UK enforcement watchdog the Competition and Markets Authority is opening an investigation into whether social media stars are being open about paid-for endorsements.
Online influencers are taking over from traditional media outlets in areas ranging from parenting to pets. Italian fashion phenomenon Chiara Ferragni was profiled by Harvard Business School in 2015 as she considered how best to monetize her "Blonde Salad" blog. She has since launched her own clothing and accessories line and runs a magazine site highlighting fashion and beauty products.
Online gamers like Mark Fischbach (Markiplier) can run up billions of views for their videos, developing a loyal following particularly among younger enthusiasts. Forbes reports that Fischbach occasionally partners with brands if he thinks “it makes sense for his fan base”.
The CMA is concerned that fans and followers can be led to believe that a product endorsement represents the star's own view, rather than being a paid-for promotion. CMA Senior Director George Lusty explains
“If people see clothes, cosmetics, a car, or a holiday being plugged by someone they admire, they might be swayed into buying it.
So, it's really important they are clearly told whether a celebrity is promoting a product because they have bought it themselves, or because they have been paid or thanked in some way by the brand.”
The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 rules out commercial practices that are considered to be unfair. This specifically includes:
"Using editorial content in the media to promote a product where a trader has paid for the promotion without making that clear in the content or by images or sounds clearly identifiable by the consumer (advertorial)."
The CMA is inviting input from the public and expects to give an update later in 2018. It is likely to try to agree any changes with the brands and influencers involved, but can seek a court ruling if necessary.