Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the new CMA guidelines for influencers. Despite various previous attempts, nowhere before have we seen something that so clearly sets out the expectations for any individual who is promoting products and brands online. Whilst I would recommend reading the whole thing, here are a few key takeouts:
  1. Disclosure should be made on ALL content
  2. Disclosure should be made upfront and shouldn’t require the audience to click on anything; disclosure should be at the front of any caption or within the title and/or image thumbnail.
  3. Language used must be clear and recognisable to your audience; so you can’t use #spon, ‘in collaboration with’ or anything other than #ad.
  4. Products that have been part of a paid campaign or gifted to you in the past must be disclosed when they appear in content, for up to a year after.
However, reactions to these guidelines have been far from straightforward. I’ve seen headlines pronouncing an apocalyptic ‘end of influencer marketing as we know it’, while in contrast, some influencers have openly welcomed these guidelines.  Given such diverse opinions, I thought I would address some of the criticisms from those who have found fault in the guidelines.

They’re not comprehensive enough

To argue this is likely to be a failure to recognise the complexity of the task at hand. Firstly, while these guidelines may not explicitly by law, they do circulate within the same space and speak to the laws that – we as an industry – have to obey. Secondly, social media platforms themselves are highly dynamic; the continual appearance of new ones (TikTok, anyone?) and the countless different ways of creating, posting and delivering content. Creating a comprehensive set of guidelines would mean updating them every day and would be neither realistic nor desirable for anyone in the industry – brands or influencers.

They’re unworkable for most influencers to adhere to

Yes, the CMA probably didn’t ask influencers for their input into these guidelines, but this doesn’t mean they’re out to destroy the industry. We have to remember, their job is to ensure that consumers aren’t misled by advertisements, not to appease influencers and do what’s easiest for them. Nevertheless, greater levels of transparency with consumers certainly are beneficial to influencers. Transparency forges trust and engagement; essential to any fruitful brand-creator relationship.

They’re confusing for consumers themselves

The CMA places a focus on the significance of disclosing gifts and disclosing any relationships with a brand in the last year or so. Some have argued that disclosing gifts is confusing for consumers because the influencer hasn’t technically been paid. However, as far as the CMA is concerned, gifts help to establish a relationship between a brand and an influencer. Any relationship between a brand and an influencer thereby negates the objectivity of the influencer and, as such, any content produced about that brand by the influencer is promotional and, therefore, should be disclosed.  However, I would say if you’re an influencer and you’re genuinely worried that this may confuse your followers, one thing you could do is to just take the time to explain the reason for the disclosure.

Why aren’t other forms of media being held to such a high standard?

It would take a lot to convince me of the CMA’s argument that the vast majority of consumers can recognise undisclosed advertising in other branches of the media, but not where influencers are concerned. For example, magazines don’t have to ensure that their readers see #Ad before they consume their content of luxurious villa holiday in the South of France for which the reporter’s trip was likely paid. This is unfair, and something that authorities should address in the near future. However, in the current moment, we can only change our own actions and set an example for other industries to follow. Overall, there are three key points you can take away from this. Firstly, while the guidelines aren’t perfect, no rule is.  For them to work, they need to be dynamic and adapted based on the realities of the industry and consumers’ growing understanding of influencer marketing. Secondly, these guidelines may well have been created for the benefit of consumers but they’re also beneficial to those working in the industry; they help to establish trust – inextricably linked to consumer loyalty and engagement. Finally, and most importantly, regardless of how you may personally feel about these guidelines, they’re here to stay. We should take the interest and involvement of the CMA as a sign they’re starting to take us seriously and our impact is being recognised. Yes, we should interrogate them, but we must respect them if we want this industry to be taken seriously in the long-term.
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