Like the proverbial London buses arriving at once, two sets of guidelines on influencer marketing have been published in the past week.  My colleague Brinsley Dresden has written about the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers' new Influencer Marketing Code of Conduct. In addition, the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD) has published specific guidance for influencers about marketing alcohol. The IARD is a not-for-profit organisation formed from the twelve leading beer, wine and spirits companies in order to work together to actively support the target in the World Health Organisation's Noncommunicable Diseases Global Monitoring Framework of “at least 10% relative reduction in the harmful use of alcohol” by 2025.  

The IARD's new guidelines aim to establish common standards to prevent influencer marketing from reaching minors. They also aim to reduce harmful drinking among adults. In summary, producers and advertisers commit to conducting diligence on influencers used, using age-verification technology if possible, and to promote better understanding of responsible alcohol consumption.  The guidelines include:

- A set of five specific safeguards under three headings of 'selection', 'engagement' and 'monitoring';

- Tools and videos to support alcohol brands and influencers to follow robust responsible marketing practices when creating content; and

- Clear commitments to market responsibly, including not making health claims, promoting illegal or excessive consumption, or positioning abstinence negatively.

The five safeguards apply to paid, incentivised, and unpaid influencer content where there is a contractual or other material relationship in place between the producer and the influencer (for more detail on what might be considered a 'material relationship', see earlier posts on our blog on this topic), comprising:

1. Where available, all paid influencers must use age-verification mechanisms to prevent minors from seeing content. Age-verification mechanisms on posts have not yet been adopted by all platforms and IARD says that its members will advocate for effective age-gating mechanisms on sites used by influencers. If using platforms where age-verification mechanisms for influencers are not yet effective, paid influencers should be aged at least 25 years and content should primarily appeal to audiences above the legal purchase age.

2. Influencers used in the digital marketing and advertising of alcohol should be vetted and, to the best of the producer’s knowledge, should have no reputational association with harmful use of alcohol, and should not feature posts that would not comply with the rules around irresponsible drinking behaviours in the IARD’s alcohol marketing codes.

3. For paid content, all influencers should have a written agreement with the beer, wine, and spirits brand or its agency, signed by both parties. This should include information linking to legal requirements relevant to national or regional context, or both. They should also include disclosure guidelines – asking influencers to clearly and conspicuously disclose their link to the brand so that it is clearly presented as marketing content (using #ad or the paid-partnership tool in Instagram).  A third point is responsibility guidelines – asking the influencer to comply with the company’s responsible marketing code including ensuring that content does not condone or encourage illegal behaviour or excessive consumption. Best-practice tools should be required for influencers when engaging on social media platforms, for example, information on branded content pages and details on how to age restrict their posts. Finally, the agreements need to cover feedback mechanisms so that influencers can flag any engagement or issues regarding responsible drinking with an agency or brand.

4. For content featuring “gifted” products, influencers should be provided with clear terms of engagement that include disclosure guidelines and a requirement to follow the company’s responsible marketing code.

5. Influencer posts must be monitored by brands/agencies for compliance and the influencer should fix or remove them within 72 hours if they do not comply. If the influencer does not address issues within 72 hours of notification, or repeatedly posts non-compliant material, then IARD will reassess its relationship with them. Brands should regularly audit and monitor campaigns for compliance.

By way of an illustration of the kind of 'mischief' that the IARD guidelines aim to tackle, the featured photo is an example of an advert by Au Vodka that was banned by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority in a decision published on 30 June 2021 for encouraging excessive drinking, for linking the consumption of alcohol with driving, and for featuring a rapper who was (at the time) under 25 years of age.

What remains to be seen is whether the publication of new best practices guidelines will actually translate into better behaviours by brands and influencers in practice, or whether it is going to require the enforcement of the criminal law by the statutory regulatory for compliance to be improved, particularly by those advertisers, influencers and agencies who don't sign up to become members of bodies like ISBA and the IARD. The good actors must not be put at a competitive disadvantage to the bad actors.