Explainer: The influencer editing debacle - why is everyone is still talking about it and what the regulations are
Everything you need to know about how Irish bloggers came to the forefront of mainstream media - and why.
Why is there an increase in chat about blogger activity and transparency?
As the Irish influencer community continues to grow and learn new ways to monetise itself, consumers are becoming increasingly vocal about the desire for more honesty in online communications. I use the word communications because it's not just focused on advertising - a number of social media users are complaining that some of the Irish women they follow online are editing their images beyond real-life recognitiion. This might include adding a few inches to their height, increasing their bra size and shaving a few inches off their stomach.
So, they have identified a way to seek retribution for these alleged deceptions: involving the ASAI (Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland) and citing false advertising. Two pieces on influencer culture were published in weekend newspapers, once again stoking the argument and two Instagram accounts have been set up in recent weeks which are 'outing' what they believe to be poor influencer behaviour like the aforementioned over-editing.
What role does the ASAI play?
The ASAI does what it says on the tin - it monitors advertising standards in Ireland. In 2016, bloggers began using either #ad or #sp to convey that a post was paid for, but with an increase in 'gifting' by brands, the already grey are becomes even more blurred for new and evolving media. 'Gifting' is when a brand sends a list of people their new product to try and ideally, show off. In some cases, it has been requested, in other cases, it's unsolicited and in these cases, it's not considered a marketing communiaction.
According to the ASAI's guidance note on recognisability in advertising, "Where the reviewer has not been paid or otherwise induced to write a review, then the material is not marketing communication. If however, an advertiser has paid the reviewer (directly or in kind) and where the advertiser has significant control over the content of the review, then it is likely that the material would be considered a "marketing communication."
CEO of the ASAI Orla Twomey told Independent.ie Style: "It’s always been the case: if it’s not immediately apparent it’s a marketing communication, there should be a disclosure that they are. In the print world, it would be very clear with an advertorial. These rules applied to all media."
What about editing images?
It goes without saying that the ASAI doesn't have the authority to enforce and monitor an individual's social presence and give them a slap on the wrist for using too much FaceTune; nor should we want to live in a world where a government body can censor our personal content and image. They can, however, investigate if a complaint is made in the context of a sponsored post.
"The rules are the same offline as they are online. If it’s likely to mislead, it should be flagged. Say if a house is being sold and a picture to advertise its sale is being taken on a dreary day and you put a blur sky in, it’s not going to intentionally mislead materially; but if you were to change it as if it had been repainted and dolled up, then it’s likely to materially mislead," Ms Twomey explained.
As part of the investigation, a before bad after picture is requested "so that we can see whether or not there’s been significant alteration and if that alternation is material to the product," according to Ms Twomey.
What can the ASAI do?
My go-to reference for this is back in 2009 when Cheryl Cole was criticised for wearing hair extensions while promoting a haircare product for L'Oreal without either declaring that her appearance had been enhanced. Britain's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received 40 complaints that the effects shown could not be achieved since Cole had extensions, but the claims were ultimately rejected.
For public image reasons, she later "dramatically" removed her extensions for some time. The same would complaints would be applicable in Ireland if a blogger was to promote a particular brand of mascara while not making it clear that they are wearing false eyelashes. The process is long and considered.
The ASAI judges whether or not it should be put forward to its independent committee for review. But Ms Twomey said it's key to cooperate with both brands and inlfuencers in order to educate them on the standards required as most are inexperienced with the advertising regulations.
If the independent committee finds the communication to be misleading, both the brand and person promoting it are contacted for a comment and the results are made public.