Social media has changed the advertising industry. Companies no longer need to spend millions to reach their target audience. Rather they can send out a few samples or pay a few hundred dollars to an ‘influencer’ and get a response from their customers. But in the world of nutrition advertising, ethics and transparency are important issues. Is it ethical for dietitians and nutritionists to post brand-related sponsored content? Which brands should they work with and which ones should they avoid? And how can they do it in a responsible manner? Here is everything you #NEED to know.
Advertising is not a new idea. It’s been proven time and time again that if we show consumers products in an interesting and engaging way they are more likely to buy them. Traditionally, advertising has been easy for consumers to navigate. An ad for McDonalds comes on the TV, it’s an advertisement. A new Coca-Cola billboard is put up on the side of a road, that’s an advertisement.
But what about that picture with Cobram Estate olive oil that your favourite Instgrammer just posted? Or that Instagram story about how to make a Mexican salad that included Edgell beans? Is that an ad or just a coincidence?
The truth is it’s being increasingly difficult to tell what is and isn’t advertising
In light of this, the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) has recently revised their code of ethics to cover more than just traditional media and advertising. The new rules insist that ads on social media needs to be “clearly distinguishable” from their surrounding content, and brands need to ensure that they “do not camouflage the fact that it is advertising”.
To be realistic, breaking the AANA code won’t lead to huge issues. The organisation itself is self-regulated and the implementation of the code voluntary. But the real danger here is prosecution by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for breach of Australian Consumer Law (ACL). Breaching ACL for social media influencers carries a fine of up to $220,000 per posts.
So just incase you don’t have a spare $220,000 lying around, here is what you need to know to avoid it.
What actually counts as sponsored content?
As I mentioned earlier, sponsored content needs to be clearly distinguishable from other content around it. But what actually is sponsored content?
In order to figure out whether you content falls under the banner of sponsorship and advertising, the AANA suggests that it should meet the following criteria:
- Does the marketer have a reasonable degree of control over the material?; and
- Does the material draw the attention of the public in a manner calculated to promote a product or service?
It is important to also note that for content to be considered as advertising, payment does not need to be made. This means that even if a brand provides you with free samples, but no money is exchanged it may still fall under the advertising category.
How to share your sponsored content
In order to share your sponsored content in a clearly distinguishable way, the AANA has recommended a number of strategies for Instagrammers and social media users. Although the guidelines do not limit users in the terms they can use to define their content as advertising, AANA recommend using anything from phrases such as “this post has been sponsored by brand X” to “#ad” or “#sponsored post”. In June this year, Instgram also added a new feature that allows its users to tag “paid partnership with [brand]” on their posts, providing a more formal alternative to the #ad or #sp.
As social media influencers, you are in a position of power to influence people’s actions and behaviours. And as future or current dietitians and nutritionists you also have a responsibility to promote products that will promote the health and wellbeing of your followers.
It goes without saying that it is important to choose to represent brands or products that you would use yourself or recommend to you patients, friends or family. For example, it probably wouldn’t be sensible to post sponsored content for a sugar-sweetened beverage like Coca-Cola if you knew a large proportion of your followers were type 2 diabetics. Or it wouldn’t be a great idea to promote a laxative tea when you know many of your followers are young-impressionable teenage girls (or any healthy person for that matter – please don’t advertise those kinds of products!).
So be selective with the brands and products that you choose to promote, know what counts as advertising or sponsored content and know how to represent it. And event if it doesn’t fall under the AANA’s description of advertising, please remember the importance of transparency and your role of responsibility as a current or future dietitian or nutritionist in society.
If you want to know more about the AANA’s guidelines you can read them here. Want to discuss your experiences with sponsored content? Please share your thoughts in the comments bellow.