5 January 2023

Influencers, beware! Media Regulator intervenes for the first time for non-compliance with rules on commercial communication

As advertising is increasingly disseminated through media such as YouTube, Instagram, TikTok and Twitch, new regulations have been introduced in the Flemish Media Decree under the impetus of the European Union. These regulations want to ensure greater transparency on “commercial communication” circulating through content creators, influencers and vloggers posting videos on social media platforms.

One of the main new rules relevant for influencers is that commercial communication must always be easily recognisable as such to consumers (article 53). Commercial communication occurs as soon as a video contains an (aural and/or visual) mention of a brand or product and if the influencer receives a benefit (in kind or in money) from the company behind it. This could be a financial compensation, but also for example free products or clothing, hotel stays or restaurant visits.

Those who do not comply with the new rules risk being reprimanded by the Jury on Ethical Practices in Advertising (JEP) or the Flemish Media Regulator (VRM).

Recently, the VRM imposed warnings on Belgian influencers Steffi Mercie, Sarah Puttemans and Maximiliaan Verheyen for violations of article 53 of the Media Decree for the first time. The VRM found that the influencers did not make it sufficiently clear that there was commercial communication in videos they posted on YouTube, Instagram and TikTok.

Some important guidelines can be derived from the cases against these influencers. According to the VRM, for the presence of commercial communication to be clearly recognisable, the following three elements must be cumulatively present in every video/story:

  1. The word “advertisement”, “publicity” or “advertising” must be mentioned at the beginning of the caption. The VRM found it insufficient that the hashtag #ad, was used in the caption;
  2. The brand, product or service must be tagged at the beginning of the caption
  3. The platform disclosure feature for commercial communication must be activated when the video is uploaded.

Another important position taken by the VRM is that when a series of stories (non-permanent posts) is posted to promote a brand, it is not sufficient that only the first story in the series fulfills the aforementioned conditions. Every story in the series must comply with the rules.

Given the newness of the rules, the sanction imposed on the influencers was limited to a warning. It was the first time the VRM sanctioned violations of the new rules, but it is expected that influencers will increasingly face VRM interventions.

Are you an influencer and do you need advice, or are you an advertising agency looking for guidelines for an influencer campaign? Do not hesitate to contact us.

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