The point on digital advertising, influencer marketing: respect for the principles of recognition

The point on digital advertising, influencer marketing: respect for the principles of recognition

By Vittorio Provera

Many important companies operating in the various sectors of the economy adhere to the Istituto di Autodisciplina Pubblicitaria (IAP), an association established over 20 years ago, whose objective is to ensure that commercial communication is honest, truthful and correct.

The IAP has therefore created a code of self-regulation of commercial communication, consistently updated, which dictates a series of principles and rules to which the companies belonging to the association must comply with in the performance of commercial communication activities. The strengths of this system of self-discipline must be identified, first of all, in the voluntary acceptance of the code by companies, which makes the rules so binding, but also shared and desired; as well as in the provision of a veritable judicial body, capable of quickly issuing binding rulings.

In fact, among the organizations of the IAP there is the Control Committee, which has a self-disciplinary function, with the possibility of requesting immediate blocking of a message in the event of a clear conflict with the Code (order for termination); and the Giurì (for cases that require a more accurate assessment), which is a real decision-making body, which must assess whether or not the advertising message conforms to the Code, at the request of the Committee or the companies. If the message is considered contrary to the provisions of the Code, the Jury will order its termination. Both the injunctions for the absence of the Control Committee, and the decisions of the Jury are binding and are published on the Institute’s website.

In this context, there must be an increasing interest in the IAP to those forms of commercial communication that take place through videos, messages posted on social networks, content posted on blogs or websites and that are accessed by users via smartphones, tablets and PCs. In short, the so-called digital commercial communication.

In this regard, the IAP has adopted the so-called Digital Charter, with the aim of carrying out a survey of the most common forms of commercial communication in the network and in the digital world in general and to establish, for member companies, the criteria to be used in order to make commercial communication “recognizable”, as required by article 7 of the Corporate Governance Code; under which “in the means and in the forms of commercial communication in which contents and information of another kind are disseminated, the commercial communication must be clearly distinguished by means of suitable expedients”.

In particular, the activity of “endorsement, ” i.e. a form of approval of a product or brand, by celebrities and by those who have acquired visibility and credibility with the public, for their expertise in a certain field, which has an advantage for the diffusion and reputation of a product, has proved to be potentially susceptible to undermining this principle.

These subjects are called “influencer marketing”, precisely because they have the ability to influence consumers in the choice of an article or in the judgment on a brand. In point, the rules of the Code impose that – in the cases in which the endorsement activity is a form of commercial communication (for example when an agreement is underwritten between the influencer and the advertiser for the promotion of a product –  they must apply all the provisions of the Corporate Governance Code and the advertising character of the opinion expressed online must be clearly made recognizable; distinguishing itself from the mere personal consideration expressed by the iinfluencer / blogger.

The Control Committee of the IAP has ascertained certain violations of the art. 7 of the Corporate Governance Code with three recent decisions. A common feature of all three decisions is the need for strict compliance with the requirement that every single message must respect the principle of recognition of commercial communication; principle closely linked to that of transparency of advertising, which aims to ensure the distinction, not only formal but also substantial, between promotional content and other content. This requirement becomes even more relevant when one operates in the world of digital communication, where there is a greater risk of circumvention of the rules, given the various ways of creating communications, the rapid dissemination of messages and the considerable difficulties in checking and monitoring the web

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