In Depth

What are the rules for social media influencers?

Anyone with more than 30,000 followers is a celebrity under new advertising watchdog guidelines

Social media users with more than 30,000 followers are to be considered a “celebrity” and subject to advertising rules, a watchdog has ruled.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) delivered the verdict following a landmark case involving blogger Sarah Willox Knott.

So what happened? 

In February, Willox Knot posted on her Instagram account, ThisMamaLife, a photo of her smiling with a packet of Phenergan Night Time tablets visible in the background. In her caption, she wrote that she was a “night owl” and found the tablets - a “pharmacy only, short term solution to insomnia” - “really helped” her struggle with sleep.

The ASA found that she breached its existing rules banning celebrities or health professionals from endorsing medical products.

“The post was marked as an ad and the company behind it, Sanofi, said it had cleared the promotion with the healthcare trade body, the Proprietary Association of Great Britain, beforehand,” reports The Daily Telegraph. 

However, Sanofi’s argument that Willox Knott was not a celebrity, with 32,000 followers at the time of posting, was rejected by the ASA. It tried to claim that “recognised celebrities” on the platform have a much heftier following, citing David Beckham, who has 56 million followers.

ASA banned the ad and told Sanofi they must not use celebrities or social media influencers to endorse their products again. “We considered over 30,000 followers indicated that she had the attention of a significant number of people,” it said.

The Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB), which represents over-the-counter manufacturers, said: “Following today’s ASA ruling, PAGB will be working with the regulators to understand the implications of this decision for member companies and the wider consumer healthcare industry.”

“The ruling is the first of its kind where a social media ‘influencer’ has fallen foul of regulations banning celebrities or health professionals from endorsing medical products,” reports The Telegraph.

Are there any other rules for influencers? 

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code, enforced by the ASA, bans “unfair commercial practices”. This includes being paid to promote a product within editorial content without making it clear that it is an advert.

CAP published an Influencer’s Guide last year that states there are “a few different ways in which something you post could count as ‘advertising’”. It could be banner ads or sponsored posts, for example.

Posting about your own products and services also counts as advertising, including giveaways or prize draws. Affiliate marketing - content that promotes products or services and contains a hyperlink or discount code - can also fall into advertising.

The CAP Code states that ads “must be obviously identifiable as such”, meaning that a consumer should not have to look too hard at it to realise it is an advert.

The Telegraph says that despite the new 30,000 followers precedent, “the watchdog will still judge whether posts from smaller social media accounts breach its endorsement rules on a case-by-case basis”.

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