The Italian Competition Authority continues to focus heavily on the increasingly widespread phenomenon of marketing influencers on social media and, in the course of 2018, successfully completed a second operation to counteract hidden advertising on social media by public figures with low to medium follower numbers, following the operation in 2017 that achieved the result of increasing awareness among the major market players of compliance with the requirements of the Consumer Code.
In August 2018, with the support of the Special Antitrust Unit of the Guardia di Finanza, the Authority sent letters of moral suasion to influencers and to the owners of the brands used by these influencers. These notices included reminders that advertising must be clearly recognizable as such and highlighted the general scope of the prohibition of hidden advertising, which is therefore also applicable to communication via social networks, in which influencers cannot lead their followers to believe that they are acting spontaneously and in a disinterested manner if, in reality, they are promoting a brand.
The moral suasion operation has been largely satisfactory, insofar as the influencers have implemented the Authority’s instructions, with the more intensive use of warnings that their personal Instagram posts include advertising, such as #ADV or #advertising, #pubblicità or, in the case of goods provided by the brand, even if free of charge #prodottofornitoda (#productsuppliedby).
In other cases, influencers have chosen to remove the graphic elements that serve as advertising, such as tags on the image referring to the brand’s Instagram profile. Finally, there has been evidence that brand owners have introduced, even by means of contractual agreement, procedures to encourage greater transparency by influencers on their commercial ties with the brand on their personal profiles.
However, despite these positive results, the Antitrust Authority initiated at the same time, upon reports from the Unione Nazionale di Consumatori (National Consumers’ Union), an investigation into the companies Alitalia Società Aerea Italiana S.p.a. in A.S. and AEFFE s.p.a., the latter attributable to the designer Alberta Ferretti and already the recipient of the first moral suasion notice of 2017, as well as certain influencers, in relation to the possible dissemination via social media of hidden advertising. The notice of initiation of the investigation, in particular, accuses recipients of the dissemination by various influencers on their Instagram profiles of posts featuring the Alitalia logo printed on Alberta Ferretti clothing, worn by these influencers. Following the initiation of the investigation, inspections were undertaken at the premises of the two companies with the support of the Special Antitrust Unit of the Guardia di Finanza.
By reason of the breadth and proliferation of content on social media, the Authority will continue to monitor the phenomenon by adopting the measures deemed most suitable to counteract it on a case by case basis.
Rome, 11 December 2018