Before you hit ‘add to basket’, you scroll down to the customer reviews to see what other, like-minded shoppers had to say. There was a stage before that too, where you Googled the product and the word ‘review’ to see if anyone has written a glowing blog post, sent an angry tweet or shared a similar product from a competitor.
Chances are every single person who reads this has purchased something (or not) this way, because it’s an online shopper’s habit, and their prerogative. Checking online reviews and endorsements – including those made by bloggers or on social media – has become part of everyday life and can significantly influence people’s buying decisions. But have you ever stopped to consider that these reviews may have been cherry picked, or that the celebrity you trust professing an undying love for the latest takeaway app, has actually been paid for and potentially created by someone else? What happens when it becomes difficult for readers to distinguish between paid-for advertising and the conversations they appeared alongside?
The line between paid for and non-sponsored content has become increasingly blurred over the last year, to the point that the UK’s primary competition and consumer authority, CMA, has been investigating the use of online reviews and endorsements to ensure that they are being used in accordance with consumer protection law.
Following swiftly on the heels of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – who introduced new clarification rules on YouTube’s native advertising last year, telling vloggers “it pays to be honest and fully establish the commercial intent of the videos” – the savviest influencers out there have been adding disclosures to their content, ensuring that all paid promotions are clearly labelled or identified. However, it’s not just bloggers and YouTubers who’re in the line of fire; anyone involved in online endorsements is accountable, including both the brand and the people who instruct, facilitate, arrange or publish paid promotions.
Nisha Arora, CMA Senior Director for Consumer Enforcement, said:
Social media personalities can have an important influence on people’s views, especially young people. It is therefore crucial that when people decide what to buy, they should not be misled by adverts on social media that read like independent opinions. Businesses, marketing companies and authors of online content all need to play their role in ensuring that advertising is clearly labelled as such.
The OMD Social and Content team work closely with both clients and the influencers chosen to take part in campaigns to ensure that content is not only labelled as an advertisement (usually with the inclusion of a simple hashtag like #AD or #spon), but that the influencers’ tone of voice remains authentic and represents a real opinion.
Selecting the right influencer for a campaign is paramount; if it’s something they have a genuine interest in, their content is more likely to engage the influencers audience, and result in a higher ROI. It isn’t about shoe-horning in someone just because of their reach, or attempting to dictate exactly what the influencer has to say – an outreach hurdle that many brands stumble on – but rather finding an influencer who represents the client, their campaign ethos and their identity.