The decision to crackdown on websites that advertised misleading discounts on hotel rooms has been welcome by digital marketing agency Fat Media, but it has also issued a warning that the scale of the issue is much larger. The company said there are still major issues surrounding the use of backdoor online advertising and influencer promotion.
This week it was revealed that high-profile booking websites such as Expedia, Booking.com, Agoda, Hotels.com, Ebookers and Trivago have been investigated over high-pressure selling tactics and misleading discount claims by The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA).
The CMA said there are concerns that the sites were making rooms seem more popular than they were. Fat Media said that this isn’t the only issue with online promotions.
A recent survey on bloggers and vloggers, commissioned by Fat Media’s sister company CollectivEdge, found that only 38 per cent of brand collaborations were disclosed as an ad or sponsored post to readers, and 40 per cent of those who didn’t disclose admitted they were confused about the rules and regulations surrounding disclosing paid-for content on their blogs or social channels. The survey revealed that nearly three quarters of bloggers and vloggers are not disclosing when a brand has collaborated with them.
Alexei Lee, head of communications for Fat Media, said: “We welcome the decision by the CMA to crackdown on misleading advertising, but in all honesty it’s the tip of the iceberg. Some businesses are employing a range of methods to drive sales from native ads, which don’t look like advertising, just normal content, to sponsoring influencers, who, as our own surveys have revealed, don’t then disclose who they are collaborating with.
“Our experience is that influencer content and native advertising is valued and engaged with by consumers if it is delivered using best practice, and consumers are fully aware of the link with a brand. It’s when consumers feel duped that problems can arise for all concerned.”
The Advertising Standards Authority sets the rules around disclosure and these require an influencer to clearly inform their audience when a payment or product has changed hands in exchange for a review or a mention in a video or post.
A third of the 1400 influencers polled in the survey admitted that brands were asking them not to disclose paid content, which, in light of the fact that paid-for collaborations makes up 26 per cent of influencers’ content, highlights a lack of awareness or willingness to play by the rules across a significant proportion of brands. Not disclosing paid-for content can cause major issues when building consumer trust and could damage both the brand’s and the influencers’ reputations.
Lee said: “Influencers are now media owners, but often aren’t aware or are pressured not to comply with ASA rules which can lead to misleading their followers.”
On native advertising he added: “Companies are also circumventing ad block technology by using practices like native advertising to encourage people to buy. The content appears in social news feeds and often looks like any other story rather than an actual advert.
“The fact is, any content that an influencer, or publication, produces that has been commissioned by a brand is classed as advertising. It is really important that influencers and brands understand how to make consumers aware of this, otherwise both parties could be at risk of damaged reputation, and potentially even financial penalties.
“It’s important that the rules and regulations that surround paid for content are made clearer but also followed, otherwise we could see a complete erosion of trust in the content and information provided by brands and influencers.”