Just as once distinguished actresses, heroes of action movies or favorite books were unsurpassed role models, in the realities of the modern world it is the influencers who contribute to the formation of values, behavior and social patterns. The content published by them reaches thousands of recipients, not only the youngest, but also representatives of the older generation, having a huge impact on their consumer decisions. Operating in social media, Internet celebrities often act as entrepreneurs, promoting specific products or brands in their posts. In September of this year, the President of the OCCP, Tomasz Chróstny, launched an investigation, with the goal of examining the growing market for advertising services offered by those operating via Internet means and developing guidelines for them, contributing to the transparency and transparency of the message. One of the hitherto neglected dangers lurking for web users was to be, according to the President, the frequent violations of the ban on surreptitious advertising that occurred on Facebook, Instagram and Youtube, among others, expressed in the failure to label commercial content as advertisements.
The investigation involves an analysis of influencers’ relationships with advertising agencies and advertisers, the distinction of advertising subjects, and – the clarity and distinctiveness of such markings. The ordering of the market for sponsored content appearing on social networks is expected to lead to increased protection for consumers, who must not be misled and should be able to distinguish ads from objective product reviews. This is even more significant if the level of influence held by celebrities on the purchasing decisions of observers is compared with the negligible responsibility they bear for recommending products of questionable quality and origin, hiding relevant information about them or highlighting certain features in order to manipulate a potential viewer.
As part of the ongoing investigation, the president of the OCCP has sent summonses to creators and their advertising agencies, asking for information regarding, among other things, the terms of their cooperation. Unfortunately, to no avail – many addressees either did not answer the correspondence at all, or ignored the questions asked. Such behavior, interpreted as a lack of cooperation with the President of the Office, has led to the initiation of further proceedings for the imposition of a fine, which can amount to €50 million, for the lack of information provided. They concern in particular four creators with business activities: Marek Kruszel (“Kruszwila”), Marcin Dubiel, Julia Kuczyńska (“Maffashion”) and Marlena Sojka (“Marley”).
Another of the tasks carried out by the OCCP is to verify the ability of social network users to tag sponsored content. In doing so, it is emphasized that the limitation of reach should only apply to those influencers who have decided not to inform their observers about paid promotion of products or services. The investigation further deals with the verification of offers of commercial cooperation and the behavior of celebrities in the face of the discovery of related irregularities. The authority also encourages the reporting of scams to a specially created email address: email@example.com.
In the face of such a rapidly growing advertising market and the apparent misalignment of the use of social media for promotional purposes with the rest of the media channels, which are subject to strict regulations, the OCCP’s recent actions seem almost revolutionary. At the same time, there are prominent views in the public opinion that the initiation of the topic is expected to lead to a dialogue between a number of stakeholders, which may consequently lead to self-regulation of the market. Looking at the issue of responsibility for labeling content as advertising between contracting parties and their influence on influencers’ actions seems to be the first step to developing consensual solutions to protect consumers. The need to use appropriate hashtags (#advertising or #sponsoredmaterials) is emphasized, allowing for a clear message and full comprehension about the product or service the audience is dealing with. At the same time, the concept of cooperation was not considered sufficient due to its ambiguity. In addition, it was announced that special attention would be focused on unlabeled advertisements for products harmful to health, subject to advertising restrictions in traditional media. The President of the Office also does not rule out taking appropriate steps, which would be to seek appropriate legal amendments, if ambiguities are found in the regulations.
The OCCP’s actions on reporting sponsored content on influencers’ social media accounts, while initially not seeming to lead to any real improvement in the situation, are already having surprising results. According to an analysis by Brand24, the number of posts tagged as advertising has increased by almost 77%. This has also resulted in an increase in audience interaction, indicating a link between the Authority’s measures and their impact on shaping the behavior of Internet users. Observers want truth, transparency and honest reviews. They want to know about the sponsor’s presence and stay in touch with their idols. On the other hand, influencers themselves are also focused on maintaining the trust they have earned, developing profiles, realizing content and verification for both agencies and direct clients.
The OCC announces further analysis of the social media of celebrities and their followers, focusing also on studying the dynamics of changes in the behavior of the former after the announcement of the investigation. As the Chairman himself emphasizes, the investigation is conducted in a given case, not against specific creators. The feature of transparency has become a kind of trend in social media, allowing the importance of consumer rights to be recognized. This leads to the conclusion that full transparency of actions taken by Internet stars, although it takes time, is slowly sprouting in the young marketing market.