AANA regulates influencers. Have they got it right?

The regulatory body for the advertising industry, the AANA, has recently put out new guidelines to ensure influencers declare content as paid advertising. The new addition to their Code of Ethics became effective 1st March this year.

For me it’s a great indicator of how Influencer Marketing is being recognized as a valid marketing channel. It’s yet another byproduct of how the internet and social media has transferred the power into the individual’s hands. Youtube and music apps like Spotify have helped musicians to publish their works without having to strike a record deal at the big end of town. Blogs and twitter have changed journalism to the point where it’s virtually unrecognizable from even a few year’s ago. And so it is the same for advertising. Individuals with large followings become their own media channel. And it’s working.

Influencer Marketing is growing exponentially.

It’s a trend most marketing analysts agree with. One study by Linqia in the US revealed that 94% of marketers believe it to be an effective tactic. 87% of the 170 people surveyed saw it as an effective way of creating authentic brand content.

The same study predicted the advertising spend on Influencer Marketing will double in 2017. And this is clearly why the advertising industry’s self-regulating body felt the need to put a framework around it.

The reason for its success is the same reason why these guidelines may need further clarification. Authenticity.

When a brand approaches an influencer (or vice versa) they are looking for a perfect fit. Obviously reach is important and the greater the following of that particular person, the more influential they will be. But raw numbers are only part of the equation.

Arguably more important to the advertiser is getting to the right audiences for their brands. It’s actually the ultimate in pinpoint targeting. The profile the influencer has built and the reason why they’re followed is really what it’s all about. People with similar interests as the influencer value the content they are creating because it’s useful to them.

Smart advertisers are doing their homework around who has the right profile and how relevant their particular audience is to their brands.

They’re making sure the products they’re wanting the influencer to comment about fit perfectly with both the influencer and their followers. And this is where the key word authenticity comes into play. And adds confusion to the new rules.

Imagine we have a scenario where the advertiser has done their research properly, approaches the influencer and strikes a deal whereby they use the product, like it and talk about it over their social media channels. They subsequently get paid for talking about it, either with cash or products. Prior to March 1 they would be free to express their opinions about it without having to declare it to be a form of advertising.

The new rules set out to change that.

But there’s one problem. A “get out of jail” clause within the two governing rules. The first rule states: “Does the marketer have a reasonable degree of control over the material?”.

By its nature, influencer marketing is only successful if it’s authentic. And that means the communications have to be created by the influencer, not have the words put in their mouths by the advertiser. It has to come from them and it has to be (or at least have the appearance of being) true.

So it would seem, even if payment of some sort has been made, if the influencer has tweeted or posted their opinion about the product, then by this rule it’s not classed as advertising and therefore doesn’t need to be overtly disclosed as such.

But it’s ambiguous, because if a deal has been struck between the advertiser and the influencer, would this then be described as “a reasonable degree of control”? Perhaps it simply boils down to a little more clarification on what that phrase really means.

I’m all for playing by the rules and hate people trying to skirt around the issue by finding loopholes on things. I also know how important it is to protect people from being unduly or unfairly influenced by the very people they look up to. Especially young people.

But when a relevant product is put in the hands of a person who tries it and is free to comment on it in any way they see fit, then does it come under the new guidelines? Regardless of what has been paid. Is it more correctly a genuine opinion by the influencer in which an advertiser has not “controlled” the content and therefore would not need to be declared advertising?

Here’s how I feel about it. To be successful, an influencer has to have authenticity which builds trust with his or her audience. When a brand finds an influencer that is relevant to their product and pays them to try it and comment on it without influencing the specific wording or even nature of the comment, then maybe, just maybe, that doesn’t fit in with the new guidelines.

Food for thought. Would love to hear how you feel about it.

By Taryn Williams

Taryn Williams is the founder of WINK Models and founder and CEO of theright.fit, an online platform that connects models, actors, photographers and influencers with clients. You can email her at [email protected]



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