Brands called out for unclear demarcation of sponsored content on social

UOB was recently pulled into a little bit of blogger drama for its KrisFlyer campaign. The campaign titled "A new way to bank and fly" had influencers such as Lady Iron Chef, Melissa Celestine Koh, Christabel Chua and The Travel Intern promoting it on their social media platforms.

Unfortunately, the campaign was called out for not clearly marking its influencer engagements as sponsored. In this specific case, this refers to marking the influencer social media posts as #sp, #sponsored, #ad or #advertorial in the captions.

[gallery ids="174735,174724,174725,174726,174727,174728,174732,174734,174731,174729"]

However in UOB’s defense, all the posts did tag the campaign name, i.e #UOBKrisFlyer and a #newwaytobankandfly to indicate the company’s working relationship with the influencer.

When contacted by Marketing, a UOB spokesperson said that the brand is committed to responsible advertising, it added that it regularly reviews its advertising policies to ensure that it is in line with industry guidelines.

"Together with our marketing agencies, we recognise and adhere to the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice to ensure that the content, tone and timing of our marketing efforts are aligned to industry guidelines," the UOB spokesperson said.

While influencer marketing has really taken off in the past few years and has even seen the launch of a new set of guidelines created by the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (ASAS) , the rules are regulations are still not elaborate enough, say many industry players.

A quick check by Marketing found an overall lack of consistency with several brands on how to mark their sponsored posts.

One such brand spotted was Coca-Cola. When contacted by Marketing, the company said it takes the transparency of its sponsored work with influencers seriously. It explained that it requires the disclosure of an influencer’s connection to the company.

[gallery link="file" ids="161879,161878,161877,161870"]

“We require the disclosure to be clear, and in or near the message. Influencers can also use hashtags if they clearly communicate their connection to the Company,” the spokesperson explained.

When asked about its recent Chinese New Year campaign where there were a small number of posts, where the influencer identified the connection with the Company @cocacolasg or @cocacolamy, but did not include a hashtag such as #sponsored or #Sp to indicate the sponsorship relationship. The company spokesperson said:

“We are addressing this, and have put in place additional steps in our approvals process with our agency to make sure the sponsorship relationship is always clearly called out.”

Echoing the sentiment is DBS, which said that it also strives for transparency in its communications.

[gallery link="file" ids="174756,174753,174750"]

“We regularly review our policies to keep pace with emerging marketing trends, and the bulk of sponsored content we run across blogs and influencer channels today are clearly marked as sponsored. We will continue to evolve these policies to take into account changes in the marketing landscape,” a DBS spokesperson said.

DBS did not address why in the post pointed out by Marketing, it did not have the specific words “sponsored”.

In a conversation with Marketing, Goh Theng Kiat, chief marketing officer, global Consumer Financial Services, OCBC Bank, explained that the brand has a stringent process for selecting quality influencers.

[gallery link="file" ids="174773,174774,174772,174771"]

“They must be reflective of our brand, and share the same standards of ethics and values as us. When we engage with influencers, we want to be transparent with our consumers about the engagement,” Goh explained.

For each platform, the bank has slightly different requirements, he added. These requirements were developed taking into account the way consumers engage with the platform and their acceptability of influencer marketing on that platform.

On social media, influencers must clearly tag its brand as a signal that it is a sponsored post. Meanwhile, on blog posts or long-form content, influencers must clearly state that the post is a sponsored post.

“In general, we defer to the influencers own guidelines' on which position they will put their disclaimers, as long as they meet our requirements outlined above. We have not faced any difficulties with our requirements thus far,” Goh explained.

ASAS’ take on the influencer scene

When reached out to by Marketing for more clarity on the matter, Tan Sze Wee, chairman of ASAS explained that the guidelines state that disclosures of sponsored content should “convey and clearly show that the content has been paid for” and be appropriate for the platform the content appears on.

While he admitted that ASAS does not prescribe a format for disclosures, the disclosure must reflect the spirit of the guidelines.

“For this reason, the use of brand and campaign hashtags [in the UOB case and the above brands mentioned] would not be acceptable,” Tan said.

Quoting the Guidance Notes released last year, Tan clarified that there is a non-exhaustive list of acceptable disclosures for content without length constraints and content with length restraints.

This includes the use of hash tags #adv, #sp, #sponsored and #endorsed, in the case of content with length restraints (i.e. social media posts)

He added that ASAS will review the guidelines to ensure that they keep abreast of the latest developments. The reviews will take the feedback on the guidelines and their implementation into consideration.