The ASA’s 2023 influencer guidelines are completely unenforceable and will only make creator trolling worse

Posted by Sara McCorquodale in Comment

1 year ago

The Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) and the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) released updated guidelines for influencers working commercially with brands and I have to say it: they are completely bonkers. Because the regulator now wants to police influencers’ relationships and this is before it has successfully enforced its rules on straightforward sponsored content. A phrase around walking and running springs to mind.

Here’s the breakdown: influencers have to signpost paid partnerships, gifting, press trips, loaned products, affiliate marketing and incentivised discounts as advertising. In addition, they now must volunteer if they are the owner, co-owner, employee of or stakeholder in a business they are promoting. All of this is fine. Here’s where it gets mad: influencers must now also volunteer if a brand in their content is owned by a friend or family member. This, says the ASA, is advertising.

There is a lot to unpack here, but let’s start with the practicalities. How on earth is a regulator that can’t get creators to care about its rules on simple signposting going to police the technicalities of their relationships? I mean, really. The ASA is very, very bad at making influencers care about them and all of the example making of Love Islanders in the world doesn’t seem to have changed this. I’d wager many influencers still don’t know the regulator exists.

But here’s the worrying thing. The addition of this new requirement has distinct Tattle energy – for it to actually work in practice, the ASA will require trolls and hate followers to be reporting back to it when they suspect an influencer and a business owner may know each other personally. This does nothing but add to and validate the wildly toxic notion that influencers are inherently untrustworthy and fair game when it comes to online abuse.

As an industry, we should be up in arms. If we can’t be up in arms, we should be asking exactly how this works in practice. Because personally all I can see is another rule that the regulator won’t be able to enforce but one that gives trolls a reason to target creators in a new way. The ASA relies heavily on consumers to report influencers which has resulted in arbitrary sanctioning rather than any kind of functional framework.

I am all for regulation of this industry but the truth is the ASA proves time and time again it is not up to the job – and these new guidelines further prove it.

By Sara McCorquodale, CEO and founder of CORQ.

Worried about the new rules for influencer commercial signposting? 

Tune in to CORQ’s ASA guidelines webinar on March 30th in which our CEO and founder, Sara McCorquodale, will break everything down and ensure you know exactly how the guidelines impact you. Register here.