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Warning to brands amid the influencer marketing paid posts clampdown

By Laurna Woods

The rise of influencer marketing has opened up whole new avenues for PR and marketing. But this week’s warning shot at people posting without admitting they’ve been paid for it is a reminder of how brands can get caught in the crossfire.

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has written to a number of influencers – some of them celebrities – questioning how they operate amid concerns about “hidden” advertising.

Some of these household names have millions of followers on social media, people they can sway just by saying they’ve used a beauty product, read a book or spent the night at a hotel.

These kind of online influencers have filled a gap in PR and marketing strategies left by the shrinking reach of newspapers and magazines.

They come with the bonus of reaching an engaged, interested audience. The trick is to find the influencer with the audience that hits your brand’s target demographic.

Consumer protection regulations

The CMA has exposed a danger in such relationships – and all for the want of the three-character hashtag #ad.

Under consumer protection regulations, it has to be clear when content is paid-for promotional material. That applies whether you’re a newspaper or magazine, a commercial website, a blogger, YouTuber or social media influencer. This is because a personal endorsement from someone a reader admires has more influence on the reader than an advert does. Simply, it earns more trust.

As the CMA’s senior director George Lusty said: “It is really important they are clearly told whether a celebrity is promoting a product because they have bought it themselves, or because they have been paid or thanked in some way by the brand.”

When it goes wrong and a social media influencer gets a rap on the knuckles for a promoted post, it reflects on the brand they were promoting. It’s guilt by association.

The BBC cited examples of the kind of conduct that breaks the rules by highlighting influencers caught up in previous disputes – and namechecked their associated brands. While there’s no indication the brands did anything underhand, both the influencer and brand were named and shamed.

Suddenly, the brand finds itself in a minor crisis management situation, its reputation tainted by association with a rule-breaker when all the company wanted to do was some influencer marketing with a trusted face.

Limit exposure to risk

There is a very simple means of limiting the exposure to such risk. As a matter of course, the social influencers our PR and marketing agency deals with will sign a contract or written agreement when we’re paying them to promote a client’s product or service. This stipulates that influencers must make it clear it’s a paid-for promotional post - and they can do that with just those three characters: #ad.

The CMA has issued its warning. It’s asked the public to get in touch with their experiences. This isn’t something that is going to go away and isn’t something any business working with online influencers can ignore.

If you know influencer marketing is being clamped down on, then you have a duty to your brand to make sure it doesn’t suffer collateral damage.

If your PR and marketing strategy uses influencer marketing, stick to the CMA code – and back it up with a contract.

To find out how we push the boundaries of PR and marketing to get the best for our clients, call us now on 0800 612 9890.