ACCC to crack down on misleading influencer endorsements across social media

Consumer watchdog received over 150 tip-offs about influencers who reportedly failed to disclose affiliations with products they were promoting

Australia’s consumer watchdog is taking a close look at more than 100 social media influencers after receiving tip offs that they might not be disclosing sponsored content.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said it received more than 150 tip-offs after its call-out on Facebook last week, most of them about influencers in beauty, lifestyle, parenting and fashion who tipsters believed had failed to disclose their affiliation with the product or company they were promoting.

“The number of tip-offs reflects the community concern about the ever-increasing number of manipulative marketing techniques on social media, designed to exploit or pressure consumers into purchasing goods or services,” ACCC’s chair, Gina Cass-Gottlieb, said.

The ACCC has started a sweep this week to spot misleading testimonials and endorsements by influencers. The ACCC is looking at a range of platforms – including Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube, Facebook and Twitch – with a particular focus on sectors such as fashion, beauty, travel, health and fitness where influencer marketing is widespread.

Influencers posting misleading reviews that fail to disclose a relationship could be in breach of the Australian consumer law, which can carry penalties of up to $2.5m for individuals.

“We are [already] hearing some law firms and industry bodies have informed their clients about the ACCC’s sweep, and [have] reminded them of their advertising disclosure requirements,” Cass-Gottlieb said.

Cass-Gottlieb said the regulator will not hesitate to take action where consumers are at risk of being misled or deceived by a testimonial and there is the potential for significant harm.

“With more Australians choosing to shop online, consumers often rely on reviews and testimonials when making purchases, but misleading endorsements can be very harmful,” she said.

“This action may include following up misconduct with compliance, education and potential enforcement activities as appropriate.”

Josanne Ryan, the chief executive of the Australian Influencer Marketers Council (AiMCO), the industry body for influencer marketers, told Guardian Australia last week that most of the industry was aware of its obligations and AiMCO was working to educate agencies, brands and creators.

However, Sydney-based comedian and podcast host Mitchell Coombs – who has 260,000 TikTok followers – said education can be lacking for both influencers and brands.

He said when he brings up paid partnership disclosure with some brands, he has found some were completely unaware about the need to disclose the payment.

“I think ‘Jesus … if you don’t know this, then how many people that you’ve worked with aren’t like me and they’re just not doing everything quite correctly?’

“It’s pretty standard practice to disclose it. And I know that most people do.”

The regulator said it will publish the findings of the sweep once the results have been analysed.

Influencers and advertisers online are also subject to a voluntary code of ethics set out by the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA). The code states that when influencers accept payments or free products or services from a brand in exchange for a promotion, it must be “clear, obvious and upfront” to the audience that it is an ad. However, it does not have any penalties for breaches.


Josh Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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