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TALA & Grace Beverley - A Lesson in Commercial Disclosure

With the influencer Grace Beverley hitting the headlines this week for an Advertising Standards Authority ruling into her social media posts, I wanted to address the uproar and take a closer look at exactly what it is about those posts that the ASA found so misleading.


First off, I think it's really important to acknowledge that Grace has responded very graciously (she was named well!) to the upheld ruling and told the BBC that she was respectful of the ASA's work and acknowledged their decision.


However, that still leaves us with a rather lengthy ruling against an influencer that many associate entirely with her brand TALA and its a ruling that the influencer industry is simultaneously confused and outraged at.


So why is that? What's the ruling about?


The ASA ruled that two Instagram reels and four TikToks on Grace Beverly's accounts were not obviously identifiable as ads.


Organic v Commercial Content

The relevant rule in this context about distinguishing between organic / unbranded content and advertising content is that

if an influencer is personally or commercially connected to the brand (e.g., owner, employee, shareholder, director or have any other commercial or personal interest), any content featuring or referring to the brand will need to be obviously identifiable as advertising. 

This isn't a new rule / principle. It's been lurking around in CAP (the Committee of Advertising Practice) guidance for a few years. And it's something I've discussed and trained brands on countless times.


Grace, quite clearly, falls within the "owner" box. So she has a commercial interest in the brand (TALA). To spell that out, if Grace advertises her brand well then she sells more clothes and she, as owner, gains commercially from that post. The ASA sees that as something the public would want to know before they interact with that post.


Its the same as expecting there to be a clear delineation between a TV ad and a TV programme. We're so used to being able to tell the difference in traditional media that the ASA is concerned that on social, those lines are blurred and so all advertising must be exceedingly obvious.


But what does "obvious" mean in this context? Do most people (especially those looking at a Grace Beverley post) not already know that she owns TALA? And isn't obvious from the context, words, images etc, that she has a commercial connection?


Making it clear that an ad is an ad

Grace and her representatives put forward exactly these points. They considered that the fact that the posts were "co-posted" alongside the brand account and Grace's personal account, plus the use of language such as

“I don’t think I have ever been so proud about how one of our pieces has turned out”

and

“just being able to make clothes that you wanted to buy and not really having to buy them”

should have made it obvious to anyone seeing the posts that Grace was commercially connected (e.g. owned) the brand's clothes that were the subject of the ad.


But the ASA disagreed and pointed out that the ads were several minutes long and those references were made part-way through, so a user was required to engage with the ads before they heard them.


The inference being that, had those references been made prominently, at the start of the post, things may have gone very differently.


It was also noted that Grace's connection to TALA was clear in the bio section. However, as the ASA has pointed out on multiple occasions, it does not want consumers to have to click away from an ad to find this type of information.


TikTok Playlist

Grace and her team also pointed out that 3 of the posts were on a playlist labelled “aggressive marketing”. However, the ASA considered that it would not have been immediately obvious to users viewing the post what that meant. They believed it was not a well-known phrase or method for disclosing ads and could have been interpreted in different ways e.g. as a reference to music.


So, the upshot of the ruling is that the ASA advised Grace that, in future similar posts, she should use a disclaimer such as #AD.


The Fallout

Does this mean that every post by every employee that mentions their company must have a #AD disclosure parked next to it?


Well, the situation is the same as it was last week, and the week before, if you're promoting a company that you're commercially connected to then yes, you should be making that clear.


However, I don't believe that always means using #AD is the best or most appropriate way to use it. On Insta or TikTok, if the most immediate message is along the lines of

As the owner of [brand], I'm so excited to show you ...

Ok, admittedly that could get a little repetitive but it's an option to avoid a disclosure label. But bear in mind that social media platforms like Instagram do require, within their own policies, branded content to be posted using their own branded content tools, so that a paid promotion label is automatically added.


Industry consequences

Probably the widest consequence of this ruling, in highlighting the commercial connection rule, is that it could be seen to apply to all posts by employees. And one of the biggest challenges there is likely to be on platforms like LinkedIn, where the whole point is to talk about your company, your brands, your expertise.


But could it be argued that, because that's the point, LinkedIn as a platform sits outside of these rules? Are the expectations, experiences and knowledge of those using it so advanced in terms of commercial exposure that the advertising intent is clear without the need for overt disclosures?


The fact that the ASA has steadfastly avoided publishing any rulings into LinkedIn content on this point suggests that the subject is not clear-cut. And I would hesitate to take the learnings from Grace Beverley's ruling and apply them strictly to that particular platform.


But for Instagram, TikTok and similar social platforms? Yes, if you're a brand owner or have another commercial interest in that brand, you should definitely be disclosing that connection upfront.


 

If your brand or agency would like training or bespoke guidance on the rules for influencer marketing, contact Rupa using the webform or connect with me on LinkedIn. 






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