for the effective application of the National Ethical Standards for Advertising and Commercial Communication in respect of MARKETING THROUGH INFLUENCERS

The national Ethical Standards for Advertising and Marketing Communication (Code of Ethics) provide for the applicability of common principles to ‘any form of advertising and marketing communication, taken in their broadest sense – activities which directly or indirectly stimulate sales of any kind of goods and services (corporate and institutional promotion included), or promote trademarks and brands, regardless of the channels and means of communication used’. Although the above applies to digital media and to all forms of digital marketing, the rapid development of technologies and the emergence of new forms of digital communication have caused the National Council for Self-Regulation (NCSR) to pay special attention to new forms of advertising in order to ensure effective protection of consumers and society from unethical new forms of marketing communication. Special attention should be paid to marketing communication of product categories such as cigarettes, alcohol, energy drinks, gambling, given the need to protect the most vulnerable group in society – children.

One of these new forms of advertising is marketing through influential individuals (“influencers”).

What is Influencer Marketing?

The technology community defines ‘influencers’ as independent third parties who shape the opinion of the audience through blogs, posts on various websites, videos, posts on various social media, etc.

When advertisers identify such influential individuals, they are often engaged in promoting brands and/or products to their audiences, therefore the content generated by these individuals becomes marketing communication that must be clearly identified as such and, thus, becomes subject to the Code of Ethics.

The last edition of the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) Advertising and Marketing Communications Code (2018) clearly includes in its scope “other participants in the marketing eco-system, including market influencers, bloggers, vloggers, affiliate networks, etc.”.

 The definition of Influencer Marketing in our Code of Ethics is broad enough and aims to ensure the inclusion of this type of marketing in the scope of the Code, regardless of possible future developments in this advertising technique. Additionally, the definition of Editorial Control and Consideration makes it possible to clearly distinguish purely editorial content from content published for marketing purposes.


  • Influencer marketing’ is any form of communication by an individual or virtual person, who shapes the behaviour of an audience through content in blogs, posts, images, videos, messages, etc. on any social media, such communication being under editorial control and/or being published in exchange for payment or in return for consideration of any kind by the marketer.
  • ‘Editorial control’ is any form of influence over or control by the advertiser of the content, tone, structure and/or direction of the message generated by individuals or virtual persons, inclusive of message script, scenario or speech pre-suggested by the marketer; validation of the content prior to broadcast; requirement for a positive review; determination of the number of posts on a certain social media channel of a given brand and/or product/service;  requirement to show products in social media , etc.
  • Consideration’ includes payment under a contract or other form of monetary compensation; the provision of free or discounted products/services and any other form of reciprocal compensation made by the marketer.

Why do we make this recommendation?

The general rules of the Code of Ethics are fully applicable to  influencer marketing, but  the growth of this type of marketing communication worldwide and in our country, and the fact that individual influencers are not yet part of the system of self-regulation in advertising through membership of the NCSR, makes it imperative for us to take, as early as possible, measures to ensure responsible marketing and effective protection of consumers and society and, specifically, its most vulnerable group – young people and adolescents on whom influencers have a strong impact.  Young people are the part of the audience that regularly follows its favourites on social media and perceives them as an important source of trustworthy information for their fans. This requires a line to be drawn between the genuine, commercially unbiased, personal opinion shared by such influencers and content generated by them for marketing purposes. Often this line is blurred for the audience, and it can easily be misleading as, in both cases, it is user-generated content.

 The objective of this Recommendation is to assist the Bulgarian advertising industry in using this marketing technique responsibly and to stimulate influencers to adhere to generally accepted national and European ethical standards and best practices in the advertising eco-system.

  1. Editorial Control and Consideration

As defined in the Code of Ethics, any content created by an influencer which promotes a brand and/or product/service is considered  a marketing communication under two conditions:

  1. the existence of  control  by the advertiser over the content; and
  2. the existence of payment or other consideration.

1. Editorial Control

The concept of editorial control should be understood in its most general sense and includes different elements of control on the content, ranging from the most broadly defined to that with a more strict definition. Broadly defined elements include  the setting by advertisers of the tone, structure and direction of the message, such as requests for a positive review, for the inclusion of a specific number of posts on a  social network or the publication of a picture in a social media post. The control can be more stringent, for example, including a message script, scenario or text pre-suggested by the advertiser or a request for validation of the content by the advertiser before it is broadcast.

The common aspect of all possible forms of control is that the creator of the content does not share his/her unbiased opinion with the audience but agrees to follow the instructions of the advertiser or to fulfil the advertiser’s requests against certain consideration.

2. Consideration

The consideration received by an influencer from an advertiser may take various forms: monetary payment, the provision of free or discounted goods/services, and any other considerations to the benefit of the influencer.

‘Consideration’ does not include advertising products or samples of non-commercial value provided by the advertiser to journalists or others present at new product launch events.

  • Recognisability and Disclosure

1. Recognisability

Recognisability of any marketing communications is of paramount importance. The true aim of marketing communications promoting a product/service should not be disguised in other forms such as market research; consumer surveys; user-generated content; personal blogs; social media posts or independent reviews. This is of even greater importance in those forms of marketing where the audience has difficulty distinguishing them from purely editorial content, and to avoid violations of Article 5.2 of the Code of Ethics, which forbids hidden marketing communication. The ethical standards require that all marketing communications be presented in such a way that they are easily recognisable and appropriately marked as such for that person.

Influencer marketing content should be generated and presented in such a way that the audience is immediately able to identify it as advertising. Such recognisability is achievable through various forms of identifier, provided they are clear, unambiguous and easily recognisable by the audience, and in so far as they guarantee the achievement of the stated goal. The important thing is that everyone who sees the content is aware that there is an agreement between the advertiser and the influencer. The identification in the manner described must always accompany the specific content, wherever and whenever it is published.

  • Disclosure

Disclosure of the commercial nature of content should be made in such a way that it does not mislead the audience as to its commercial nature. It is important that it:

  • appears instantly;
  • is recognized easily, immediately next to the content;
  • is explained and understood clearly.

The type and placement of the disclosure should comply with:

  • the format of the content (image, post, tweet, video, blog, etc.);
  • the type of social platform (Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, etc.);
  • the target audience (adults, young people, children);
  • the language and other local cultural factors.

For this purpose, the “#” (hashtag) symbol is used,  the brand/advertiser name is indicated and in addition, words are used in the Bulgarian or English language that describe the nature 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. In addition to a hashtag, branded content must be indicated through the social platform’s settings (Branded Content).

  • Responsibility

The common principles of responsibility are technology-neutral and apply equally to all forms of marketing communication. In principle, they provide that the ultimate responsibility for all ethical aspects of advertising rests with the advertiser. Nevertheless, all participants in the digital marketing eco-system should be clearly aware of, and take into account, their own responsibility in the process. Influencers should have a good knowledge of  European best practice for responsible marketing and take a responsibility for abiding by the ethical standards of the advertising industry of which they have also become part.

The National Council for Self-Regulation (NCSR) is available for consultations and preliminary review in relation to the implementation of the this Recommendation.