If you’ve been turning a profit on Instagram, it’s time to get your #ad house in order.
A new provision in the code of ethics, issued by the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA), seems aimed at brands and influencers who hawk their wares on social media. Coming into effect Wednesday, the code states that sponsored content “must be clearly distinguishable as such to the relevant audience.”
Some bloggers are using hashtags like #sp or #sponsored on Twitter and other platforms.
The world of influencer marketing, where celebrities, public personalities and bloggers get paid to promote brands across their social media accounts, is a nebulous one and notoriously difficult to regulate.
Some companies pay people outright to post on Instagram singing the praises of their weight loss supplement, while others may exchange goods for pictures. The AANA code applies in both cases, but not if a brand simply sends a blogger T-shirts, for example, without instructing them in any way to post.
As a guide, the AANA code designates content as advertising if the marketer has “a reasonable degree of control” over the material, and if it intentionally promotes a service or a product.
The AANA’s code of ethics is “best practice,” however, and not legally enforceable. There are more severe consequences in the offing. As the ABC reported, fines of up to A$220,000 per post are possible for influencers and A$1.1 million for brands that break Australian consumer law.
While Australia is only now getting it together when it comes to influencer advertising, sponsored content in the U.S. has been required to be unambiguously tagged for years.
Always at the forefront of #sp, the Kardashian family have been rapped over the knuckles numerous time by U.S. authorities and accused of flouting disclosure rules. In 2015, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said that a post in which Kim Kardashian promoted the morning sickness drug Diclegis was “false and misleading.”
Guy Marshall, strategy director and partner at the advertising firm Bashful, said the question of if and how sponsored content should be labelled was a common one in the industry. Often it’s less to less to do with misleading people, he suggested, than wanting a brand’s message to seem genuine. A “clunky” or “inorganic” post that’s obviously been bought and paid for doesn’t help sell the product.
“If it comes across as forced, people can see through that,” he said. “A few years ago, people weren’t that literate about sponsored content, but now everyone knows.”
In any case, the AANA may be running behind schedule. Marshall said the shine has gone off influencer marketing generally. “Two years ago, every client would come in and ask what you thought about an influencer strategy, but that’s dropping right off,” he said.
That downturn extends to the reach and power of posts: “We noticed about a year ago that [sponsored posts] stopped working as well. They weren’t getting as much engagement,” he explained.
It’s unclear whether that change is because people got tired of the format or because of algorithm changes across Facebook and Instagram that push down certain content. But these days, there’s less demand and less cash for influencers. “If you kept making the same ad over and over again, it just becomes less impactful,” he added.
The AANA update comes as Instagram appears to be testing new tools to help influencers be more transparent about sponsored content. The feature, spotted by only a few users, seems intended to let users tag “partners” or brands on their posts, potentially making it clearer when a post is actually advertising.