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Published: September 2019 | Author: Lizzie Jaray
Recently, there have been more and more cases of businesses using Social Media and not being up to the Advertising Standards Authorities (ASA) standards. Ads that weren’t accurate, that overpromised or Influencers that were less than honest. The ASA released a new Advertising Standards Code effective from February this year that brings together a group of previous codes. This code applies to all advertisements placed in ANY media. The purpose of the code is that;
‘All advertising must be legal, decent, honest and truthful and respect the principles of fair competition so that the public can have confidence in advertising.’
Advertising Standards Code 2018
You may have begun wondering whether your own Social Media advertising meets the guidelines or don’t know how to check or what to do.
To answer that concern, we have drawn up some examples of common problems with Social Media ads and the learnings from them. Hopefully, this will also give you a broader understanding of how to navigate the social media advertising space by staying on the right side of the law.
First off, let’s establish a baseline: the NZ ASA has a Code of Conduct which they say applies to “all advertisements in any media”. The key part to remember the code (at least for how it applies to Social media) is that advertising needs to be honest.
Keep in mind the ASA is a self-regulatory organization, so its Code of Conduct is more of a good business standard rather than a legal mandate, but we still recommend you follow it.
Social Media Content Creation and the Code
What you need to know:
- If you are advertising on Social Media (including videos, sidebar ads, a banner on a LinkedIn Article) you’re responsible for making sure it adheres to the code.
- If you created the content, the ASA will consider you liable.
- The key here, like with any other advertising you may do, is to be clear about your service or product, what it can and cannot do.
- Make sure any commitment you make to customers is accurate and doesn’t mislead them
- This is especially important for things like the quantity of your product available for sale or the duration of a special.
- Satire’s fine; it just needs to be obvious and not inflammatory.
What can go wrong…
An example of someone being less than honest about their product is a small NZ business known for their natural medicine and crystal products:
- They posted ads on Facebook claiming their crystals could do anything from cure nightmares to cure addiction.
- The ASA investigated and fined them for disingenuous advertising
- The ASA has made a point to investigate similar claims about other companies throughout 2019.
It should be mentioned that all of the above falls under the label of User Generated Content, and all of the standards mentioned above apply not only to Social Media content but also to much more.
User Generated Content
As with Social Media however any content that you either make, or on a larger platform endorse or distribute needs to adhere to the code. Otherwise you may be held liable, as the company below was with their own ad:
- An advertisement from the Gym website showed an image of a spaceship attacking people, with the speech bubble stating “get the fat ones first”.
- Multiple claims were made against the Gym for this content, and the use of images of real people engaging in a run being used in the ad.
- The board found many people would likely be offended by such content and it did not fall under the banner of Satire.
- The complaints were upheld and the advertisement was removed.
What you need to know:
- As above with Social Media posts, you are responsible for making sure your content adheres to the code
- This also applies to any articles, images or videos you create on your website, or that you produce for another platform.
- So again, Be Honest about your product or service
- Find a tone that works for you, that presents your service or product in the best light but keep in mind the ASA’s standards
- Satire is still fine, however overtly provocative or insulting content should be avoided
So, we’ve talked about Social Media Content, and User Generated Content. But there is a specific group who uses both of these for their own personal brands. They are known as Influencers.
The ASA considers Influencers to be anyone with a large personal audience that they have developed on their own, including Bloggers, Instagrammers, or Celebrities.
The use of ‘Influencers’ as a more recent form of advertising is increasingly under the microscope with both the ASA in NZ and the equivalent body in Australia, both having recently updated their codes to better regulate Influencer activity.
So, what does that mean for you?
Well, if you are considering working with an influencer, or if you are already actively doing so, here are some guidelines:
- Be aware that if you pay the influencer, be it money, products, or vouchers, the ASA considers this paid advertising
- When using an influencer, disclosure is required by the influencer to their audience that their content is an ad, and/or is for a company.
- An easy suggestion is to make sure that if you are working with an Influencer, ensure they include hashtags like “ad” or “paid content”.
You are responsible for what content they produce that involves your product/service including on Social Media eg. if an influencer makes a misleading or inaccurate comment regarding your product, you will be held responsible.
Make sure that there is a written contract to outline your requirements and boundaries with your Influencer.
What can go wrong:
In 2018 an Influencer couple were provided with $500 each (including vouchers) from Kmart to provide positive advertisements for the company during an interview. The couple did not reveal the payment they received to the journalists interviewing them and were later caught and fined.
On a Final Note
Our advice when generating social media, UGC or influencer content is to be as clear as possible about your product/service and what you provide.
- Eliminate risk at all stages and with all parties by checking with the relevant codes and laws before publishing new content.
- Ask yourself if there is anyway the content could be misunderstood. If in doubt, check it out!
- Get a reality check from an external expert if you are at all unsure.
- Monitor what happens to your social media content on a regular basis.
- Communicate your expectations and have written contracts with agencies and influencers to make sure they are clear on expectations and your company and brand guidelines.