ASA report finds people need help to understand when a social media post is an ad

September 5, 2019

The Advertising Standards Authority has published its report on influencer marketing on social media. The key finding of the ASA report is that people struggle to identify when social media posts by influencers are ads. The ASA says that this confirms its current approach of requiring influencers to use a prominent reference, such as #ad, is necessary as a minimum.

According to the ASA, the findings in the report dispel any argument that labels are not needed, and re-emphasise the importance of influencers being upfront and clear with their followers about when they are advertising.

Over the last 18 months the ASA has conducted a comprehensive review, including research with the public and a broad look at existing academic literature. The review considers how and what kinds of labels and other factors help people understand when social media posts by influencers are advertising. The ASA undertook the project to gauge whether its regulation is in the right place and as part of its ongoing work to provide guidance and clarity to influencers, brands and agencies on how to stick to the ad rules so that consumers are not misled.

Where an influencer is posting about a brand because they have been paid to do so (either in money or ‘in kind’ for example with free goods), the post must be obviously identifiable as an ad. Both the ASA and the Competition and Markets Authority recommend upfront disclosures, such as #ad. Labelling a post clearly as an ad allows people to know when they’re being sold to, enabling them to make an informed judgement about the commercial intent behind it.

A finding consistent across the ASA’s research was that for an influencer post to be obviously identifiable, a label must first be noticed and then understood. A visible and well understood disclosure, such as #ad, increased the likelihood of participants in the research identifying influencer adverts as ‘definitely an ad’.

While the research also indicated that other presentational factors may be important to ensure influencer ad posts are obviously identifiable as ads, the ASA’s focus will be on ensuring influencers and brands are being upfront and clear with #ad. The ASA and CMA are working towards ensuring transparency in this area. Influencers and brands who do not disclose ads are not only treating their followers unfairly, they erode trust in the wider and legitimate influencer community – and run the risk of potential investigation and enforcement action.

The ASA says that it will now consider carefully the outcomes of this work. It will follow up on the themes and issues brought to light by the research and target those parties involved in influencer advertising to make sure that they are following the rules.