For marketers, the digital disclosure of online advertising can have many pros and cons. Previously, the disclosure that a paid advertisement was actually a paid advertisement was not known as the law. However, in recent times it has become strictly regulated that influencers and businesses must ensure they recognise and disclose that a promotional deal/paid advertisement is in fact that. This can be through the use of #sponsored or #ad. This is due to social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram making it easier for businesses and influencers to reach target markets through sponsored content in a less obtrusive way, and almost an unethical way. Sponsored content consists of promotional messages that are disguised to look like normal content unsponsored, and show great likeness in format and style embedded in peoples Facebook and Instagram feeds among regular posts. This approach makes it harder for consumers to recognise commercial posts from non-commercial posts, and thus makes these advertisements more realistic and persuasive. This can be seen as unethical from businesses and influencers, as it can be seen as ‘manipulating’ consumers for their own financial gain. This is why regulations have been put in place for disclosure.
Marketing influencers these days can get in trouble for not properly disclosing sponsored posts, due to regulations put in place by governing bodies in different countries. For example, in America the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) sent warning letters to approximately 90 popular Instagram influencers about the disclosure of sponsored content. The FTC has strict regulations on disclosure and ensures you must not have assumptions that “an audience can work it out for themselves”. Disclosure through the use of a hashtag must not be hidden amongst a ‘more’ button or an abundance of other hashtags. It must be clear to the consumers eye. Similarly, in Australia the AANA has a code of ethics setting out similar guidelines, and apply to all influencers and businesses that (1) have a reasonable degree of control over the material, and (2) produces material that draws attention to the public in a manner calculated to promote a brand or product. These regulations have undermined the whole reason businesses and influencers alike began using this approach in the first place. Without disclosure, however, businesses are destroying trust in social media even further and possible destroying the effectiveness of this approach.
- Required disclosures must be clear and conspiscuous. The placement of the ad and the proximity to the content must be closely looked at. The closer the disclosure is to the content of the advertisement, the better.
- Other parts of the ad must not distract from the disclosure element, it must not be avoidable, and depending on the nature of the ad it may need to be repeated. Advertisers should also take into account the different devices that the ad can be viewed on and ensure any disclosure is sufficient enough to prevent the consumer from being misled.
- Advertisers should design advertisements so that ‘scrolling’ is not necessary for disclosure to be seen, as this may be seen as potential to ‘avoid’ the disclosure.
- Ensure disclosures can be seen and recognised before a consumer has the opportunity to purchase said product in advertisement.
- When using a hyperlink for disclosure, place the link as close as possible to the relevant information, make the link obvious, use hyperlink styles consistently, and label the link appropriately to convey its importance.
- Disclosures should be repeated when consumers have multiple routes through a website.
- Advertisers should review the entirety of the ad to assess whether the disclosure is effective in light of other elements that might distract the consumer’s attention from the disclosure
Below are some examples of how to simply disclose that your content is a paid advertisement (notice the use of #sponsored, #ad, and hyperlinked sponsored disclosure):
Negative consumers experiences from misleading advertisements can result in lost consumer goodwill and a loss of trust in social media. So although these regulations may seem defeat the purpose of this approach to advertising, they are important for consumer confidence and trust and assist in keeping advertising ethical.