Advertising watchdog to oversee guidelines for using influencers in ads: What businesses need to know

"Digital marketing expert Helen Ahrens told SmartCompany the ASB’s traditional model for reviewing advertisements would be “hard to implement”.
“I think it will have to look at a way of operating that can keep up with the short and fast micro content that comes out,” she says.

This article and image was originally published on Smart Company (the source for business news, business advice and information for Australian SME's), interviewing Helen Ahrens, and is authored by Dominic Powell.

Australia’s peak body for advertisers has added a section to the advertising code of ethics that could impact the way businesses and brands use native advertising and influencers to promote their products, but experts worry they will be hard to enforce.

The Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) yesterday released its latest addition to the Advertising Code of Ethics, which will come into effect on March 1.

Slotting into the code under newly made section 2.7, the new provision states, “advertising or marketing communication must be clearly distinguishable as such to the relevant audience”.

In a statement, the AANA defined branded content or native advertising as “material which seeks to provide content generated by brands which does not look out of place in the habitat within which it is being viewed, heard or experienced”.

“Context-driven advertising and marketing is permitted, but marketers should be cognizant that, in seeking to make their advertising and marketing communication more engaging, they do not camouflage the fact that it is advertising,” the AANA clarifies.

“Advertising or marketing communication should not be disguised as, for example independent market research, user-generated content, private blogs or independent reviews.”

Under the new code, the advertising does not need to be labelled as long as it is clear to audiences the content is commercial in nature. The AANA provides a number of suggestions of ways to make it clear content is commercial, including logos, outlines, borders, graphics, or other visual or audio cues.

Through an extensive list of examples, the AANA also revealed it accepts hashtags as an acceptable way to distinguish sponsored content, suggesting the hashtag #ad or tagging the company which the influencer is promoting.

Advertisers to answer to Advertising Bureau

Companies that fail to disclose sponsored content or native advertising will be subject to consequences enforced by the Advertising Standards Bureau.

Speaking to SmartCompany this morning, the chief executive of the ASB Fiona Jolly said the Board will consider posts made across all social media, including Instagram. The Board will not actively seek contraventions of the new code, however, and will maintain its viewer-driven complaints system.

Considering the typically speedy turnaround of many influencer campaigns, some experts have expressed doubts as to the effectiveness of the ASB’s jurisdiction.

Digital marketing expert Helen Ahrens told SmartCompany the ASB’s traditional model for reviewing advertisements would be “hard to implement”.

“I think it will have to look at a way of operating that can keep up with the short and fast micro content that comes out,” she says.

However Jolly says she is not worried about the ASB’s system, saying it works because “advertisers take a responsibility for their actions”.

“We have the capacity to get our board to meet within 48 hours. We will make changes if we need to,” Jolly says.

Changes good, but unenforceable

Advertising expert Nicole Matejic told SmartCompany this morning the AANA’s changes were important in light of the rise of “fake news”.

“I think consumers are far more savvy about what content and information they are consuming. News sites in particular use a lot of amplified content [that is paid] that people just don’t realise is paid to appear on their screens,” Matejic says.

“In light of this – it is a good move, albeit a somewhat moot one given there is little to no ability for the ASB to enforce the ruling.”

Matejic believes the ASB’s lack of any real way to punish advertisers and brands that contravene the code of ethics will result in minimal changes for businesses and brands nationwide.

“While the new ruling encourages businesses/brands to be more transparent about their advertising and use of influencers, the reality is that without an enforceable agency that has a real and quantifiable ability to deliver a ‘smack’ to those who choose not to comply – other than some bad PR around a ruling, no real or meaningful punishment can be expected,” she says.

“This will no doubt influence decision makers in evaluating risky campaigns.”

Ahrens believes it is fair to assume public identities will always be influenced by brands and businesses. While she thinks transparency is important, she believes the new AANA guidelines are a “singling out declaration”.

“Transparency is important across both digital, media and advertising industries, but heavy-handed guidelines singling out the new ‘risky social media influencer’ industry is perhaps not the best way to go about it,” she says.

“It’s such an old school way of looking at emerging tech-fuelled industries.”