CMA issues guidance on “hidden advertising” on social media

November 4, 2022

The CMA has produced three guides designed to help those publishing and sharing paid promotions online to comply with consumer protection law.

Guidance for social media platforms

Six compliance principles set out how social media platforms should prevent and tackle hidden advertising appearing on their websites. The principles require platforms to be proactive in tackling hidden advertising, including by:

  • Providing their users with tools to label commercial content and to report suspected hidden advertising;
  • Improving information to content creators and influencers about what to label as a paid-for endorsement;
  • Improving policies and taking action where hidden advertising is found; and
  • Using technology to identify suspected hidden advertising for action.

Guidance for businesses/brands

The guide helps make brands aware of their responsibility to tackle hidden advertising. This includes:

  • being clear with influencers who they pay or send gifts to that they must label these posts in an obvious way;
  • taking action where this does not happen – for example, contacting influencers who are promoting products or services on their behalf and asking them to remove or amend posts to accurately reflect the commercial relationship.

The guidance makes clear that when posts are shared as part of a wider campaign, businesses themselves can be held accountable for misleading customers, as well as influencers.

Guidance for influencers

The CMA’s guide reminds content creators that misleading customers through hidden adverts could be in breach of consumer protection law and that people should be able to recognise an advert as soon as they view it. This includes when influencers are paid to post, when they receive gifts and when they post on behalf of a brand they own or are employed by. Posts should clearly display that they are paid-for endorsements using #ad or #advert and not use unclear terms, such as: #gift, #gifted, or #spon, among other ambiguous hashtags.

Separately, the CMA and ASA’s existing ‘Guide for influencers’ sets out clearly what influencers need to do when sharing paid-for and promoted content online.

On 22 April 2022, the UK government announced that it intends to legislate to give the CMA the power to enforce consumer protection law directly – meaning to make a legal finding that a company has breached consumer law. Amongst other things, this would enable the CMA to fine companies for breaches. However, the government has not yet published the draft legislation for this.