With affiliate marketing driving £17bn worth of revenue in 2015 it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that regulatory bodies are casting their eye over the marketing techniques it is reliant on.
In April this year the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published an open letter in which they highlighted three particular cases where companies had failed to clearly identify when they had paid bloggers or online publications for featuring products in their blog content and articles.
They concluded that everyone involved in endorsing products and services online has a responsibility to ensure they are appropriately labelled as such. The CMA also clarified this extended to bloggers, vloggers and those posting via social media channels (such as Twitter) alongside traditional publishing operations such as online newspapers.
This potentially poses a particular challenge for affiliate marketers. Encapsulating all forms of online, the industry has a duty to ensure those featuring content containing affiliate links are aware of the possible ramifications, encouraging them to state explicitly to consumers that a commercial relationship may exist.
Consumer protection law already states that paid for editorial content has to be labelled as such so for larger publishers with an offline background this is familiar territory. However in our age of influencers where brands are clamouring to partner with individuals who have built armies of engaged users, so a precedent has emerged that could lead to a future run in with the regulators.
One of the difficulties is possibly because individual affiliates may be completely unaware of the rules. Sadly ignorance is no defence and therefore the affiliate industry – probably led by the networks – has an obligation to inform and provide practical solutions.
The CMA advises publishers that when they accept payment to endorse something they need to make sure the content is clearly identifiable as being paid-for. They state labelling posts or videos as advertisement features or promotions would send a clear indication.
While the CMA doesn’t explicitly reference affiliate marketing, it is logical to assume that our channel falls broadly under their umbrella definition. To date there have yet to be any specific breaches the CMA has identified as being affiliate in nature but it feels like it could be just a matter of time.
The Advertising Standards Authority also investigates breaches of the advertising codes that everyone has to abide by and in the past they have investigated several affiliate sites, one in particular for not being clear through the URL and onsite content that they weren’t the actual retailers they were promoting.
With this in mind Awin recently launched a disclaimer site that any of our publishers can link to. Called ‘Paid for Advertising’, it is a simple one page site that uses plain English to outline what affiliate marketing is and how it helps power great, free, online content.
Our advice would be to ensure it can be linked to from a publisher’s homepage, above the fold of the page if possible. A featured disclaimer stating that content featured on a publisher’s site may result in a payment should a sale occur, will not guarantee safety (and Awin cannot offer any legal binding recommendations), but seems a good place to start.
The affiliate channel has a proud heritage of self-regulation. In the face of increasing scrutiny, it is important the industry once more rallies to provide practical and workable solutions that guarantee its future development.