What are the advertising standards for influence marketing in Canada?
With their strong, engaged communities, influencers and YouTubers offer brands such attractive marketing opportunities that you could now refer to influence as an industry. Questions surrounding the quality of content, selecting the right communities, and brand fit have largely been covered. Also, although they still aren’t unanimous, best practices for how companies deal with influencers, as well as how influencers deal with their audiences, have evolved and been refined over the past few years, following the growth of the influence 2.0 phenomenon.
But what standards exist for this marketing practice? Where does Canada stand?
During the YouTubers and web influencers conference presented by Infopresse on September 21, 2016, the subject was raised at a round table discussion between players from the industry and Danielle Lefrançois, Communications Director with Advertising Standards Canada (ASC).
“I’m here representing Advertising Standards Canada, so probably the least sexy part of this conference,” she affirmed at the outset. Still, I listened with interest to what she had to say, summarized here:
- Advertising Standards Canada is first and foremost an self-regulatory body that administers a code of ethics, and manages the complaints of consumers against companies, and of companies against other companies;
- Their code of ethics has been in place for several years, but it is updated often to take new realities into account. In fact, there have been updates in the past few months that take a position on influence marketing;
- It’s important to put yourself in the consumer’s shoes. The marketing angle of influencer partnerships has been well covered, with plenty of discussion about brand fit and the natural arrangement between brands and influencers, but this often leaves consumers in the dark;
- The strength of influencers is the near-direct, authentic link they maintain with their fans, but that can be in conflict with the fact that on occasion they are paid to speak to their audience about a product. It can skew the relationship, and leave the consumer feeling cheated;
- If a contractual link exists between an advertiser and a YouTuber or influencer, it needs to be clearly divulged. And no, a hashtag isn’t enough (#promoted #ad);
- Divulging that content is promoted won’t diminish the influencer’s authenticity. On the contrary, transparency will be received better than keeping promoted content a secret.
Lefrançois concluded her presentation with a concrete example:
“I was once invited to a dinner party at a friend’s home, and when I arrived, I realized that the dinner was an excuse for a sales pitch. I felt betrayed, and my relationship with that friend was affected. It’s exactly the same thing at play in the relationship between an influencer and their audience.”
Afterwards, I had the chance to chat with her to ask a few extra questions:
What is the basis for the ASC standards for the connection between influencers and brands?
In general, we rely on the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) which publishes a comprehensive booklet on the subject, and stipulates that commercial agreements must be visibly and clearly indicated in the influencer’s content. The consumer needs to be made aware, and there can be no room for ambiguity.
Does your organization monitor Canadian companies?
We do no surveillance or monitoring, rather, we react to complaints that we receive.
Does the ASC have the power to make rulings against wrongful parties?
Our role is primarily to put responsibility in the hands of advertisers, unlike the FTC in the United States, which has the power to punish wrongful parties. We will inform the advertiser, but we remain an organization operating on the principle of self-regulation.
The Advertising Standards Canada website states makes essentially the same assertion: “If Council determines that the advertisement contravenes one or more clauses of the Code, Council will uphold the complaint. The advertiser is asked to amend or withdraw the advertisement.”
Who would be targeted by a complaint? The advertiser, the influencer, or both?
When we consider that someone has behaved in a wrongful way, we inform the advertiser directly.
Finally, after researching the terms Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, blog, influence and influencer in the database of complaints against advertisers registered with the ASC between the first quarter of 2004 and the first quarter of 2016, it seems that zero complaints were registered with regards to influence marketing. That could change in 2017 though, when the changes made to the code of ethics of the ASC will come into effect.
What do you think about the position of Advertising Standards Canada on this subject?