Online advertising in electronic media
Since sponsored influencer content has become a relevant form of advertising, there has been a debate regarding the correct disclosure of advertisements in social networks. All detailed questions aside, there is a simple rule of thumb: anyone receiving compensation from a company for posting about a product or service is generally posting advertising and must label it accordingly. Nevertheless, situations arise time and again in which there is uncertainty regarding whether and especially how a post or video should be disclosed as advertising.
Advertising disclosures protect users
The awareness of when influencers, bloggers, or writers are expressing their own opinions and when they have been paid to make a statement is a basic condition for the free opinion-making of users. Therefore, whoever makes media content available is responsible for ensuring that media users can differentiate editorial content from advertisements and that advertising content can immediately be identified as such. This clear separation of advertising and editorial content is regulated in the German Interstate Broadcasting Treaty (RStV) (§ 58 (1), § 58 (3) and § 7 (3)).
The issue of disclosure is particularly controversial in social networks such as YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook. Private, editorial, and advertising content can all be found in a single profile there. Social media profiles suggest proximity and create a greater relationship of trust between users and content providers than would be the case with traditional advertisements. This is why children and young people most notably often place more trust in influencer marketing than in traditional advertising.
Legal disclosure of sponsored content
Thus, it is paramount that advertising can be readily identified as such. Therefore, the law stipulates a disclosure requirement for the Internet (§ 58 (1) RStV).
In Germany, tags such as "#ad", "#sponsored", or "#poweredby" on Twitter and Instagram may not be sufficient to clearly disclose a post as advertising. The media authorities provide a disclosure matrix to give information and advice on clear labelling on the most important platforms.
A rule of thumb is: advertising has to be clearly recognisable as advertising at first glance.
In general, this means that the labelling must be clear and easy for users to identify. Users cannot have any difficulties differentiating between editorial and advertising content. As simple as this fundamental rule is, questions do arise time and again. Where exactly should I place the disclosure? Which terms can be used for the label? How should I handle affiliate links? The media authorities' guide on advertising disclosures in social media content (the "disclosure matrix") addresses these issues.