The CMA Guidelines: Two Months On
By Sophie Nightingale
On the 23rd January, the CMA (Competition and Market Authority) released new guidelines for UK influencers designed to make influencer marketing more transparent. This comes after continuous questioning of authenticity in partnerships and audience confusion of ad labelling. As the market continues to rapidly expand, influencers are now able to charge thousands of pounds for just one Instagram post, with the likes of Zoe Sugg charging the top end of £30,000 for one brand sponsored image on Instagram. We’ve spoken about the breadth of the rules and what this means for influencer marketing here.
A recent study by influencer marketing agency CollectivEdge found that nearly 65% of influencers aren’t properly disclosing sponsored content. Despite this, when the new guidelines were released in January, a huge backlash followed from the blogger industry. Many were questioning the necessity, the tightness of the new rules (which state influencers must now notify audiences of brands they have both previously and currently work with), as well as the lack of celebrity involvement, with the guidelines seemingly drawn up to target social-media-made influencers only.
Whilst some have welcomed the guidelines, many have taken to their respective channels to question and work out if they’re doing it right or not. Some media outlets have gone as far to say that it’s the end of influencer marketing as we know it.
Who classes as an ‘influencer’?
A common confusion is the definition of ‘influencer’ and who that targets. Reality stars such as Megan Barton-Hansen, who rose to fame on the 2018 Love Island show, now has 1.2 million Instagram followers and rarely tagged any brand partnerships or sponsored posts on social media. Despite this, her online content ranged from promoting teeth whitening, fake tan, anti-bullying campaigns, hair extensions and fast fashion. Whilst bloggers were fretting about how to amend sponsored ads to reflect the new CMA guidelines, Megan’s Instagram content stayed the same with no real clear method of differentiating original and sponsored content (only in the last few days adding #ad to the end of her captions, and it should actually be at the beginning).
This bares the questions; what kind of ‘influencers’ are subject to these new guidelines and have they been made with intent to ostracise bloggers?
Has it worked?
After an overload of #ads, affiliate link and #gifted tags on what felt like every single photo, sentence and video when the guidelines were announced, the initial scare is starting to ware off. The labelling of products and sponsored content is quietly fading away, revealing that maybe this was more of an education for audiences of how influencer marketing works, rather than a positive change in transparency for the industry.
Transparency has been achieved however in the tag ‘purchased but previously worked with’ that some bloggers are using. This tells the user that even though they have previously been paid to review and promote products from that brand, they enjoyed and were impressed with the product so much that they decided to re-purchase it with their own money, highlighting which brands influencers are returning to out of personal choice.
Blogger and stylist Alexandra Stedman of ‘The Frugality’ tweeted:
“The problem with gift disclosure on social media is that you do it once, then don’t disclose on the next, people assume it’s because you’ve given up disclosing. No, it’s because there aren’t gifts in every picture, not sure why people can’t fathom that”
“I have actually seen some great changes from PRs since everyone started following the gifting rules: they email and ask if I’d like to receive something”
Suggesting that although the guidelines have shed light on the constant promotion of consumerism from influencers, not all content is sponsored, and this could actually lead to further confusion. With research finding that 37% of social media users find the rules of sponsored content confusing, this doesn’t seem to be a step in the right direction. CollectivEdge also revealed that 31% of influencers have had brands ask them not to disclose sponsored content. This is a worryingly high number of brands removing consumer trust and brand transparency in order to appear more authentic.
So, what next?
Although the call for stricter guidelines of ad labelling was long overdue, the requirement details and definition of who should be using the tags is yet to be made clear. The newness and continuous evolvement of the industry has been highlighted dramatically as even those that are perceived to be the rule makers still seem to be confused with how influencer marketing works.
As Alex Steadman commented on noticing brands now asking if she wanted something sent, the next step might be a shift in the number of gifted products influencers receive, with brands being more careful and conscious of overloading gifted content. This is great news for the environment and the future of more sustainable PR.