ASA-endorsed hashtag is #ad, and that’s obviously because the ASA is funded by and regulates the advertising industry. However, as the reach of influencer marketing grows, and given the specific features of the different platforms on which influencer marketing has taken hold, I wonder whether #ad alone is adequate.

Does it really represent the subtleties of the commercial relationships possible between brands and influencers or do we need to widen the range of approved hashtags to indicate, for example, the precise degree of control exercised by a brand over an influencer’s posts or that the influencer gets a percentage when you purchase the highlighted product via an affiliate marketing link? In fact, wouldn’t it be good to know whether a product was simply gifted by a brand with absolutely no strings attached or if the brand and influencer had had a conversation about how that gift would be presented?

As a first step and to help shape the research it’s planning, the ASA is looking for high-quality evidence on the following topics:

  • What level and type of commercial influence over editorial content people expect to be informed about, through an ad label or other method;
  • How people interpret specific labels, for example #ad, and the extent to which wording, placement, visibility and style might impact on people’s ability to identify an ad;
  • The extent to which people may differ in their ability to identify ads and the reasons for that; and
  • Current practices for the labelling of online ads, including national and international examples.

I’ve already given the ASA access to the data I have and, if you can help with any of the above, I urge you to do so, too. Send your submissions to the ASA by Friday 13 April.

When he launched the project, ASA chief executive Guy Parker said, “People shouldn’t have to play the detective to work out if they’re being advertised to.” It’s a great phrase and it’s exactly right. Having done a fair bit of investigatory work myself, both professionally and a consumer, I know it’s exhausting and usually inconclusive. I have often been left wondering whether money has changed hands when a celebrity, avowed influencer or micro-influencer showcases a product or extols its virtues and that doubt can lead to distrust.

Like 60% of the UK public, and as Prizeology’s own research into influencer marketing found (you can get a copy of our report here), my perception of a brand improves when it’s transparent about its use of product promotions, so I welcome this initiative from the ASA and look forward to how it develops over the coming months.

Sarah Burns is Prizeology’s Chief Prizeologist and a National Trading Standards Scams Team Scambassador. 

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