The quest for greater transparency

This year is shaping up to be a key one for influencer marketing transparency. No longer can there be any debate about its importance with everyone – from leading self-regulatory (SR) bodies to brand owners and agencies – taking the topic seriously.

Whether it’s the launch of Threads, inexorable rise of AI, or increased profile of digital advertising, there are seemingly no end of opportunities and challenges facing influencers and creatives.

It was heartening to see the European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA) recently publish its Best Practice Recommendation on Influencer Marketing Guidance and introduced its ‘DiscloseMe’ tool for commercial collaborations.

A key word in its executive summary is disclosure. “Influencers are urged to include multiple forms of disclosure for each marketing post or video. The clearer the disclosure, the higher the chance of compliance with SR rules.”

It also advocates tagging the brand as an additional form of disclosure, on top of recommended keywords and hashtags (such as #sponsor #advertising etc).

“It is vital to clearly draw the lines between genuine opinions shared by such influence holders – also known as “editorial content” – and the ones that have a marketing intent,” it states.

“However, since influencer marketing is closely linked to the concept of user-generated content, these lines can blur more easily than in traditional advertising, which could subsequently mislead consumers.

“Therefore, the role of the advertising self-regulatory organisations is to guide the industry stakeholders – advertisers and brand owners as well as influencers themselves – to use this marketing technique responsibly and in compliance with the existing SR principles and national SR codes.”

But what’s that French phrase – ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same?’

All these new dynamics simply illustrate the need for greater transparency and authenticity.

EASA’s report essentially echoes the ABG’s comprehensive report on influencer marketing, and the launch of our charter, last year.

Disclosure, and clarifying ‘grey areas’ – such as barter deals and gifts, categorisation, permits and restricted products and services – was a red flag in our report too.

In interviews with influencer marketing agencies, brands and agencies, more than two-thirds (63.6%) agreed for the need to clarify the spectrum of influencer marketing best practices and 50% said there were lingering concerns surrounding transparent disclosure and rules versus creative authenticity.

More than two-thirds also agreed there is not enough market guidance and education on the issue of transparency.

The need for industry and market alignment remains pressing therefore, as does improving collaboration with social platforms.

That’s why the ABG is launching a taskforce, comprising brands, agencies, and marketing leads, to keep the issue in the limelight, engage with influencers and take the agenda forward.

Priya Sarma, Communications Manager for the ABG, said, “We have come a long way and despite the positive developments, there is still a lot of work to do. Through our charter, we need to maintain momentum and ensure that we are serving the needs of all stakeholders – be they influencers, brands or consumers.”

Notions of transparency and authenticity will continue to be fiercely debated, both within the influencers’ sphere and outside it. Labelling AI-generated content looks set to be the next battleground looming on the horizon.

It should be stressed that these are global challenges. In 2018 the UK Advertising Standards Authority changed the regulations, so any free gifts had to be declared, but a survey last year found just 35% adhere to the rules.

The 2023 State of Social & User-Generated Content (SOSUGC) report found consumers trust ‘authentic, unpaid reviews from real customers more than any other type of content’.

While that’s not necessarily good news for influencers or bots, it’s unlikely to stop influencers in their tracks.

Indeed an Open Influence report, which surveyed more than 150 brand marketing leaders, found 60% expect their influencer budgets to increase this year. Trust and credibility, while not headline-grabbing, will remain critically important.

Influencers are very much here to stay, but ultimately it’s in their own interest to be forthright and transparent to their followers as much as it is for their brand partners.

By Priya Sarma, Communications Manager, ABG