Food supplement brand Huel and podcast host Steven Bartlett have been reprimanded by the ASA for failing to disclose commercial intent following an ad that featured in an episode of The Diary of a CEO. The response was the result of a single complaint, demonstrating the regulator’s commitment to cleaning up the industry.
Non-disclosure Erodes Consumer Trust
Earlier this year, the DCMS Report on Influencer Culture was critical of the ASA’s ability to regulate influencer advertising effectively, with influencers repeatedly flouting the rules around disclosure. The rules state that brands and influencers should declare any material connection when collaborating on sponsored content.
Lack of effective disclosure erodes trust with an audience, calling into question the integrity of a channel that depends heavily on authenticity.
ASA Fights Fire with Fire!
While social platforms can take action against individuals for non-disclosure through account suspension, the ASA themselves cannot impose financial penalties or haul influencers and brands through the courts. That said, they may be getting tougher.
Last year, a dedicated webpage was set up to name and shame influencers who failed repeatedly to disclose ads masquerading as posts. These influencers were subject to enhanced monitoring. Yet placement on a naughty list provided small deterrent for many who continued to break the rules. The ASA is now escalating action by taking out their own branded ads against these influencers on Instagram – targeting the very same audiences that the influencers have profited from misleading.
Brands Beware while Regulators Play Catch-up
In a channel where trust is currency, this approach may be effective. No-one likes to be lied to. With that being said, negative publicity is not always a bad thing in the influencer sphere and arguably, for those whose reputation is built upon courting controversy, integrity may not outweigh the commercial benefits. That is why it’s crucial for brands to ensure that their influencer partners have a genuine affinity to the brand or product they are asking them to promote. Recruiting talent that do not need to deceive their followers in order to reap rewards – because the brief is properly aligned to their interests, values and previous content – will help clean up the industry and the root.
For now, the ASA’s crack down seems to be targeting influencers rather than brands. But there’s a sense that regulators are still playing catch-up with an industry that’s moved from emergence to growth phase. The rules for disclosure apply to all types of posts across all social platforms, so it’s important to ensure all branded content is labelled correctly. Brands can further protect consumer trust by ensuring they have a compliance strategy in place, so they can respond quickly if they or their influencer partners do make a mistake.