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'Digital influencers' must disclose paid-for content, says new guidance

Must 'clearly and prominently' label it

By OUT-LAW.COM, 6 Jul 2016

Online publishers, bloggers, tweeters and other "digital influencers" must "clearly and prominently" label content they are paid to produce as paid-for promotions, new guidance developed by a body of regulators from around the world has said.

The International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN), in work led by the UK's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), has published new guidelines on online reviews and endorsements for review administrators (13-page/517KB PDF), traders and marketers (11-page/3.36MB PDF) and digital influencers (10-page/1.73MB PDF).

In its guidance for digital influencers it warned that if an online review or endorsement is "not based on a genuine user experience" or "displays elements of bias without appropriate disclosure" then it can negatively impact on consumers and competition. This is because it can serve to mislead consumers into "taking decisions … they would not otherwise have taken" and because businesses that "do not engage in misleading practices" could lose trade to companies that do.

Businesses and individuals in a position of influence online should therefore "tell their readers/viewers about any incentive (financial or otherwise) that may have influenced or led them to post particular content", the new guidance said. The guidelines apply regardless of the form the paid-for content comes in. Examples could include adverts, advertorials, product placements, sponsored posts or links, articles written in collaboration, promotional features or consumer interest stories, it said.

Digital influencers should also disclose any "relevant commercial relationships that they have with businesses featured in their online content", ICPEN said.

"Disclosure of a commercial relationship may be appropriate regardless of whether the digital influencer has been paid, or is otherwise obliged, to write or talk about a good or service at a particular time," the ICPEN guide said. "For example, a business may pay a celebrity to promote their brand, but may not have paid him or her to tweet a particular endorsement; nonetheless, it may well be appropriate for the tweeter to tell readers that they have a financial connection to the business."

The guidance also said that online publishers, bloggers and tweeters should "ensure that it is clear whose opinion or experiences is being stated" in the content they produce and should explain to readers or viewers if they are "not giving their own genuine account of what they think or experienced" to avoid giving those people the wrong impression of their views or experiences.

Copyright © 2016, Out-Law.com

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