The rise of influencer marketing

As Instagram begins to tighten its regulations, how can the food industry stay on the straight and narrow in its collaborations with social media influencers?

24 September 2019
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image credit: Getty Images

Meet the Expert

Who: Dr. Laura Wyness

What: Independent registered nutritionist


Brands are increasingly collaborating with social media influencers. Italian chain Zizzi even hired one to be its resident Instagrammer back in May.

Research by Influencer Marketing Hub found that this form of promotion is predicted to grow to more than double 2017 figures this year to become a $6.5bn industry.

With many companies raising their influencer marketing budget, it’s likely that social media users will see more adverts. But for businesses employing this tactic, it is important that such posts are clearly identify as promotional and that the information displayed is accurate, particularly in terms of any nutritional and health information and claims.

Selling points

Collaborating with social media influencers can be a useful marketing strategy for a food and drink business to help build awareness of its products and increase sales. Instagram is the most important channel by far, according to Influencer Marketing Hub’s survey, with 79% of survey respondents considering Instagram important for their influencer marketing campaigns.

Enormous numbers of followers are not always the key to success, and nano-influencers with fewer than 1,000 followers tend to have higher engagement rates (of 7.2%) on Instagram compared to (1.1%) among those with over 100,000 followers. 

However, any nutrition and health information on such posts must adhere to claims regulations and reflect the science.

Just last week, Instagram tightened up its rules so that posts related to diet or weight loss products that include a price tag will be hidden from users known to be under 18. Also, any content making a ‘miraculous claim’ about a diet or weight-loss product will be removed from Facebook and Instagram – so, no more posts of influencers sipping a diet tea and promoting a discount code, suggesting they lost lots of weight due to the product.

Large brands are likely to have nutritionists and regulatory experts in-house to support the marketing team or agency to choose appropriate influencers and ensure that they are well informed of the messages and values to highlight in posts, but it is equally important for smaller companies to seek consultation to avoid sticky legal territory.

Making it clear an ad is an ad

Consumers have a right to know when they are being advertised to, and both brands and influencers have a responsibility to ensure the content makes that really clear upfront.

When a brand rewards an influencer with a payment, free gift, or other perk, any resulting posts become subject to consumer protection law.

Similarly, when a brand also has control over the content, they too become subject to the UK Advertising Code. Failure to disclose a commercial relationship leaves both parties at risk of action from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

Current guidance on how influencer ads should be labelled states that the ASA favours labels that are straightforward and simply say what the post is. Influencers and brands need to be upfront with followers and, as a minimum requirement, should use '#ad’ in a suitably prominent position.

There are a variety of other hashtags and phrases that can also be used, such as ‘#spon’, ‘#collab,’ ‘#affiliate’ or ‘In association with [brand].’ However, following recent research by Ipsos Mori that found that a significant percentage of the public was unable to identify the difference between advertising and non-advertising content, the ASA has stated that these labels alone are not enough to make it clear that the content is advertising.

Getting the facts straight

When food businesses work with qualified and competent nutrition experts, this can enhance the quality and robustness of their activities and outputs.

Any registered nutritionist or dietitian is obliged to comply with professional standards of conduct, performance and ethics. For example, they must provide evidence-based information, be objective and not be influenced by financial reward.

Marketers should not over-claim and imply endorsement by nutritionists, and it is not acceptable to make health claims that refer to the recommendation of an individual nutritionist.

As influencer marketing is still a relatively new area, the CAP and Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have produced an online Influencer’s Guide. The ASA and CAP will also be hosting an Influencer training event on October 1.

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