The CMA ( Competition and Markets Authority) is investigating celebrities and other influencers on Instagram. This is after an initial study, launched in 2016, suggested that influencers weren’t labelling content that wasn’t organically produced. Holidays, clothing, makeup, skincare and just about any other product or service you can name can be sponsored. This raises an issue when you consider how easily swayed audiences can be by what they think of as “organic” content (rather than paid/rewarded work). When these audiences are 200,000 people or more strong should we worry?

The Risks

The CMA is concerned about how brands are taking advantage of lax policies and laws. Audiences could be made to think that a poor product is worth the money. This poses risks to possibly millions of people who could be taken advantage of. There is also always the fact that many people will see themselves as having been deceived by people they look up to. Either form of “deceit” could lead to a negative impression of the brand.

 

Enforcing the Rules

When it comes to influencer marketing there aren’t really any rules. There are guidelines you can elect to honour or ignore. While these guidelines hold a lot of power they are still just guidelines and so can be ignored if you’re clever about it. There are also very few laws, if any, that warrant monitoring of influencers for posts. It can be hard to track which posts are sponsored regardless because there isn’t a general register of posts, for example, just interactions between influencers and brands (at the simplest level). Consumer Protection laws haven’t been respected as much as the CMA believes they should. Is this about a lack of respect or lack of awareness?

 

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The CMA

Influencer marketing has been around for the past 10 years or more. With over a million influencers posting at least yearly there is, of course, a lot to manage. One spokesperson for the CMA said:

“Social media stars can have a big influence on what their followers do and buy. If people see clothes, cosmetics, a car, or a holiday being plugged by someone they admire, they might be swayed into buying it. So, it’s really important they are clearly told whether a celebrity is promoting a product because they have bought it themselves, or because they have been paid or thanked in some way by the brand.”

One concern focuses on Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 (CPRs). There are many requirements an advertiser, wether a brand or influencer must meet. Included is the ban on using any editorial content in the media (such as social media_) to promote a product and not make it clear to customers/users that a brand/agency/etc has paid for the promotion. What brands must be careful of now is that because of this law the CMA can take action against people it sees as having broken the law wether the influencer in question was aware of the law or not.

 

Influencer Marketing Will Change

As the CMA conducts further research we might start seeing much more transparent posts on instagram explicitly saying wether that post is an advertisement or not. The indications might not be subtle, either. Anything from a text overlay to a sentence on the main body of the post could indicate the presence of an ad. Additionally, influencers may have to announce more than once that the post or story is an ad multiple times. What else do you think might change?

 

The CMA is working with the ASA (Advertising Standards Authority) to create better online marketing standards for social media. Influencers may soon have a lot more access to information and so may their audiences. What do you think? Should influencers be more transparent with their audiences or keep a level of secrecy?


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