Influencers and the Media: Navigating the World of #Ads

Those invested in the influencer sphere will know that new Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) laws for influencers have come into effect. With the issue of transparency cropping up repeatedly, the pressure is on for those working in outreach to clearly state their #ads. It begs the question – what is being done to hold the media accountable in the same way?

For those unfamiliar with the ASA guidelines, they state that all content created for a brand where the influencer is receiving payment – be that through money, goods or services – is classed as an ad; and, according to the ASA, “ads ‘must be obviously identifiable as such’.” Unfortunately, the advice offered by the ASA is a little vague: influencers can choose between ‘ad’, ‘advert’, ‘advertising’, ‘advertisement’ or ‘#ad’; however, no differentiation has to be made as to whether the content has been paid for, or whether it has been created in exchange for goods. When an influencer has been gifted, say, a lipstick, in return for a review, is that indeed an ad? Or would the term gifted be more accurate? 

Photo Credit:    Unsplash

Photo Credit: Unsplash

This grey area has caused much confusion and concern for honest influencers who wish to remain transparent – both to maintain the trust of their audience, and to avoid a hefty fine from the ASA. Despite the confusion, most influencers are managing to navigate their way through the guidelines and make sure their content is above board and ASA approved.

Influencer, Nyomi Winter has spoken openly about the importance of advertising disclaimers on her blog. "If you are to trust me, which I want you to, then you deserve my honesty, integrity and authenticity. It's the least I can do.” 

While influencer marketing is proliferating, it is still a relatively new trend. With the current issues surrounding authenticity, follower counts and bots, it makes sense for regulations to be put in place to ensure transparency; however, it then follows that these regulations surrounding paid for content should apply to the press also.

We’re all familiar with the glossy ads that feature in magazines. They’re easy to spot, and it’s understood that brands have paid for this space. However, brands and publishers collaborate on other forms of paid advertisement which are less clear, for example, branded video content, or inclusion of products in photoshoots and articles. The lack of transparency is worrying; to the typical reader what looks like organic, unbiased coverage is in fact another form of advertising.

Photo Credit:    Unsplash

Photo Credit: Unsplash

When it comes to the double standards seen between influencer marketing and traditional media, Nyomi believes: "with a blogger, you are getting the content for free because we advertise, and we are super clear about it. Yet we are held to a higher account as an individual providing free content than a multi-staffed magazine that you've paid to manipulate you." 

The ASA advises that “newspapers and magazines should be careful not to disguise advertorial content as editorial,” yet does not explicitly state how magazines and newspapers should declare this. Furthermore, there seem to be few regulations around the press covering stories in exchange for paid advertisements. 

It’s unlikely that ASA guidelines for the media will alter any time soon, as there is little call for it to change – however this may simply be because audiences do not fully understand that publications are hiding ads in plain sight. Due to the openness of influencer marketing, it is much easier to spot sponsored content that has not been disclosed. We hold influencers to a higher standard and expect them to be fully transparent, while we are so used to adverts embedded within traditional media that they are able to fly under the radar when it comes to disclosing advertorial content.

Photo Credit:    Unsplash

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Although it’s unlikely guidelines will change any time soon, at least you'll now be able to spot those hidden ads that pop up throughout your day.