Last month, the Digital Culture Media and Sport Committee (DCMS) called on the government to legislate on influencer marketing. Brands and influencers widely welcomed the interventions, but a crackdown on influencers raised the question…why should they comply if the rest of the industry doesn’t have to?
The influencer economy is becoming more professional, which comes with increased scrutiny from government and advertising watchdogs.
What regulations are on the cards
William Soulier, CEO and co-founder of ad agency Talent Village, says that while most creators are happy to disclose ads, “it doesn’t seem fair to limit this restriction to influencer marketing. In this case, should a footballer disclose when he is paid by a sports brand to wear his clothes on the pitch?”
According to Soulier, it’s the brands and agencies, not the influencers, who are asking for the touch-ups. “This raises the question of whether this topic should be limited to influencers alone or applied to the rest of the marketing and advertising industry, as it appears to be a systemic issue,” he asks.
It’s an issue previously voiced in The Drum following Ogilvy’s ban on working with influencers who alter their image. Christina Miller, UK Social Media Manager, VMLY&R, in response to Ogilvy’s policy, said: “So before we penalize influencers and tell them that beauty standards are different, we need to make sure that they really are across the board. For example, we need to consider whether brands are still using altered images or retouched models on other marketing touchpoints.”
Lindsey Gamble, Associate Director of Influencer Innovation, Mavrck, said: “If something like this is to be implemented, it should also be implemented in other relevant areas such as professional models.”
“We’ve entered a new era of social editors who, for whatever reason, seem to be the scapegoat of mainstream media,” says Soulier.
What do influencers and brands think of government intervention?
The Drum and HyperAuditor came out and asked influencers and brands what they thought of the government legislation, and the results showed the majority supported it.
Nearly 60% of influencers supported government legislation and only 17% opposed any intervention. 66% said legislation would be the best way to better protect the mental health of young people online.
On the brand side, of the 27 surveyed, 73% of marketers agree with the government’s attempt to regulate the industry. Interestingly, more than half said it’s up to the government to regulate, compared to 33% who think it’s the responsibility of social platforms.
HyperAuditor also asked for opinions on the ASA’s “name and shame” strategy. The data revealed that while 41% of influencers agreed with the initiative, 39% of marketers said it had impacted how they worked with influencers.
What do the agencies think?
Claire Morris, head of influencers at Publicis Media Content, welcomes the government’s intervention, saying it has “opened up discussion within the industry, and the heightened public awareness around it holds us all to account. “.
She says influencers and brands have a duty to disclose their collaborations and digitally altered images, but called for additional support from the ASA to “help enforce this agenda”.
A unique challenge in the influencer ecosystem is that it is “made up of thousands of ordinary people – people who don’t work in advertising or marketing and who have limited knowledge of the regulations and guidelines we have to follow” says Gary Clarke, chief commercial officer of Dentsu-owned influencer agency Gleam Features. This means that enforcing policies at government level will “undoubtedly help all parties to adopt a more consistent and standardized approach”, he says.
What are the limits ?
Despite a positive sentiment for regulation, Clarke warns that some legislative recommendations risk “stifling creators’ creativity, content and authenticity – which are crucial factors in this industry.” He gives an example of a CAP recommendation: “The scope of the CAP code should be extended by removing the requirement for editorial ‘control’ to determine whether content constitutes advertising. This, he says, “can lead to all content being labeled as an advertisement – and given the indirect brand-influencer relationship for content that hasn’t been paid for, as well as the lack brand control over this content, [this] could then lead to even less clarity for consumers.
Meanwhile, Morris says that while she is open to an inquiry from MPs into the influencer pay gap, she only warned “if it presents an opportunity to help the industry mature and appropriately recognize the value that creators bring to the table”. She warns that it is difficult to draw a similar comparison between influencers, as the definition of what to pay influencers is based on a “myriad of factors”.