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Brand Strategy Beauty Mental Health

‘We applaud this movement of transparency’: marketers react to French influencer law

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By Audrey Kemp, LA Reporter

April 9, 2023 | 9 min read

Less than two weeks ago, France introduced a law requiring influencers to disclose whenever they digitally alter their appearance. Here’s what it means for the US, according to influencer marketing experts.

a woman uses an AR beauty filter

France's new law requires influencers to publicly disclose when they use AR filters or PhotoShop / Credit: Adobe Stock

From here on out, influencers in France face a prison sentence or a significant fine if they fail to divulge that a photo of themselves has been edited in any way.

Two weeks ago, France passed a bill that would require influencers and content creators to disclose when they use an AR filter or every time they digitally manipulate their face or body in images they share with their online audiences. The law also states that they must clearly disclose when their post is a paid promotion. Failure to meet these requirements can result in up to six months in prison or a €300,000 fine.

The new regulation builds on a growing body of research documenting the negative effects of consuming highly-edited posts and taking them at face value – which can harm users‘ mental health and self-esteem. At the same time, some audiences are becoming more cognizant of the signs of altered photos, such as noticing a wall or door that appears to melt into a digitally cinched waist.

France is the latest mover in combating the phenomenon of face and body editing, but not the first. The Nordic region in 2021 began requiring influencers to disclose the use of AR filters. A law enacted in Israel in 2013 compels advertisers to denote when an image has been retouched (and also requires fashion models to have a body mass index of at least 18.5).

But what do US marketers think of France’s new law, and can the US expect similar regulations anytime soon?

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A step in the right direction

Marketers seem to unanimously agree that France’s new influencer law is a huge win for the mental health of online audiences. “[Photo editing tools] enable people to improve their photos – sometimes to the extent that they become unrecognizable. There has been a lot of criticism that these image enhancement apps promote unrealistic beauty standards,” says Christian Brown, chief marketing officer of influencer marketing network Glewee. “We applaud this movement of transparency.”

Others believe these regulations will help consumers develop healthier relationships with beauty, health and fitness products designed to enhance their physical appearance. “Creating a false narrative in these areas can have serious mental health implications on a person’s image of themselves,” says Thomas Walters, Europe chief executive of influencer marketing agency Billion Dollar Boy. “We support such updates to regulatory frameworks across relevant categories and encourage consideration on drafting to cover all relevant media.”

The measure also bodes well for brands that rely heavily on influencers’ reputations and relationships with consumers. “We have entered a time when authenticity and transparency are not only appreciated but also demanded by audiences. This is a good thing for consumers and brands,” says Aliza Freud, chief executive of influencer marketing agency SheSpeaks. “Consumers can be confident to know what they are getting and brands will have an easier time building a relationship and establishing trust with consumers if they are authentic.”

Will similar regulations come to the US?

While experts applaud France’s actions, predictions vary when it comes to the United States‘ regulatory landscape.

Brown, for one, believes American influencers and brands should prepare for similar laws, as evidenced by existing social media technologies, like Twitter’s system that identifies and corrects misinformation on its platform. “We anticipate similar tags to be introduced in the US, similar to the requirement for influencers to include ’#ad’ in sponsored posts,” he says. ”This regulation is likely to be extended across various social media platforms, encompassing content generated by creators and influencers, as well as artificially and computer-generated content that is published on social media in the US.”

Some other leaders in the space agree. “It is a real possibility that future US legislation will limit or prohibit the use of filters without disclosure [and] it’d be wise for US marketers to take steps to prepare for this type of regulation,” says Jordan Buning, president of DDM Marketing + Communications.

But not everyone foresees the United States following in Europe’s footsteps. As Walters puts it: “French regulation around filters and photoshopping may well be replicated in other markets – we know the EU is watching developments closely and may replicate across the whole 27 country block. However, regarding the American market specifically, it’s important to remember just how different it is. America has freedom of expression and speech written into its constitution. Restricting freedom over one’s image does not feel very American.”

Others think that American legislators are too preoccupied with different social media matters at the moment, such as banning foreign-owned social platform TikTok. “US regulations on this matter may not emerge soon with all the other challenges around social media already being discussed in the public forum – [such as] misinformation, data privacy and the role of foreign-owned platforms such as TikTok,” says Eric Dahan, chief executive of Mightyjoy, an influencer marketing company.

How it might affect advertising

Should the US enact a similar law, there are a few possibilities that brands, agencies and influencers alike should consider.

The first is whether or not these rules will apply to advertising in general, says SheSpeaks‘s Freud. “It is well-known that images are manipulated by editors in ads and it isn’t required by law for advertisers to disclose this on the ad. Virtually every advertisement is edited ... in some way, even if it’s just a superimposed logo.”

Another consideration is how exhaustive disclosures might obscure – and cheapen – brand messaging. “From a sponsored content perspective, brand messaging might get lost when there is so much to disclose within a caption, or on screen, while also hitting key messages and product points,” she says.

Walters agrees: “It is possible that restrictive wording might prevent creative freedom. As with all regulatory updates in this space, it’s important that the final wording is informed by people that truly understand the technologies and industries so it does not have the unintended effect of impacting the many creators in the industry ... such as artists, [who] are clearly not designing such materials to mislead or negatively impact body image.”

At the same time, Walters says, transparency-focused regulations of this nature might compel creatives to do what they do best: think outside of the box. “It could even be a catalyst to spark greater creativity in the industry, by forcing brands and creators to find viable work-around solutions. Laws then, do not stifle, rather enable future generations of digital entrepreneurs to flourish.”

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