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Regulation ASA Social Media

Is influencer advertising the ‘scapegoat’ traditional media needs?


By Hannah Bowler, Senior reporter

June 14, 2022 | 6 min read

Last month the Digital Culture Media and Sport Committee (DCMS) called for the government to legislate on influencer marketing. Brands and influencers have largely welcomed the interventions, but a crackdown on influencers has raised the question... why should they comply if the rest of the industry doesn’t have to?

Influencer crackdown

Do legislative recommendations risk stifling the creativity of creators?

The influencer economy is on a journey of professionalizing, and with that comes increased scrutiny from both government and advertising watchdogs.

What regulation is on the cards

William Soulier, chief executive officer and co-founder of the ad agency Talent Village, says while most creators are happy to disclose ads, “it doesn’t seem fair to be limiting this restriction to influencer marketing. In this case, should a footballer disclose when he is being paid by a sports brand to wear their apparel on the pitch?”

According to Soulier, it’s the brands and agencies and not the influencers that are requesting the retouches. “This begs the question of whether this topic should be limited to influencers only, or applied to the rest of the marketing and advertising industry as this seems to be a systemic issue,” he asks.

It’s an issue previously voiced in The Drum off the back of Ogilvy’s ban on working with influencers that edit their image. Christina Miller, UK head of social, VMLY&R, in response to Ogilvy’s policy said: “So, before penalizing influencers and telling them beauty standards are different, we need to ensure they truly are across the board. For example, we need to ask if brands are still using altered images or touched-up models across other marketing touchpoints.”

Lindsey Gamble, associate director of influencer innovation, Mavrck, said: “If something like this is going to be implemented, it also should be implemented across other relevant areas such as professional models.”

“We have entered a new era of social publishers who, for some reason, seem to be the scapegoat of traditional media,” Soulier says.

What do influencers and brands make of government intervention?

The Drum and HypeAuditor went out and asked influencers and brands what they thought about government legislation, and the results showed that the majority support it.

Almost 60% of influencers supported government legislation and only 17% opposed any intervention. 66% said the legislation would be the best way to better protect the mental health of young people online.

On the brand side, of the 27 polled 73% of marketers agreed with the government’s attempt to regulate the industry. Interestingly, over half said it was up to the government to regulate, as opposed to the 33% who think it is the responsibility of social platforms.

HypeAuditor also asked for opinions on the ASA’s ‘name and shame’ strategy. The data revealed that while 41% of influencers agreed with the initiative, 39% of marketers said it impacted the way they worked with influencers.

What do the agencies think?

Claire Morris, head of influencers at Publicis Media Content, welcomes government intervention, claiming it has “opened up the discussion within the industry, and the increased public consciousness surrounding it holds us all to account.”

She says influencers and brands have a duty of care to disclose their collaborations and digitally-altered images, but called for additional support from the ASA to “help enforce this agenda.”

A unique challenge in the influencer ecosystem is that it is “made up of thousands of everyday people – people who do not work in advertising or marketing, and have limited knowledge about the regulations and guidelines that we must adhere to,” says Gary Clarke, business director at Dentsu-owned influencer agency Gleam Futures. This means having policies enforced at the government level will “no doubt help all parties adopt a more consistent and standardized approach,” he says.

What are the limitations?

Despite positive sentiment for regulation, Clarke warns that some legislative recommendations risk “stifling the creativity of creators, their content and their authenticity – which are crucial factors in this industry.” He gives one example of a CAP recommendation: “Remit of the CAP code be extended by removing the requirement for editorial ‘control’ to determine whether content constitutes an advertisement.” This, he says, “may lead to all content being labeled as an advertisement – and considering the indirect relationship between the brand and influencer for content that has not been paid for, plus the lack of control the brands have in such content, [this] could then lead to even less clarity for consumers.”

Meanwhile, Morris says while she is open to an MP investigation into the influencer pay gap, she cautioned only “if it affords an opportunity to help the industry mature and appropriately recognize the value creators bring to the table.” She warns it’s hard to draw a like-to-like comparison between influencers, as defining what to pay influencers is based on a “myriad of factors.”

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