Advertising on Social Media.

Brands really need to care about transparency.

Not anymore just Radio, TV and Press: there is so much more out there to convey a message.

In a digital environment commercial communication reaches levels of complexity we would not have dreamed of just a few years ago. Promotional practices have become more and more sophisticated, capable of conveying promotional messages in unexpected ways and over all kind of different platforms. So, no wonder that the targeted public sometimes struggles with realizing that stories and content available on social media platforms is just an instrument to direct purchase choices or to steer interest towards a certain product, service or brand.

Regulatory Authorities insist on transparency.

Regulators try to govern in some way this trend and are eager to issue guidelines, suggestions and recommendation on how advertisers should make sure that their target audience clearly and immediately perceives when editorial content comes along with a promotional intent. However, being advertisers as smart as they are, frequently it is all but easy to draw a neat line between advertising and personal opinions and experiences reported online.

The Digital Chart.

The Italian Advertising Industry Self-Regulation Organization (IAP) has addressed the transparency issue concerning commercial communication performed in the current digital environment by releasing a set of guidelines – the ‘Digital Chart’ – meant to explain the most common forms of commercial communication in use on the Internet as well as to assess how an easy and immediate recognition of promotional messages should be resolved in the context of social media (you can find more details on the ‘Digital Chart’ in an earlier post on this blog).

How does this system work?

Aware of the great relevance of influencer marketing as well as of some questionable practices affecting this new tool, the Italian Advertising SRO approached the most relevant and effective local influencers with a sort of ‘moral suasion’, that’s to say with a letter drawing their attention on several transparency issues linked to their businesses. This started a conversation, which led to the SRO offering influencers membership to the IAP, a step which would make them accept - and oblige them to comply with – the provisions of the Self-Regulation Code for Commercial Communication (inclusive those on transparency of all promotional messages). The companies working with two of the most prominent local influencers picked up the invitation and are now (i.e. since January 2019) members of the SRO. Hence, a standard was set and is likely to attract further adherence.
The SRO system is now capable of covering almost the entire span of digital advertising performed as all major online platforms and providers – through their branch associations – have joined the IAP, accepting to be bound the provisions of the Code for Commercial Communication. While an advertiser located outside Italy (or even outside Europe) may be induced to ignore the local regulations, he still will need to rely on platforms/providers with a local presence to convey its promotional messages to the public. That will be the natural choke point where temporary injunction or a cease and desist order issued by the SRO succeeds in halting an infringing campaign.

Some recent interventions of the SRO.

The local Advertising SRO (IAP), while ‘talking’ to businesses about new marketing techniques and strategies, since 2017 has also increased its scrutiny of promotions performed via online platforms.
Such ‘dedicated attention’ will apparently remain a focus of the SRO also for the months to come: recently the IAP’s Review Board has issued two cease injunctions with respect to influencer marketing campaigns performed on Instagram.

Ah, those delicious fruit gums! But while giving them a chew, don’t forget the basic rules!

A company thought to promote its fruit gums “brand xyz -Veggie-Friends” through the services of Instagrammers with a significant number of followers. According to the contractual agreement between the company and the influencers, the following aspects / characteristics of the fruit gums had to be stressed by the couple: “No ingredients of animal origins, gluten free, with natural flavors, with fruit juice and extremely tasty”. The influencer couple’s performance involved the appearance of their little children.
Apparently, such appearance was correctly perceived as a critical aspect of the promotion as the female influencer at some point stated: “I have been making responsible choices for a long time for me and my family. With brand xyz gums we can allow our kids a little sin of gluttony without major concerns”, “with brand xyz gums I feel relaxed …from time to time I like letting my kids indulge in a little sin of gluttony, obviously under my control.”
The SRO’s Review Board took issue with these statements:
- First, it felt that showing little children in relation to the promoted product – together with the statement like the one above, made by a Mom - could lead to unsafe behavior, inducing the public to ignore ordinary rules of caution.
- Furthermore, it questioned the age of the children appearing in promotional message: according to the guidelines of the Italian Public Health Service on preventing pediatric suffocation from food, children aged less than 4-5 years should restrain from eating candies or gums. The children shown to promote the fruit gums did not meet such age requirement. An alert stating that “the picture of the children appearing were there for ‘illustrative’ purposes only, as candies are apt only for bigger kids”, was considered as contradictory, insufficient and misleading.
Hence a cease injunction was issued.

Feel free to hype your tuna salad, provided you are clear about existing business relations.

Previously the Review Board had questioned another Instagram campaign, featuring a well-known blogger while sitting on the beach and consuming a tuna salad of a famous food brand. In this case, the blogger was shown musing “On the beach, the sea, relaxing and a tasty light meal with the super-salads”.
The Review Board felt that the posted content, while structured – in a style typical for Instagram posts – as a ‘private experience’, was clearly pursuing – as its primary function – the intent of promoting a product However, such scope did not result immediately perceivable as references used in the post (e.g.“https//” and hashtags such as #super-salads (“”), #healthy food (“”) did not allow to immediately identify the content as the result of a business relationship between the brand and the influencer. In addition, the promotional scope of the posts was not clearly revealed. Reminding that such (promotional) intent had to result patent without obliging the consumer to rely on ‘interpretative efforts’, a cease injunction was served.

The take away.

Online platforms are an outstanding tool for reaching out to a broad audience and for delivering information about a product or service. However, marketers need to think carefully about HOW they approach their target public. When relying on influencers’ services, the promotional intent of content marketers arrange for to appear on social media must result conspicuous.