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23 May 2019 Laia

This is not an #ad: Exploring the latest guidelines around disclosure in influence marketing

influence marketing disclosure
This is not an #ad: Exploring the latest guidelines around disclosure in influence marketing

What does the latest update to the social media advertising code mean for brand collaborations with influencers

Almost 15 years after the invention of the TV, the first  advert was broadcast in the USA on July 1, 1941. The advert was for the watch brand, Bulova, which paid approximately $9 (R2279 adjust for inflation using exchange rate on date of publication) for the announcement. Fast forward around 80 years, and another watch brand, Daniel Wellington, has leveraged a new medium of advertising to turn $15000 (R215 000) capital into a brand with $220 million (R3 billion) revenue.

This new medium of advertising was Influencer Marketing, and the brand was the most mentioned brand on Instagram by influencers in 2018, receiving more mentions than Nike. The brand approached me in 2016 and I promoted them in a trade exchange where I did not disclose that the content was advertising. It was in the same year that the Federal Trade Commision (FTC) in America started cracking down on guidelines it created around disclosure in influencer marketing.

My naivety and bias as an influencer at the time, saw me contradict the guidelines as I felt disclosing that a piece of content was an advert would jeopardise reception of the message. I reinforced this opinion in my head by highlighting that no television advert discloses that it is a television advert, so why should I have to? Regardless of my opinion, the now liquidated Advertising Standards Authority had guidelines around the matter which hadn’t fully integrated the circumstances and needs of influence marketing.

Over time I conceded that my opinion was misinformed.I realised that the issue here was that consumer clearly knows the difference between an advert and normal programming on television. And ultimately if we want influencer marketing as a medium to receive the same recognition as the traditional mediums, then we have to follow the same guidelines and codes.

The newly constituted Advertising Regulatory Board recently passed regulations which clarify the code of practice in relation to brand messaging in collaboration with influencers. The updated code specific to social media in Appendix K will be binding once published on the ARB website.

What is the Advertising Regulatory Board?

The ARB is a self-regulatory body founded by original core members of the Marketing Association of South Africa, the Association for Communication and Advertising and the Internet Advertising Bureau. The body is tasked with the protection of consumer with responsible advertising and their aim is to regulate the content of South African advertising and prevent fraudulent or deceptive advertising. The organisation regulates through the acceptance of complaints from consumers or businesses and the process is governed by guidelines listed on their website.

What are the updates to the Social Media Code in regards to influence marketing?

The code defines an influencer as “an individual or group who brands pay to engage with Social Media in a certain way, on a certain topic or in the promotion of a brand or publisher. Often an Influencer has or is perceived to have the ability to influence the behaviour or opinions of others, but this is not prescriptive to fulfil the role of a paid influencer.

1. Declaration of advertising

The code stipulates that brands or advertiser are required to disclose in an identifiable manner if content forms part of a paid advertising campaign. The following identifiers are  recognised:

  • #ad
  • #advertisement
  • #sponsored

2. Declaration of trade exchange

The code stipulates that influencers are required to disclose if they receive products or services in exchange for coverage, even if this is not expressly stated.

3. Misleading consumers

The code stipulates that influencer advertising should not mislead consumers and the messaging should be responsible and accurate.

4. Responsibility of the brand or advertiser

The code stipulates that the brand is responsible if influencer messaging does not comply with its codes. The brands are also required to provide influencers with information to ensure that influencers have a sufficient understanding of their product or service.

What does this mean for brands or advertiser?

The ARB code has fully caught up with the circumstances and needs of influencer marketing and it is now clear how the existing guidelines apply to this medium. The onus is now on brands and agencies to ensure that that their collaborations with influencers follow guidelines.

If the ARB receives a complaint and makes a decision against the material, it will be the responsibility of the brand to remove the material. While not fully legislated the reputational risk for a brand is great and this would have the opposite effect of what was intended of the collaboration in the first place.

In a lot of influencer brand collaborations I encounter online, I’m not seeing the code being followed which is a potential risk for brands. My instinct tells me the code isn’t being followed because of  fear that disclosure will negatively impact the reception of the messaging or content. In my opinion if the content created entertains, inspires or educates the audience, disclosure shouldn’t affect reception. Ultimately, the updated code will improve the medium as it will demand an increase in the quality of storytelling to ensure brand, influencer, and audience needs are met.


My only suggestion for the code would be increase the identifiers included for the declaration of advertising to include #spon and #paidpartner as recognised identifiers.

Let me know your thoughts on the latest guidelines around disclosure on influence marketing on Twitter.

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Thozi Sejanamane Head of Influence

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