Read our simplified version of the ASA’s guidelines on influencer and affiliate marketing. Find out how the changes affect both brands and influencers.
Back in 2017, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) released new guidelines to help users distinguish between organic content and paid ads on social platforms. As influencer marketing has developed from a buzzword to a mainstream marketing tactic these guidelines are so important for both brands and influencers. The line between organic and paid has blurred, causing potential confusion for consumers.
Recognising this, the ASA’s guidelines are intended to:
- Remind influencers that they should clearly label advertorial content
- Clarify what makes a post ‘advertorial’
This sounds simple, but understanding the full list of new guidelines on the ASA website can be daunting.
We’ve put together our own no-nonsense guide on how these guidelines will affect you and your content, whether you’re a brand or an influencer. We’ve got an extra simple TL; DR version, as well as a version with a bit more explanation.
WHAT DO THE NEW ASA GUIDELINES MEAN?
THE TL; DR VERSION
The ASA guidelines apply to your content if a brand or agency has editorial control over the content. This means:
- If they pay a fee for the content
- If they request that products or services be presented in a certain way
- If they request that specific brand terminology be used
- If they request that edits be made to a live post
This definition of editorial control applies in the case of gifting products or services as well – even if no monetary payment has been made.
If your content DOES come under the new ASA guidelines:
- Written posts must include:
- The word ‘ad’ in the title of the post
- A line at the top of the post declaring that it was produced in association with the brand
- Clear identification of any affiliate links used
- Social posts must include:
- The hashtag ‘#ad’ in the caption
- The word ‘ad’ superimposed on images in visual feeds (e.g. Instagram), which can be in a bottom corner, so as not to distract from the content
If your content DOESN’T come under the new ASA guidelines:
- Written posts must include:
- A line at the top of the post declaring that the product or service was gifted by the brand, but all opinions are independent
- This must be at the TOP of the post
- Clear identification of any affiliate links used.
- Social posts should include:
- The hashtag ‘#ad’ in the caption
THE LONG VERSION
When in doubt, disclose
It’s always been best practice to disclose the nature of any collaboration, but this is made especially clear in the new ASA guidelines.
If you’re a brand creating sponsored content or gifting products, ask the influencer to state this in their blog or social posts. Once the posts are live, check to make sure they’ve remembered.
If you’re an influencer, always state at the top of a blog post what products you received for free.
If you’re being paid to create sponsored content, the new rules stipulate you’ll have to go a step further. You must also include the word ‘ad’ in the title of your post and on all related social media. So, if there’s any formal agreement or money changing hands, remember to make the nature of your collaboration entirely transparent.
The ASA has a similar stance to other international advertising bodies, so if you’re working on a campaign in a country where you’re not familiar with advertising guidance, we’d always recommend disclosing.
Posting something as natural when it has in fact been incentivised can appear dishonest and, regardless of the hard and fast rules, could damage the trust you’ve worked to create with your audience too.
Confirm that your post counts as advertorial
Gifting can be a grey area. No matter how small or big the gift the brand gives to an influencer, this needs to be disclosed within the blog or social post. However, what distinguishes gifting activity from an advertisement is whether the brand has editorial control over the post. The new ASA guidelines give an example:
“A brand sends a vlogger items for free without any control of the content (or any conditions attached) and the vlogger may or may not choose to include the item(s) in a vlog. This sort of PR activity is not covered by the CAP Code; because there is no control, the video would not need to be labelled as an advertorial.”
The level at which brand input into influencer content becomes ‘editorial control’ is still a little ambiguous. Our recommendation is that if the gift is provided as part of straightforward PR activity to gain coverage, without stipulating to the influencer that certain terms and keywords be mentioned, any content would not need to be labelled as an advertisement. It will still need to be disclosed that the brand gifted the item, as detailed above.
On the other hand, if a brand gifts an item to an influencer on the understanding that they will include specific messaging or phrasing, or frame discussion of the products or services in a certain context, we would classify this as an advertisement. This also applies to posts where brands have requested changes after the post is live. This content would need to be clearly marked as an advertisement, as set out by the ASA guidelines above.
Be aware of Instagram’s “technical quirks” to ensure clarity
One of the most important changes that influencers should be aware of is each social platform’s “technical quirks”, and how they should inform their method of disclosure.
The ASA has always recommended that you signal advertorial content as soon as possible. However, platforms that are available as a visual feed, like Instagram, now need to include the word ‘ad’ on the image itself for any paid-for posts. This is to ensure that viewers know which posts are advertorial before they click through to the description.
In social posts such as this, we’d recommend including the word ‘ad’ in one corner of the image, so as to comply with the guidelines while impacting the subject and quality of the image as little as possible. We would also recommend using ‘#ad’ in all social post captions.
Transparency is the best policy
In a nutshell, the new guidelines set out by the ASA recommend that transparency is the best policy.
Whether you’re a brand or an influencer, we’d always recommend disclosing the nature of your collaboration. It helps consumers fairly judge what content they want to engage with online. Clearly marking what posts are part of a paid collaboration demonstrates that users can trust you to be upfront with them: an invaluable signal in a world of increasingly savvy audiences.
To discuss influencer and affiliate marketing in more detail, give us a call on +44 (0)207 607 5650 for a no-obligation coffee and chat about marketing and behaviour across all inbound channels.