I’ve just picked up on a brilliant article on the website, The Fashion Law, entitled The Dirty Advertising Practices of The Industry’s Biggest Brands, Bloggers. Wow – so the author is pulling no punches and sounds as thoroughly p*ssed off as the rest of us trying to do the right thing. I put a link on Twitter and it’s been re-tweeted and commented upon many, many times so there is a lot in this feature that is resonating. I highly recommend that as a blogger, Instagrammer or brand, you take ten minutes to read it HERE.
The jist of things is that a paid collaboration between US blogger, Aimee Song (SongofStyle) and Laura Mercier (I know, gutted) seems to be in breach the FTC Act (US based Federal Trade Commission) by not declaring sufficiently that the partnership is a commercial one. The FTC Act deals with commercial messaging and specifically forbids ‘unfair and deceptive acts and practices’, of which non-disclosure would be one.
As the feature on The Fashion Law points out, Song is just one of many, many breaches that happen every single day. It’s just that it happens to be high profile enough for everyone to sit up and take notice. It is so commonplace now not to declare, or to fudge a declaration, that we can barely be bothered to raise a brow at it. It’s just like, ‘oh, sigh, here we go again’. Without the proper backing of authorities with any bite or influence, quite how this can be policed is anyone’s guess.
If you’re looking to the ASA, although I think they’re doing their best in an under-resourced environment, it’s just not enough. I will give you a very good example of how it’s hard to have faith. A blogger friend reported (call it a controlled experiment) a very high profile blogger for non-declaration. She was told that she would need to email the blogger concerned herself. She then got a relative to make a non-declaration complaint and that was upheld by the ASA. So, even if we try and police things ourselves, internally, we’re rather held back by the petty assumption that it’s a personal spat when nothing could be further from the truth.
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It’s highly frustrating to work in an industry that is becoming less and less trusted by the day, and any kind of self-policing is given such short change. The ridiculous ASA rule that as long as the brand has had no influence on the post, it doesn’t need to be declared that it has been paid for needs to be changed as a matter of urgency. This anomaly is a get out of jail free card for both brand and blogger.
Then we wander into the murky territory of bought followers and likes on Instagram along with the sea of non-declaration. In comparison, blogs look like the Vicars of the internet! I kind of imagine a bunch of wide-eyed Instagram employees huddled in a corner, crying, “we don’t know what to do….” Because the situation is SO out of hand. It is an embarrassing number of brands who can’t even do the most basic influence due diligence and check the authenticity of followers. It’s not just the brands being tricked here, it’s also the agents and worse still, the consumers.
The Federal Trade Commission is there to protect the consumer. As I understand it, if bloggers are paid-posting about a brand, it falls under the FTC Act because it’s commercial speech. In turn, if that constitutes deception of some sort, it’s a violation which takes into account all social media. It’s messy and it’s all legal jargon which is why I suggest you read the original feature.
I can cite you hundreds of instances where bloggers/vloggers/instagrammers are paid to attend events, open shops, make public appearances on behalf of brands and they are all either undeclared or based on false followers. Those of us who bend over backwards to comply all of time (after all, why not be proud of your achievements?) get so frustrated and angry about this. If you charge £70,000 to make a post or a video, you have a huge responsibility to ensure that all the legal boxes are ticked. I’m not saying for a second that influencers should not be paid, but nobody wants to be the brand that paid that money (that’s a UK price – in the US you can add a nought) then to be named and shamed when the influencer is caught. But the high profile nature of the Laura Mercier (still gutted) and Song collaboration where brand and blogger are well and truly busted is the opening of a gateway. Pretty soon, as already happens in the advertising industry, it will be brand reporting brand and us bloggers in the awkward position of trying to keep a clean space can step back and let them fight it out. Instagram has just announced the launch of business profiles with post boosting and analytics (according to The Social Times) which is an interesting spin – if they can control their own ads on social channels, maybe influencers won’t be quite as desirable.
Ultimately, you have to question the kind of person it is that wants to fool their followers. Where is the respect for the people who digest the influencer’s content? Alongside Instagram/vlog/blogs we’re talking on-line magazines that show native content that is impossible to distinguish from real content (AdWeek guesses that 70% of native is non-compliant) and we’re also talking about celebrities who think that no rule applies to them when they’re promoting a brand on social media. As I say, a mess.
The feature in The Fashion Law isn’t shy of naming names and it can only be a stone’s throw away from some UK journalists realising there are some very meaty stories in the murky land of Instabranding and all the other social channels. Tricks are being played on all of us – everything from influencers who insist on taking relatives along to events as their ‘official photographer’ so they can be payrolled for that too, to the wannabe influencers who buy clothes/bags/jewellery on-line to ‘pretend’ they belong to them on their social channels and return them in the next day’s post. Do not even start me on the ridiculous riders and demands that influencers are asking for.
But, here’s the thing. Brands are beginning to sanctimoniously remind us to ‘declare’ that we have been sent products, while simultaneously praying that we never talk about the teas, the dinners, the gifts, cars to and from events, the flowers, the trips, the drinks and the breakfasts (all of which I’ve had) that are all part and parcel of wooing influencers into relationships. It’s no wonder that lines get blurred, because you can have any or all of the above and still not have a ‘cash’ paid relationship. Nobody knows whether or not and even if money does or doesn’t changes hands, whether you are supposed to declare any of the above, because print never does, but everyone, absolutely everyone, needs to take a bit of responsibility for the mess we’re in now and start being more respectful to the followers, fans and consumers that are the ones who directly bear the brunt of the dishonesty.
If you’re still with me – I know, too long, sorry – I remind you once again to read the feature that sparked this post HERE.
NB: It now appears that the LM/SS collaboration is correctly tagged as #ad.
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