INFLUENCER MARKETING RECOMMENDATION
for effective application of the National Ethical Standards for Advertising and Commercial Communication
The national Ethical Standards for Advertising and Commercial communication (Ethical Code) provide for the applicability of the common principles to any form of advertising and marketing communication, taken in the broadest sense – activities which directly or indirectly stimulate the sales of any kind of goods and services (corporate and institutional promotion included), or promote trademarks and brands, regardless of the used media channels and means of communication. The above applies to digital media, as well as to all forms of digital marketing. Nevertheless, the fast-paced evolution of technologies and the rapid development of new forms of digital communication urge the National Council for Selfregulation (NCSR) to have a closer look at the new forms of advertising in order to ensure effective protection of consumers and society at large from inappropriate and unethical new forms of commercial communication. Special attention is paid to commercial communication of product categories such as cigarettes, alcohol, energy drinks, gambling, with view of the protection of the most vulnerable group of the society – children.
One of these new forms of advertising is the marketing through influencers.
What Is Influencer Marketing?
Academics and scholars define influencers as independent third party endorsers who shape audience attitudes through blogs, posts, tweets, videos and the use of other social media.
When advertisers identify such individuals, they are often engaged in promoting brands and/or products in front of the respective target groups, therefore the content, generated by these individuals, becomes a commercial communication, which should be clearly identified as such and becomes a subject of the Ethical Code.
The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) has in its recent update of the ICC Advertising and Marketing Communications Code (2018) unambiguously stated its “applicability to other participants in the marketing eco-system, including market influencers, bloggers, vloggers, affiliate networks, [etc.]”.
The definition of Influencer Marketing in the Bulgarian Ethical Code is broad enough and aims to ensure the inclusion of this type of marketing in the scope of the Code, regardless of the possible future development of this advertising technique. On the other hand, the definition of Editorial Control and Consideration by the marketer clearly defines influencer marketing based on criteria which allows to decide when the influencer’s activity on social media is a commercial communication as opposed to pure editorial content.
“Influencer marketing” is any type of advertising and marketing communication by an individual or virtual person, who shapes audience attitudes through blogs, posts, images, videos and the use of any kind of social media; a communication under editorial control and/or published in exchange for payment or subject to third party consideration of any kind by the marketer.
“Editorial control” is any kind of interaction or control by the advertiser over the content, tone, structure and/or direction of the message generated by individuals or virtual persons, inclusive of pre-suggested message script, scenario or speech; validation of the content prior to its publication; request for a positive review; request for a specific number of posts on a certain social media channel mentioning the service/product or requests to show products in a social media post, etc.
“Consideration” includes formal contractual agreements defining cash payment or other form of monetary compensation; mere provision of free or discounted products/services and all other kinds of reciprocal compensation made by the marketer;
Addressing influencer marketing in a specific recommendation
The general provisions of the Ethical Code are fully applicable to the influencer marketing. Nevertheless, the growing importance of this marketing technique worldwide and especially the fact, that the individual influencers are not yet part of the self-regulatory system through membership in the NCSR, makes it imperative to take measures, as early as possible, to ensure that the advertising self-regulatory efforts are on the forefront of ensuring responsible marketing and effective protection of the society at large and specifically its most vulnerable group – teens and children who are most affected by the influencers. It is namely the young people, who regularly follow their favorites on social media and perceive them as an important source of trustworthy information. Therefore, it is vital to clearly draw the lines between the genuine, commercially unbiased personal opinion shared by such influencers and the content generated by them with marketing intent. These lines can be blurred for the audience and could subsequently mislead consumers, as in both cases it comes to user generated content.
The objective of the current recommendation is to assist the Bulgarian advertising industry to use this marketing technique responsibly and to stimulate the influencers themselves to adhere to the accepted in the country and across Europe ethical standards and best practices in the advertising eco-system.
