UK committee seeks evidence on influencer advertising

Out-Law News | 05 May 2021 | 2:28 pm | 2 min. read

A UK parliamentary committee is seeking evidence on the power of social media ‘influencers’, amid growing concern that tighter regulation of the way in which they are paid to promote products and services is needed.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee has opened an inquiry into “influencer culture”, and is seeking written submissions from interested parties by Friday 7 May. It is particularly interested in the different roles played by influencers; their impact on society and popular culture; and the extent to which users are aware of the arrangements between influencers and advertisers.

Advertising law expert Iain Connor of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said that the inquiry comes after numerous decisions by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) sanctioning businesses for influencer advertising where it was not sufficiently clear that the influencer was in fact being paid to advertise.

Connor Iain

Iain Connor

Partner

The ASA has found that complaints involving influencers associated with goods and services across all sectors are top of its list of breaches of the advertising codes

“It seems that the government has finally recognised the power of influencers who promote products and services without properly disclosing that they are paid by the advertisers, either in cash or kind,” he said.

“The ASA has found that complaints involving influencers associated with goods and services across all sectors are top of its list of breaches of the advertising codes. Some of it is a lack of understanding of the rules, given the fact that many influencers only ever self-publish their content on social media. However, some influencers absolutely know what they are doing and what they should do to comply, but simply choose to ignore the rules,” he said.

ASA guidance, issued last year in conjunction with the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), sets out what both influencers and the brand which advertise with them need to do to ensure that advertising posts comply with both UK advertising rules and consumer protection law. Where an influencer is being paid to market a product or service, this should be made clear to the consumer to avoid the advert being deemed misleading.

Posts should include labels that make it clear to consumers that they are an advert; for example ‘advert’, ‘advertising’ or ‘advertisement feature’. This should be very clear and not concealed by other hashtags. Other labels, such as ‘in association with’, ‘thanks to’, ‘gifted’ or ‘spon’ are less likely to be legal, decent, honest and truthful. The rules apply regardless of whether the influencer is paid in cash, commission, or by way of a free or free loan of a product or service.

Launching the inquiry, DCMS committee chair Julian Knight cited research showing that more than three-quarters of influencers “buried their disclosures within their posts”.

“Influencers wield a growing power over people’s lives,” he said. “We want to find out how influencer culture operates and what impact it has.”

The committee is also keen to understand the positive role that influencers can play in reaching audiences that might otherwise be difficult to reach. As an example, it cited a campaign addressing vaccine hesitancy among people from ethnic minority backgrounds.