Influencer marketing is an increasingly popular strategy for advertisers to promote their brands. Building on the persuasive power that one individual’s opinions, recommendations, reviews, and testimonials can have on others, influencers present their views on products and services that they sample to their followers. In doing so, they aim to influence consumer behaviour. Trust is key to the relationship between the influencer and the consumer, and Ad Standards provides tools to help brands, advertisers, platforms and influencers maintain that consumer trust.
The Canadian Code of Advertising Standards (Code), and specifically Clause 7 (Testimonials), provides parameters for truthful “testimonials, endorsements or other representations of opinion or preference”. This requirement applies equally to all media and formats, including traditional testimonials, advertorial and native content, and, now, the representations of influencers.
In 2016, Ad Standards introduced Interpretation Guideline #5 to help ensure that influencer content is not deceptive. It requires that the representations disclose any material connection between the influencer and the entity behind the brand, product or service being promoted. The Interpretation Guideline further requires this disclosure to be clear, prominent, and in close proximity to the representation being made.
In early 2017, Ad Standards brought together members of the influencer marketing industry to form an Influencer Marketing Steering Committee for the purpose of developing a ‘best practices’ document. The goal of the document is to help influencers and advertisers understand and meet the disclosure requirement in the Code and Interpretation Guideline #5. These best practices were launched in March 2018 as the Influencer Disclosure Guidelines (the Guidelines), and provide examples of how to disclose a material connection, as well as examples that would not likely be considered sufficient. Updated in 2020, the Guidelines include examples from platforms including TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. The updates also address disclosure best practices in the context of affiliate marketing and refer-a-friend programs.
Ad Standards was proud to have received the Best Sectoral Initiative award from The International Council for Ad Self-Regulation (ICAS) for these Guidelines in May, 2019. The Guidelines are consistent with expectations of regulators in the US and other jurisdictions, and Canada is among the countries with self-regulatory codes and guidelines for influencer marketing.
The Competition Bureau also provides helpful guidance in The Deceptive Marketing Practices Digest - Volume 4, and also in their document “Influencer marketing and the Competition Act”.
In 2021 Ad Standards partnered with Caddle Research to conduct a survey of Canadians about their awareness of and attitudes toward influencer marketing. The survey of more than 8,400 Canadians uncovered several key insights:
- The majority of respondents are not very familiar with influencer marketing, with awareness lowest among the Boomer generation and highest among Generation Z.
- Consumers value transparency from advertisers, influencers ad social media platforms; the majority of consumers believe they should be made aware if a post is sponsored.
- There is an overall lack of awareness of influencer marketing guidelines and industry standards.