Editorial Control And Consideration
As defined in the Ethical Code, content uploaded by influencers which promotes a certain brand and/or product/service is regarded as a marketing communication under two conditions:
the advertiser has “editorial control” over the message shared by the influencer; and
the advertiser compensated the influencer either by payment or other reciprocal compensation.
The concept of editorial control should be understood broadly and include different elements of control on the content, ranging from broader to more strictly defined. Example of broader character is the advertiser’s suggestion for the tone, structure and direction of the message, such as requests for a positive review, requests for a specific number of posts on a certain social media channel or requests to show a picture in a social media post. The editorial control can also be defined more strictly, including a pre-suggested by the advertiser message script, scenario or text or requests for validation of the content prior to its publication.
The common aspect between all possible forms of control is that the creator of the content does not share with the audience his/her unbiased opinion, but agrees to follow the instructions of the advertiser or to fulfil certain requests against certain consideration.
The consideration received by an influencer from an advertiser can take different forms of compensation: monetary payments, provision of free or discounted goods/services or other reciprocal commitments to the benefit of the influencer.
Compensation does not include advertising products or free samples of non-commercial value, provided by the advertiser to journalists or other participants in relation to new product launch events.
Recognisability And Disclosure
Recognisability of the commercial communications is of paramount importance. The true aim of the commercial communication promoting a certain product/service should not be disguised as other forms such as market research; consumer surveys; user-generated content; private blogs; private postings on social media or independent reviews. This is even of greater importance to the forms of marketing where the audience has difficulties to recognise these as marketing communication as opposed to pure editorial content. Recognisability also helps to avoid possible breach of article 5.2 of the Ethical Code, which forbids hidden commercial communication. The ethical standards require that any marketing communication should be presented in a way that makes it easily recognisable, for this purpose it should be marked respectively.
The influencer marketing content should be generated and presented in such a way that the audience is able to immediately identify it as advertising. Such identification is possible through various forms of marking, as far as they are clear, unambiguous and easily recognisable by the audience. The marking should guarantee the achievement of the stated goal. The important thing is that everyone who sees the content is aware in case there is an agreement between the advertiser and the influencer. The marking in the described manner must always accompany the relevant content, wherever and whenever it is published.
Disclosure of the commercial intent of the influencer’s message should be made in such a way that the audience immediately identifies it as commercial content. It is important that it:
is recognized easily, right next to the content;
is explained and understood clearly.
The type and placement of the marking should comply with:
format of the content (image, post, tweet, video, blog, etc.);
type of the social platform (Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc.);
target audience (adults, teens, children);
language and other local cultural factors.
For this purpose the “#” (hashtag) symbol is used altogether with the brand/advertiser name and in addition words are used in Bulgarian or English language, describing the character of the agreement between the advertiser and influencer, for example #реклама/аd #спонсорирано/sponsored, #безплатни мостри/free samples, #в партньорство с/in partnership with, etc. Except for the use of the hashtag, branded content is identified through the social platform’s settings (Branded Content).
The common principles on responsibility are technology neutral and apply to all forms of marketing communication. Overall, the ultimate responsibility for all ethical aspects of advertising rests with the marketer. Nevertheless, all participants in the digital marketing eco-system should take into account their own responsibility in the process. The influencers should have a good knowledge of the best European practices for ethical marketing and should be responsible to abide by the ethical standards in the advertising industry, which they are also part of.
The current recommendation is effective as of 25.06. 2020.
The National Council for Self-regulation (NCFS) is at disposal for consultations and preliminary review in connection to the implementation of the current recommendation
Two type of complaints may be submitted to the National Council for Self-regulation in case of a breach of:
1. Ethical Code - related to the content (misleading, offensive, inappropriate for children etc.) of an advertisement or any other form of commercial communiaction or
2. Rules for Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA) - related to targeted at selected internet users behavioural advertising. To learn about OBA and what you can do prior to submitting an OBA complaint.
А Complaint is a formal document, claim, plea or request, concerning any form of commercial communication which gives proof of breach of the ethical rules or indicates a possible breach that requires further investigation.