“Influencer Marketing” is a very well known topic to the jurists and operators of the advertising sector dealing with commercial communication.
There is a core principle in communication law: any form of commercial communication shall be clearly recognizable as such.
Before the diffusion of digital communication and, along with it, the proliferation of the so-called “Influencer Marketing”, the issue of recognizability of commercial communication was generally discussed when evaluating whether an advertising content was clearly distinguishable from a journalistic or an informative content (such is the longstanding issue regarding the advertorial).
For a short period of time there was a debate regarding the so-called subliminal advertising, which eventually fell into oblivion.
The necessity to point out to the consumer whether the appreciation for a product or a service shown by a well-known person – precisely an “Influencer” – (i.e. the endorsement) is genuine or not has become a much encountered and controversial topic.
It shall not be considered as spontaneous when an individual receives remuneration for wearing a fashion item, for using a smartphone, or simply when he/she receives as a gift the products that he/she promotes or other valuable products.
It is clear and proven that the spontaneous choice of an “idol” by the public has a bigger impact on these same people rather than any traditional way of advertising. Hence the abuse of surreptitious advertising on the less easily monitored channel: the web, precisely.
What measures should be taken to ensure that the consumers can understand clearly whether a post is subject of a contract or not?
The answer would be very simple.
It would be enough to require the sponsored post to contain, in clearly visible characters, terms as “Advertisement”, “Sponsored by”, “Commercial agreement” or similar notices.
In Italy, in absence of a law regulating specifically the matter, both the Istituto della Pubblicità (Italy’s Advertising Self-Regulatory Institute) and the Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato (the Competition Authority) have expressed their opinion on this subject.
In the Italian Advertising Self-Regulatory Institute’s digital chart it is written: “in order to make the promotional nature of content posted on social media and content sharing sites recognizable, celebrities/influencers/bloggers must at the top of their post state in a clearly distinguishable manner the words: “Pubblicità/Advertising”, or “Promosso da … brand/Promoted by…brand” or “Sponsorizzato da…brand/Sponsored by…brand” or “in collaborazione con …brand” or “in partnership with the …brand”; and/or within the first three hashtags (#) use one of the following terms: “#Pubblicità/#Advertising”, or “#Sponsorizzato da … brand/#Sponsored by the … brand “ or “#ad” along with “#brand”.
In a press release of 2017 the Italian Competition Authority has required the addressees the use of the following warnings to be placed below the post together with the others hashtags (#), such as “#sponsored, #advertising, #paidad”, or, in the case of products given for free to the celebrity, “#productsuppliedby”; in particular, all these wordings should be followed by the name of the specific brand being advertised.
However, browsing the Instagram’s pages of various Influencers, it is noticeable that only a few of them are actually using the indications provided by the authorities.
And when it happens to came across Instagram’s profiles that use such indications, it is noticeable that the hashtag that is most commonly used is “#ad”, whose effectiveness (especially in Italy where terms such as “advertising”, “Adv” and, even more so, “ad” are not easily decipherable by the average consumer) raises many concerns.
So far the Italian Competition Authority intervened sending moral suasion letters to some of the main influencers and companies producing the branded goods displayed in the posts, but still no self-regulatory, administrative or state measures have been taken.
The same situation of uncertainty is likely to be found in other countries (here you can find a previous Legalmondo post on this topic in Germany: https://www.legalmondo.com/2017/11/germany-product-placement-influencer-marketing/), with the consequence that international companies are operating in an unclear context, in which it is difficult to identify what are the risks arising from behaviours considered as unlawful.
I have therefore decided to write this article in order to assess the state of Influencer Marketing in Italy and in other countries and get a better understanding of the regulations in force, the measures/judgments issued by the competent Authorities, the international trends and the best practices that could be adopted by international companies.
Since I am one of the founders of the Digital Adv Lab – an interdisciplinary observatory that studies the legal implications of marketing and digital communication initiatives – I am interested in getting in touch with all the readers involved in this topic: please feel free to enter a comment and/or contact me.