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Celebrity endorsements on social media

Social media posts and in particular those on Instagram from celebrities/influencers will soon look a bit different

The Competition & Markets Authority (a Government agency) is stepping up its efforts in a bid to cut down on a perceived widespread lack of transparency on popular accounts.

This week, the CMA revealed that it had sent warning letters to a number of British celebrities and influencers – including Alexa Chung, Ellie Goulding, Holly Hagan, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Michelle Keegan, Mario Falcone, Millie Mackintosh, Megan McKenna, Chloe Sims, Louise Thompson and Rita Ora – alerting them of the need to properly label their social media posts. According to a statement from the CMA, an individual’s failure to disclose whether he/she has been paid or otherwise “incentivised” (including by way of gifts or free products) runs afoul of consumer protection law.

“Influencers can have a huge impact on what their fans decide to buy. People could, quite rightly, feel misled if what they thought was a recommendation from someone they admired turns out to be a marketing ploy,” Andrea Coscelli, chief executive of the CMA, said. “You should be able to tell as soon as you look at a post if there is some form of payment or reward involved, so you can decide whether something is really worth spending your hard-earned money on.”

In addition to sending letters to an array of famous figures, the CMA has published influencer-specific guidance, called, “Social media endorsements: being transparent with your followers,” which requires that “any form of reward, including money, gifts of services or products, or the loan of a product, is ‘payment’ – whether you originally asked for it or got sent it out of the blue” be disclosed by way of clear language, such as “#Ad, #Advert, and using the ‘Paid Partnership’ tool on Instagram in addition to these hashtags.”

As for practices that do not go far enough to comply with the legal requirements, the CMA points to simply tagging brands without any disclosure language, “using ambiguous language without additional disclosure in a post, such as ‘thank you’; ‘made possible by’; ‘in collaboration with’; or ‘thanks to…,’” using “unclear” language, such as “#sp; #spon; #client; #collab; etc,” and hiding the disclosure hashtags “at the end of or among other text and/or hashtags.”

It should be noted that the CMA did also state that its investigation, the one that resulted in its sending letters to the aforementioned influencers, did not determine whether or not the individuals had actually breached legislation, and the agency noted that “all influencers co-operated with the CMA and volunteered to make changes to their practices.”