‘Disclosing Branded Content in the COVID climate’: A View From ITB Influence Expert, Artemiz Moghaddam
Globally, more people than ever are using social media and digital platforms as their source of news, entertainment and human-to-human interaction and connectivity. Reports suggest that screen time has increased by 76%, proving it is a golden opportunity for brands to reach and engage with both current and prospective consumers. But at what cost? After all, many businesses have had to take serious hits financially; decreasing revenue from traditional outlets and thus increasing the pressure to convert through alternative streams. More importantly, are brands being cautious of their tone and semantics in the current unsettled and unpredictable climate? During a period of global crisis, it’s imperative for brands to adhere to the legalities that surround advertising to ensure they avoid undermining public health advice, misjudging public and minority group sensitivities and exploiting health-related anxieties.
Businesses have had to adapt to the current climate and as a result, have postponed or cancelled launches and campaigns, and where they have a bricks and mortar presence, close their doors. A recent survey from Advertiser Perceptions stated that one third of advertisers had cancelled at least one campaign before it started in response to COVID-19, with 45% of respondents pulling campaigns that were already in progress and 49% delaying the campaign until later in the year. Travel influencer Seder, who alongside her fiancé runs travel blog Away Lands has seen a drastic decrease in work as “Marketing [departments are] putting everything on pause right now with how uncertain everything is — they fear putting out ads and being tone deaf.”
Online marketing and messaging has never been more essential to maintaining the loyalty, connection and conversation between brand and consumer. However, consideration of tone and semantics is an essential sense check that all brands and influencers should take in order to be as transparent and correctly informative as possible.
According to a recent statement from ASA, “in practice, this means applying a lightness of touch in some areas of our work, and, in other areas, an uncompromising stance on companies or individuals seeking to use advertising to exploit the circumstances for their own gain”. Messaging when advertising functional products such as hand soap and face masks must not state, for example, that they ‘prevent the virus from spreading’, but instead communicate how that product can help make you feel in a time of unrest and uncertainty; i.e. taking said brand’s daily multi-vitamins will not make you immune to the virus, but instead to communicate that it can help to boost your immunity and general well-being.
In a time of global crisis, applying a more measured and responsible approach will help to avoid misleading claims and statements which are not backed by and verified from official boards and authorities. Use influencers who are experts in their field to back up any claims with verified robust facts to combat misinformation. As the influencers are the voice of your brand, the advertisement of correct information will increase the consumers trust in both parties. This due diligence is ideally to be carried out by both the brands and the influencers, referring to all official guidelines provided by the relevant bodies. Whilst the ASA’s advice can sometimes be deemed vague, we should be reminded that these are guidelines and initiative can and should be taken by both parties to make a well-considered decision on the campaign messaging.
Let’s take it back to basics
Disclosure guidelines and mandatory clarification that an ‘ad is an ad’ (in the UK) is provided by ASA/CMA (and other respective international counterpart boards). When a brand offers any form of payment, any posts then promoting or endorsing the brand – or its products and services – become subject to consumer protection law. Payment can include any form of monetary payment; commission; a free loan of a product/ service; a free product/service or any other incentive. Similarly, with gifting, if the brand has given any mandatory instructions to the influencer in relations to the supporting messaging and posting of the product, then the post has to clearly state #gifted
If an influencer is being paid to post, then they are effectively being ‘employed’ by the brand for that given post; it can therefore be expected as part of their job and responsibility to undertake the due diligence required in regards to disclosure, tonality and validity of any information communicated in the content and or caption. This assertion can truly elevate the influencer’s reputation, boosting their credibility and strengthening the consumers’ trust.
Eventually, the majority of us will probably forget the hours spent indoors, being ‘forced’ to disengage from social activities once we revert back to our pre-coronavirus lifestyles. But we will remember how people, influencers and brands reacted to it and behaved. At a time where we are striving for human connectivity and clarity, authentic communication and trustworthy information is paramount, especially in the advertising space. We’re living through an unprecedented moment in history – how will you be remembered?