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Committee of Advertising Practice publishes guidance for marketing on TikTok

Published on 09 June 2021

The question

What does the Committee of Advertising Practice’s (CAP) new guidance note on marketing on TikTok tell us about making compliant ads for the platform?

Key takeaway

CAP reminds us that the rules in the CAP Code are largely media neutral and so the same principles that apply in other media are equally applicable to advertising on TikTok, or indeed any new and innovative service. CAP’s headline for the guidance quips that following these principles can make ads on TikTok “run like clockwork”.

The background

TikTok is a social media, video-sharing app, with in-built video editing tools that allows users to create and share 15-60 second videos on any topic (such as challenges, dancing, singing and humorous videos). In addition, the app has an algorithm which allows relevant content to circulate to specific users. Launched in the UK in August 2018, it is currently the seventh most popular (and fourth most famous) social media platform, according to YouGov. Due to the platform’s meteoric rise in popularity and the vast and innovative ways in which brands can advertise on the platform, TikTok has now earned its very own guidance note from the advertising regulator.

The guidance

Make it clear when a TikTok is an ad Whether the advert is a “Top View” ad (ie seen when the app is first opened), a branded effect, a TikTok posted by a brand or influencer or affiliate marketing content, it must be obviously identifiable that it is advertising. CAP acknowledges that most ads within TikTok’s own ad formats, as well as TikToks posted by a brand’s own TikTok page, are generally recognised as advertising from the context and the labelling applied by TikTok and the brand. However, research by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) found that some users struggled to identify when a TikTok post made by an influencer was an ad. For example, in the ASA’s ruling on Jamella, a TikTok made by influencer, Emily Canham, which promoted the GHD brand and included a personalised discount code, was found to not be sufficiently clear as there was nothing in the content to indicate that it was an ad. Any TikToks uploaded by influencers (and others) which contain advertising or affiliate marketing therefore need an additional label to distinguish them as ads.

As a minimum, CAP recommends a prominent “Ad” label in any influencer and affiliate marketing TikToks in order for the advertising to be “obviously identifiable” as an advert; this label must be upfront in the content or in the accompanying caption. Additionally, the label must not be hidden or obscured (ie the label cannot be too small or be in a similar colour to the background). If the label is not clear, then the TikTok is unlikely to be “obviously identifiable” as an ad.

Capture the right audience

The ASA expects marketers to have taken all reasonable steps to avoid their ads being seen by someone who shouldn’t (eg due to their age). Marketers will not be able to rely on the argument that less than 25% of a platform’s total audience is under- age or based on self-reported user ages. Many social media ads can be (and usually are) targeted at a defined set of users. Therefore, the ASA will expect marketers to target their ads appropriately and to use all the tools available to exclude under-age consumers from their targeted audience.

Audience demographic data relating to an influencer’s own account may be enough evidence of responsible targeting. However, marketers will also need to consider the type of content that the ad appears in or around.

Always use a CAP Code lens on advertising content

The general and sector-specific rules that apply to different ads and products apply equally on TikTok – so, CAP stresses the need to look out for rules that relate to the food and drink sector as well as avoiding materially misleading consumers or causing serious or widespread offence.

Why is this important?

The guidance reminds us just how flexible the principles within the CAP Code are, and that they apply to you however new and innovative your service may be.

Any practical tips?

You still need to follow the rules, irrespective of the type of advertising. Essentially, remember that any form of ad:

  • needs to be obviously recognisable as such
  • must not mislead consumers materially
  • must not cause harm or serious or widespread offence
  • needs to comply with any sector- specific Code rules that apply.