The advertising watchdog has ramped up its calls for clear labelling of social media adverts amid concerns users still struggle to identify sponsored posts.
In a report published today, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said its findings dispelled any arguments that clear labelling was not needed and re-emphasised the importance of influencers being clear and upfront in their approach.
The watchdog said current regulation that requires influencers to label sponsored posts with #ad was “necessary as a minimum”, but it did not outline any further measures.
The ASA spent 18 months investigating the influencer marketing sector as it looks to ensure consumers are not misled.
The Competition and Markets Authority has also clamped down on social media endorsements, and influencers are now required to state clearly when they have been paid to post material, either through direct payment or free goods.
A report published earlier this year by marketing firm Socialbakers revealed the use of #ad has more than doubled since the regulatory crackdown began.
However, the ASA’s latest research suggested that social media users still struggle to spot sponsored content.
“The research tells us that all of us can find it hard to identify when an influencer is advertising, so it’s crucial that ads are labelled clearly,” said ASA chief executive Guy Parker.
“Our message to influencers and brands couldn’t be clearer: be upfront with followers, for example by using #ad.”
The ASA warned that influencers who did not disclose ads were treating their followers unfairly and were eroding trust in the wider influencer community. Any influencer who falls foul of the regulations faces potential investigation and enforcement action, the watchdog added.
Kostyantyn Lobov, senior associate at law firm Harbottle & Lewis, said failing to disclose a commercial relationship could also be a criminal offence under consumer law.
“Although criminal prosecution for minor infractions is relatively unlikely, it’s something that brands need to be aware of when deciding how close they want to sail to the wind,” he said.
Earlier this year a string of influencers, including singers Rita Ora and Ellie Goulding, vowed to be more transparent about their social media posts.
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