The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said its findings dispelled any argument that labels are not needed and re-emphasised the importance of influencers being clear and upfront to their followers about what they are being paid to promote.
The ASA said the study confirmed that its current approach requiring influencers to use a prominent reference such as #ad was “necessary as a minimum”.
The watchdog spent 18 months reviewing public understanding around ads posted by influencers and celebrities on social media to gauge whether its regulation was effective.
Under current rules, influencers who post about a brand because they have been paid to – either in money or in kind, for example with free goods – must ensure they include an obvious identifier.
Both the ASA and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) recommend upfront disclosures, such as #ad.
The watchdog said influencers and brands who did not disclose ads were not only treating their followers unfairly but also eroding trust in the wider community while also running the risk of potential investigation and enforcement action.
It said it would now consider the study’s findings carefully and target those involved in influencer advertising to make sure they are following the rules.
ASA chief executive Guy Parker said: “The research tells us that all of us can find it hard to identify when an influencer is advertising, so it’s crucial that ads are labelled clearly.
“Our message to influencers and brands couldn’t be clearer: be upfront with followers, for example by using #ad.”
Kostyantyn Lobov, Senior Associate at law firm Harbottle & Lewis agreed:
“The rules are clear: when a brand has at least some control over the content and money – or something similar – changes hands, it’s an ad and must be obviously identifiable as such.
“The ASA and CMA have published extensive guidance on this and there have been several decisions along similar lines. The potentially more serious issue, which often goes unmentioned in press coverage, is that failing to disclose a commercial relationship could also be a breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations, which is prosecutable as a criminal offence. Although criminal prosecution for minor infractions is relatively unlikely, it’s something that brands need to be aware of when deciding how close they want to sail to the wind.”
A host of celebrities and high-profile influencers have found themselves subject to ASA action over the labelling of their posts over the last few years, including Louise Thompson, Millie Mackintosh, and Marnie Simpson.