Yes, complaints to the ASA have nearly trebled over the past year, and the organisation is admitting that it is not where it needs to be with influencers following the rules. To be blunt, the rules are not hard, and can be as simple as a hashtag of #ad or #advert. All influencers have to do to admit they're being paid to say what they're saying is to add a hashtag, perhaps reference the company as a sponsor or acknowledge their involvement in the post or video the public is being presented with.
Complaints in 2016 were just over the 1,800 mark -- a trebling since 2012, which is hardly surprising given the huge growth in influencer marketing over the past five years.
It's funny because when you talk to large responsible brands, they're usually very cautious about how they work with influencers. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the feedback I have received from these brands is that influencers themselves are very cautious. They know their audience has been built up through trust, and they see the influencer as an expert who offers tips and advice that are worth following. The moment their audience feels they are being duped, they know it's all over for them.
So that makes it even more surprising that this is still such an issue, and I would suggest as a hunch that it's more of a issue at the lower end of the influencer scale, where agencies are getting involved with less well-known"stars." The authorities have already censured two such agencies for aiding and abetting a dishonest trade in positive influencer remarks.
A couple of very well-known fashion and beauty influencers got caught out a year or two ago for gushing reviews of a tea that was supposed to give you a flat tummy as well as some non-alcoholic drinks. They've since become the poster children of how not to do it, and so I think that's why big brands are seeing caution from the big names -- something they report back they feel comforted by.
So if you ask me, it's the wannabe influencers that I believe the ASA will likely be receiving the most complaints about, rather than those who can already count their followings in the millions.
I do wonder, however, at what stage will the ASA take a tougher line? At the moment, someone gets their wrists slapped well after the event and in the fast-moving world of social media, the campaign would have been finished weeks ago. Surely, there has to be a faster way of taking a binary decision over whether an ad has been flagged or not. I suspect this is where we will need to be headed, and that the naming and shaming of any big brand involved will be enough for them to insist a commercial relationship is acknowledged.
Apart from those people who follow the influencers, however, it doesn't seem to be big news right now. Yet with influencer marketing only set to grow, it will surely become more widespread and evident to everyday social users, beyond millennials and Gen Z surfers looking for makeup tips and the lowdown on how to accessorise an outfit.
For this reason alone, influencer marketing needs to be seriously step up or be dropped like a hot potato. Brands simply won't suffer the poor exposure from abuses once influencers go mainstream.