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Feb 28, 2017 · 4 min read

Influencers now need full disclosure

Brands who pay influencers to promote them on social media or for product placements will now have to disclose they’re doing so.

As of March 1st 2017, it is a requirement that all social media influencers must disclose they’re being paid or incentivised for spruiking brands or products, according to new guidelines set out by the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA). Social media may have been the instigator for these new guidelines but it does also affect traditional media such as advertorials and product placement.

The AANA issue has issued detailed guidance on how to avoid falling foul of its new provision — clause 2.7 of its code of ethics — which states that:

“advertising or marketing communication must be clearly distinguishable as such to the relevant audience”

The new guidelines also advise (or demand) that advertisers must make advertisements “clearly distinguishable” from surrounding content and make sure they “do not camouflage the fact that it is advertising”.

Most famous for kickstarting the release of these guidelines and the need for full disclosure was the South Australian Tourist Commission who was outed by the ABC’s Media Watch in 2012 for paying influencers, such as chef Matt Moran to tweet about their experiences on Kangaroo Island. 

Disclosure about when you’re being paid to review or say something positive about a product or brand is not necessarily new and has been enforced in the USA for some time under the FTC and the UK under the Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. The disclosure is designed to give clear and unambiguous notice to your site visitors that you may earn a commission for recommending products on your website.

The requirements in the USA and UK are not something you will yet find in Australia, but the latest standards set out by the AANA are possibly a step in that direction although as of right now most affiliates are relatively unaffected.

If it’s not mandatory or enforceable why is disclosure so important?

Suppose you meet someone who tells you about a great new product. She tells you it performs wonderfully and offers fantastic new features that nobody else has. Would that recommendation factor into your decision to buy the product? Probably.

Now suppose the person works for the company that sells the product — or has been paid by the company to tout the product. Would you want to know that when you’re evaluating the endorser’s glowing recommendation? Absolutely. That common-sense premise is at the heart of the rulings in both the UK and USA with their disclosure policies but also at the heart of the AANA guidelines.

Many in Australia in the advertising industry have not bat an eyelid at this new requirement and for many it’s a good thing. It stems from the belief that truth in advertising is important in all media, whether they have been around for decades (like, television and magazines) or are relatively new (like, blogs and social media).

An example given by the AANA for social media influencers is below:

FabFaces arranges with the influencer to post content on social media where FabFaces retains control over the content.

The requirement for following the guidelines in this instance would be:

That content is likely to be considered a marketing communication and must be clearly distinguishable as such to the relevant audience, for example a tweet could include a tag @FabFaces #ad or if there are a series of connected tweets in a short space of time, the final tweet could include a brand tag e.g. #FabFaces #ad or similar wording.

For the full AANA Guidelines you download the PDF here.

Given that most influencer campaigns only run for short periods of time it is unclear just how much impact this ruling will have or how effectively it can be policed, considering the Advertising Standards Bureau has no statutory powers to punish those that don’t follow these guidelines — it depends if you’re concerned about a bit of bad press if exposed. Although it can be said that to establish trust it’s just a case of good ethics to disclose the fact you’re being paid or incentivised to say something positive about a brand or product.

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