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Social media influencer criticised by ASA for not clearly identifying a TikTok video as a marketing communication

Published on 07 July 2023

What should social media influencers include in their TikTok content to ensure they are obviously identifiable as marketing communications?

The question

What should social media influencers include in their TikTok content to ensure they are obviously identifiable as marketing communications?

The key takeaway

A social media influencer did not correctly identify her TikTok video as a marketing communication for a music brand, despite using the wording “soundad” in the video’s caption. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned the video from being used in the same form again, giving a warning that any future videos of this nature, including where the audio content was part of a marketing communication, must clearly be labelled with #ad, as a minimum, to avoid any potential confusion.

The background

Tasha Ghouri, a social media influencer and contestant on series 8 of ITV’s Love Island, posted a video on her TikTok channel documenting a day in her life, which featured the song “Hold Me Closer” by Elton John, Britney Spears and Joel Corry playing in the background. The caption of Ghouri’s video stated: “[heart emoji] #TinyDancer #HoldMeCloser soundad” and below the caption, the video stated: “[music note symbol] Hold Me Closer - Joel Corry Remix – Elton John & Britney Spears”.

The development

The complaint on Ghouri’s content was made on the grounds that the TikTok video was not obviously identifiable as a marketing communication for Universal Music Operations Ltd (EMO), despite the caption containing “soundad”. 

EMO stated that the standard practice when they collaborated with influencers on TikTok was to request that either “musicad” or “soundad” was included within the video’s caption. According to EMO, this was sufficient to identify such content as a marketing communication and they provided examples of where other influencers had used the #musicad or #soundad in their posts of the same nature. Moreover, according to EMO, after a “quick scan” of TikTok, there were over 450m uses of #musicad and / or #soundad, which they felt highlighted that the use of such hashtags clearly indicated such content as marketing campaigns to TikTok consumers. Ghouri’s management, who commented on her behalf, stated that her TikTok caption clearly displayed “soundad” in the first line, and that this should have been more than sufficient in identifying her video as a marketing communication. TikTok also confirmed that the video appeared to be branded content, given that Ghouri had used their ‘Branded Content’ disclosure tool, which was a requirement for marketing communications under their Terms of Service and Branded Content Policy. 

However, the complaint was upheld. The ASA held that, firstly, for the purposes of the CAP Code, the TikTok video was a marketing communication, because there was a contractual agreement between Ghouri and EMO, under which Ghouri was being paid to promote the track “Hold Me Closer” in her TikTok post. The ASA then assessed whether the video was obviously identifiable as a marketing communication. They held that the use of “soundad” alone was not sufficient to identify the video as a marketing communication, as it may have been confused by TikTok users as a misspelling of “sounded” and the “ad” part of the label was insufficiently prominent. Therefore, the ASA concluded that the TikTok video was not obviously recognisable as a marketing communication and was in breach of the CAP Code.

It was ruled that Ghouri’s TikTok video must not be used again in its current form, with the ASA warning her and EMO that any future TikTok marketing of this nature must be obviously identifiable as such, for example by utilising the hashtag #ad in a clear and prominent way.

Why is this important?

It is of upmost importance to ensure that any social media post, whether on TikTok, Instagram or other platforms, created for the sole purpose of being a marketing communication, is clearly identifiable as such. This is particularly important for influencers, because if a post isn’t clearly labelled as an ad, fans or followers may be led to believe that the brand or product endorsement portrays the influencer’s own view, rather than it being paid promotion. Transparency is key to ensure posts fall within the remit of the CAP Code. 

Any practical tips?

Influencers and brands alike must err on the side of caution when producing social media marketing content. In short, the best way for influencers to ensure their marketing communications do not breach the CAP Code is to display hashtags such as #ad in a clear and prominent way within the caption of a post. The ASA’s “An Influencer’s Guide to making clear that ads are ads” is a useful resource, providing comprehensive advice for social media influencers to ensure that any posts with the purpose of promoting a brand or product are clearly identifiable as such. 

Summer 2023