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The Italian Competition Authority (AGCM) has successfully carried out its first enforcement initiative with respect to Influencer Marketing, currently one of the most innovative and powerful advertising tools.

The initiative aims at preventing the circulation through social networks of messages whose commercial intent is not clear. In fact, influencers are online celebrities who are able to influence the public’s tastes by showing support or approval of specific brands, thus generating an advertising effect, without however making clear to consumers their commercial purpose.

Last July AGCM, with the collaboration of the Antitrust unit of the Financial Police, sent moral suasion letters in relation to specific posts on Instagram to seven main influencers and eleven companies selling famous brands . The letters were aimed at urging both influencers and traders to publish posts whose possible advertising nature would be clear and transparent. AGCM undertook these steps after both Unione Nazionale Consumatori and Codacons separately filed a complaint.

In the letters, after reminding the addressees that advertisements must always be clearly recognizable as such by consumers, the AGCM has stressed that the prohibition of hidden advertising has a general validity and therefore must be respected also in communications delivered through social networks. Therefore, influencers cannot make consumers believe they are behaving in an unsolicited and unselfish manner when they are actually promoting a specific brand.

The AGCM has thus identified general rules of conduct and has required the addressees to make apparent the possible advertising nature of the content delivered through social media, through the use of warnings, such as #sponsored, #advertising, #paidad, or, in the case of products given for free to the celebrity, #productsuppliedby.

The addressees have abided by AGCM’s indications not only in the posts subject to moral suasion, but also in those involving other brands. Moreover, brand owners have committed themselves to asking their testimonials to always include a clear indication of the advertising nature of their posts in compliance with the principles set out by AGCM.

As a result of the Authority’s initiative also celebrities and companies that were not among the addressees of the moral suasion letters have now started to include the warnings suggested by AGCM in their posts.
Given the extent and the proliferation of content available through social media, AGCM will continue to monitor the influencer marketing phenomenon and to adopt the necessary measures to counter it with a case by case approach.

Rome, 1st December, 2017