Interview with European Advertising Standards Alliance (EASA) Self-Regulation Development Officer, Tudor Manda
What is the role of the EASA?
The EASA is an independent, neutral organization. We do not represent the advertising industry. We defend the system of self-regulation of advertising content which is based on industry commitments at the national level. It’s rooted in the local advertising industry that has committed to a set of rules that go beyond legislation, the ultimate role of ad self-regulation being to foster consumer trust through responsible advertising.
There are 27 national self-regulatory organizations (SROs) – advertising standards bodies like Autocontrol in Spain or the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK – that are members of the EASA. We also have industry representatives, advertisers, agencies, and digital players as members. We’re not a lobby. Our general aim – as it applies to influencer marketing but also to other sectors that we work in – is to foster collaboration between SROs within the network, and with organizations outside of it. We work with our sister organization, the International Council for Advertising Self-Regulation, which has a similar structure at the global level.
The advertising codes all broadly say the same thing across Europe. In that respect, there is relative harmonization because they’re all based more or less on the ICC (International Chamber of Commerce) Code of 1937, which is currently being revised.
Several markets in Europe are seeing momentum to foster more responsible practices in influencer marketing; what's your assessment of where the industry is at on these issues?
While we don’t speak on behalf of the influencer marketing industry, late last month we published our updated Best Practice Recommendations for Influencer Marketing. Since its first inception in 2018, all stakeholders of the EASA have provided input into what this guide should do. Part of the reason we’ve updated this guidance is because there were a lot of new marketing practices within influencer marketing, new social media that also appeared. We wanted to reflect the detective work that SROs do to ensure a piece of influencer content is marketing, and provide more guidance on how they do their work in handling complaints, and issues with influencers.
Another interesting point is the initiative by French SRO ARPP (Autorité de Regulation Professionnelle de Publicité) which launched an Observatory for Responsible Influence a few years ago. It’s an industry-supported initiative that’s grown to include training and a certification process, which involves monitoring through technology. We’ve included it in our guidance as something that could be useful for other countries to implement.
Is there much enthusiasm within the EASA or from SROs in other countries to implement a similar model?
It is something that we’re discussing internally. The advantage that everyone sees in the observatory and certificate process is that it feeds into the question of trust that the self-regulatory system provides for the industry, businesses, policy makers, and consumers.
There are a lot of linguistic, cultural and legal differences between countries in Europe. There is discussion of how this would happen in other countries, but it needs to be supported by the industry at the local level to reflect the differences in priorities of the local influencer marketing community.
France recently legislated to tighten controls around influencer marketing; what is the view of your members on legislating over and above existing laws that regulate advertising more generally?
Whenever there’s discussions about new regulatory tools, we always position advertising self-regulation as part of the solution. It complements what’s already out there and it evolves, it’s nimble, it’s flexible. It’s often much quicker than judicial procedures. A consumer complaint lodged with an SRO usually gets handled in 67% of cases in under two weeks, so it’s quite quick. There’s about 14 SROs in Europe from our network which have implemented influencer marketing guidelines, with another seven countries currently drafting them.
On the question of harmonization, having a legal backstop complements ad self-regulation. Especially with advertising when there are questions of culture, linguistics and legal differences between countries, it helps to have a flexible system which allows for better implementation. For example, on the question of proper disclosure [of advertising partnerships in influencer content], our guidance discusses the differences between countries: different SROs have different accepted levels of disclosures but in all cases it needs to appear blatantly self-evident as marketing communication. In many countries, #ad is enough, in others it’s not.
There is also the EU’s Audiovisual Media Services Directive, which is a vertical piece of legislation that regulates media, and which mentions that member states are encouraged to make use of codes of conduct and self-regulation.
Some in the influencer marketing industry complain that the regulatory system in its current form is unfairly weighted against influencers compared to traditional advertising methods. What’s your take on this issue?
As far as ad self-regulatory rules are concerned, they apply to all marketing communications, irrespective of media. The key issue is to always be able to identify marketing content from editorial content. On the influencer side, we could turn the question the other way and say it’s equally as important that influencers properly disclose their content so they can differentiate between a marketing post and any other influencer expressing a personal opinion. It’s really important as an audience member, as a consumer to be able to distinguish. You must have trust and transparency.
Are there some countries which are more advanced than others on how to inject more responsible practices into influencer marketing than others? Given that the market is growing?
It’s reflective of how big the influencer marketing market is in different countries. France has done a lot of work on it with the Certificate of Responsible Influence and the content monitoring that they’re doing. The UK has also done a lot of training with influencers and content monitoring.
Over the past three years, we’ve seen growth in the number of SROs that are jumping on this, in terms of recommendations they’ve implemented or will be implementing soon in their own markets. We’re also supporting SROs that utilize algorithmic technology, AI and Machine Learning to filter and identify influencer marketing posts. Because influencers are new actors in the ecosystem, it’s clear that they’re probably not aware of the rules they need to abide by. So there is a lot of work on training and awareness that’s going on, but it’s also good to really know to what extent it is an issue in the market. We have 11 SROs using technology and partnering with service providers to filter and analyze influencer posts, mostly for transparency disclosures although some of them go beyond that if it’s an ad for alcohol or gambling which has specific legislation attached to it. We only see this growing. Many of those who have done monitoring but have not yet produced guidance will do so based on the findings from these studies.
Is it suitable to apply existing regulatory practices to influencer marketing, or does the format stand apart from traditional advertising formats?
It’s not an either/or question. The existing laws and self-regulatory rules apply irrespective of the media or marketing practices. But the other side is that influencers are new actors and we need to tailor the solutions and the tools we use to make sure that we train and educate them, and raise awareness about the existing frameworks. Monitoring is one of them, providing advice on copywriting before publication is another. Complaints handling comes afterwards.
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