The Competition and Markets Authority announced yesterday that it had launched an investigation into social media influencers who advertise brands to their large followings on platforms such as Instagram and Twitter.
Their primary concern is that consumers are not always sufficiently alerted to the fact that a celebrity may have been paid by a brand to recommend a brand. In the words of the CMA "If they do not label their posts properly, fans or followers may be led to believe that an endorsement represents the star’s own view, rather than a paid-for promotion". In an era in which consumers are particularly skeptical of advertising, a promotional message that is perceived as a genuine and unbiased opinion carries great weight.
The CMA's investigation follows numerous decisions and guidance from the Advertising Standards Authority in recent years which have tried to reinforce one of the most basic rules in the advertising Codes: that ads must be identifiable as ads. The ASA has in the past focused on promoting the use of certain phrases or hashtags, such as #spon (meaning sponsored) or #ad to help consumers to understand when a celebrity or other influencer is being paid (in whatever way) for their praise of the brand in question.
The CMA's investigation is an overdue escalation of regulatory action in this area. The scale of the problem is beyond the ability of the ASA alone to tackle. It is to be hoped that the threat of more robust sanctions from the CMA will underscore the work that the ASA has been doing to educate advertisers and influencers in this area.
Recent cases where the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has intervened include: A post by the make-up blogger Sheikhbeauty on Instagram promoting Flat Tummy Tea that did not make clear she was being paid by the drinks company A tweet by the TV presenter AJ Odudu that featured a photo of an Alpro dessert with text describing it as one of her favourite snacks, but without any acknowledgement that she was being paid to promote it on social media A video uploaded by Made In Chelsea TV star Millie Mackintosh advertising a Britvic drink that used #sp - referring to "sponsored post" - to identify its nature. The ASA said it did not think consumers would realise what the hashtag referred to.