Affiliate Marketing: New Advertising Guidance for social influencers

We have today published new guidance on affiliate marketing to help social influencers and brands stick to the rules by making clear to their followers when the content they are viewing is an ad. Protecting consumers by letting them know upfront if something is an ad gives them the choice on whether or not to engage with it.

Viewing content created by social influencers is becoming a regular part of many people’s lives, especially young people, and namechecking brands can prompt followers to click through to company websites. Our new guidance provides clarity on when content like this should be identified as advertising.

Affiliate marketing is where an affiliate such as a blogger or Instagrammer is rewarded by a business for each new customer they attract through their marketing efforts. Affiliates usually place links online that direct anyone looking at that page to the website of the business and they receive a pre-agreed percentage of each sale.

Key points in our new guidance for affiliates are:

•    If the content wholly relates to affiliated products, it may be necessary to use an identifier like ‘Ad’ in the title of the post so that the commercial nature of the material is clear before the user clicks through to the content;
•    Where only some of the links are for affiliated products and not all the content is directly connected to those products, the whole post or video does not have to be identified as an ad, but each of the affiliate links and any related content must be identified as such;
•    Affiliates using social media should be aware of the technical quirks of each platform they use and at what opportunity they should identify something as an ad e.g. in contexts where only an image is initially visible such as Instagram, an identifier like ‘Ad’ could be included on the image itself so the nature of the content is clear before followers engage with the post by clicking on it

The advertising rules are not designed to discourage affiliate marketing or interfere with the commercial relationship between an affiliate and a business, but affiliate marketing is advertising and therefore falls under the advertising rules. This means the content should make it obvious that it’s advertising as well as sticking to the general rules that require ads to be truthful, responsible and avoid causing harm or offence.

While some forms of affiliate marketing will be obviously identifiable as advertising because of the nature or context of the content, such material is not always obvious in social media, vlogs, and blogs. Much of the material on those platforms is non-commercial content or created with seemingly editorial independence, which is why people viewing these sites should be made aware from the start when something is an ad.

Brands are also being reminded that allowing their affiliates to have control over the content of ads does not absolve them of responsibility for ensuring they meet advertising rules. The Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that both the business and affiliate marketer are responsible for meeting advertising rules. 

Commenting on the publication of new guidance, Director of the Committee of Advertising Practice, Shahriar Coupal, said:

“This new guidance helps affiliates and brands understand the importance of being upfront and clear with consumers, so people are not confused or misled and understand better when they’re viewing advertising rather than editorial content.”

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