A Guide To Influencer Advertising In The UK

Elise Ngobi
October 15, 2019
Last Updated On

While navigating influencer partnerships has always been murky for brands, the recent implementation of advertising regulations surrounding how influencers post paid or sponsored content has completely shifted the influencer marketing landscape in the UK, as well as globally.

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Influencers have become prolific to the point where they are now mentioned on the “channel” lists of some of the world’s leading advertising agencies. It seems that everybody’s doing it. That said, just because a marketing territory is popular doesn’t mean there aren’t significant challenges to address.

Word-of-mouth is every marketer’s dream. What’s better than your loyal customers doing the promoting for you? Not much, given that 92% of consumers trust recommendations from family and friends over any other type of advertising. But what about when brands are paying or incentivising Instagram users with large audiences for what looks like word of mouth, but is in reality, an advertisement?

We’re sure you’ve seen the influencer related scandals in the press. When a brand is found to have paid an influencer to promote their product, and the influencer hadn’t specified that the promotion was paid for (by writing “ad” in the caption, for example), it can become a PR nightmare. Especially if the influencer made seemingly honest proclamations about the product or service, only then for it to be revealed that they in fact didn’t use the product at all, and were fed that information by the brand.

There’s no doubt that working with influencers can help you reach new audiences, drive growth, increase brand awareness, and sell products. And while the ongoing debate surrounding authenticity and consumer sentiment burns on, there is one vital aspect that is not up for debate—advertising regulations.

We’ve brought together the rules and regulations that govern paid partnerships in the UK, so you can make sure that while you’re nailing your KPIs, you’re also playing by the rules.

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The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)

The ASA is the self-regulatory organisation of the advertising industry in the UK. It’s independent and makes sure that ads in the UK media stick to the advertising rules, or “The Advertising Codes”. The Advertising Codes are written by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP). The CAP is the sister organisation of the ASA, and it’s their mission to ensure that every advert in the UK is responsible.

The advertising watchdog has released various guidelines aimed at influencers, and brands need to take note of these rules to ensure they’re working within these boundaries.

A recent report published by the ASA found that people struggle to identify if social media posts by influencers are adverts or not. 98% of the complaints the ASA received in 2018 came from members of the public, and 72% of them concerned potentially misleading ads. Influencer advertising can be seen as misleading if it’s not clear to the public that the content has been paid for or sponsored in any way by the featured brand. Consumers are waking up to this issue and want to know when they’re being advertised to.

This is why influencers are now required to use a visible and prominent reference—using “#ad” as a necessary minimum—to let viewers know that a piece of content has been paid for and is an advert. While #ad is the minimum expected from influencers posting on behalf of a brand, let’s not forget that Instagram makes it super simple for influencers to let their followers know what they’re getting paid for with the Paid Partnership tool.

The Competition & Markets Authority (CMA)

The CMA is a non-ministerial government department which promotes competition for the benefit of consumers, both within and outside of the UK. They often investigate organisations, entire markets, and any anti-competitive behaviour, and provide guidelines on influencer advertising.

Like the ASA, their guidelines are directed towards influencers, informing them how they must act when promoting products or services in their posts. Spanning paid partnerships, incentives, and rewards, the CMA states that, “Any form of reward, including money, gifts of services or products is ‘payment’ - whether you originally asked for it or got sent it out of the blue”.

Regulations Go Mainstream

The ASA teamed up with ITV’s Love Island to encourage influencers to use the #ad to let their audiences know which posts are sponsored. The idea was to help contestants of the most popular show like, ever, navigate the complex world of being Insta-famous both while the show was airing and as they emerged back into the real world.

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Where Does This Leave Brands?

These regulations and guidelines exist to protect consumers, and as a brand, your customers are likely at the heart of everything you do. These guidelines should apply to your influencer marketing strategy too. When gifting, paying, or rewarding influencers to promote your product, it should be a best practice to ensure that your partners are labelling their posts in line with the rules.

While brands must do everything they can to ensure their promotional content is labelled correctly, ultimately, the final responsibility lies with the influencer. It’s the influencer who writes the caption, chooses whether or not they include #ad or use the Paid Partnership feature, and hits post. That said, brands entering into contractual agreements can make this a requirement, ensuring that any sponsored content is labelled correctly. However, as the industry continues to grow and these relationships become more sophisticated, brands and influencers will have to work together—and overcome their fear of #ad, in order to keep their customers in the know.

Further reading:

So there you have it. You can now partner with purpose and integrity.

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