in the face of excesses, a certificate for a “responsible” influencer

The regulatory body for professional advertising in France offers influencers training in the legal and ethical framework of their activities. A way for them to show that their work is serious.

In September, Loup, a lifestyle and fashion influencer with the same nickname as his first name, was able to collaborate with the Karl Lagerfeld brand. He got paid to post polished photos on Instagram, where he wears clothes from the company’s new collection. At the top of his photo, under his nickname, there is a detail that is not trivial: the inscription “paid society”.

Loup assures you that he has always been in order in the placement of his products. But he admits he may have already used the discreet #ad hashtag on his sponsored content during his nearly 7-year career of influence. He knows now, French law requires a clear commercial intent, and therefore the mention “sponsored” or “paid partnership”, when an influencer performs a product placement. The American word for “advertising” is not enough.

Loup, whose TikTok account has more than a million subscribers, found out while passing the “Responsible Influence” certificate from the ARPP (Autorité de Régulation Professionnelle de la Publicité), the professional regulatory body for advertising in France. His agent had recommended him to spend it, both had found out by word of mouth in the middle.

In France, not clearly indicating that content is sponsored is considered a misleading commercial practice, according to the consumer code. The maximum penalty provided is two years in prison and a fine of 300,000 euros.

The ARPP started from an observation: many influencers still lack transparency about their commercial activities. According to the results of a study published by the organization in September 2021, one in four influencer posts does not reveal their commercial intentions. A phenomenon especially marked among influencers with a smaller audience (less than 10,000 subscribers).

“We told each other that there was a pedagogical issue”, explains to BFMTV.com the deputy director of the ARPP, Mohamed Mansouri.

To make things clear, the organization launched a “responsible influence certificate” in 2021. It is issued after an online training course of about 3 hours, which specifies the rules to follow when speaking in betting or health advertising, for example, and the great ethical principles that govern influencer marketing, such as the fight against green wash o Child protection. The training is followed by an MCQ that checks what the influencer has retained: what should they check before collaborating with a new brand? What are the rules for the promotion of alcoholic beverages?

You need to get 70% correct answers to get the certificate, and around 170 influencers currently hold it. The majority are women, with more “lifestyle”, fashion and travel profiles. One in five content creators who approved it failed, according to ARPP.

A “professionalization” of the sector of influence

With the romance between reality influencer agent Magali Berdah and rapper Booba starting this summer, which has highlighted the scams sold by certain influencers, actors on the ground welcome initiatives like ARPP.

“It’s good in relation to the news of the moment, it allows us to differentiate content creators from others, from those who do not respect the rules,” estimates Loup.

Ruben Cohen, co-founder of the influencers agency Follow, does not say otherwise. Follow notably represents Paola Lct (1.9 million subscribers on Instagram) and Fabian Crfx (2.8 million subscribers on TikTok).

The certificate “goes in the direction of a true professionalization of trade. No market can be registered in the long term without trust,” he explains.

Of the 28 content creators of his agency, 20 have already passed it and the rest must do so in mid-October.

But it is not just a piece of paper: this certificate is also a “commitment” to the ARPP, explains Mohamed Mansouri.

Brands request the certificate

The ARPP monitors compliance with this commitment: of the ten people who work within the organization, three are dedicated -in part- to influencer marketing. They see two days a week a compilation of content from certified influencers that can be ads and check that the content creators are writing that it is a paid partnership. If this is not the case for one of them, the ARPP begins by sending an alert via private message on Instagram.

“In general”, the organization receives a response to the message, which justifies the absence of mention “sponsored” for example due to an oversight. But if, despite everything, the influencer continues to act illegally or unethically, the ARPP may suspend or withdraw the certificate.

The last level is the referral to the Advertising Ethics Jury. Composed in particular of magistrates and advertising professionals, it can be consulted by anyone and issues public opinions on complaints.

For an influencer nailed by this body, the sanction then is above all “reputational damage, the ‘name and shame,'” according to Mohamed Mansouri. Since the creation of the certificate, the Jury has not seized any certified influencer.

These sanctions continue to be symbolic, and the ARPP assumes it: “we do ethics, not criminal. When it is criminal, we can refer to the authorities, but each one remains within their perimeter”, declares Mohamed Mansouri. He admits that if all brands started requiring the certificate to collaborate with an influencer, the fear of having it taken away would probably be stronger.

Some companies are already doing it, like L’Oréal, the brand confirms to BFMTV.com. This approach “aims to encourage our partners to follow this virtuous spiral, to the benefit of the consumer,” adds L’Oréal. An idea shared by Loup: having the certificate “gives partners confidence”.

“3 hours is a bit short”

Sandrea, a youtuber with more than 1.4 million subscribers, is one of the influencers who regularly collaborates with L’Oréal. During her training with the ARPP, she learned the rules surrounding the use of the word cruelty freea label indicating that a product has not been tested on animals, in a publication.

“It’s amazing to think that I didn’t know all this, when I was in the ‘beauty niche’ for a long time” on YouTube, I was almost shocked.

The training, however, did not change his way of carrying out his activity:

“There was a lot of stuff I already knew, because I’ve been doing this job for years,” he explains.

Although he thinks that the certificate should “be required to become an influencer”, he considers that “3 hours is a little bit” to train for a job.

That is why the Follow agency “does not intend to stop” at this certificate, in the words of its co-founder Ruben Cohen. Follow, for example, is organizing a training day for its influencers “on social issues”, such as ecology, cyberbullying or violence against women.

For Sandrea, who has been active in the midst of influence for more than 10 years, “it is up to the State to get involved” more in the regulation of this activity, although she does not know exactly how.

Meanwhile, the ARPP will “reinforce” its certificate this year, by including a module on sustainable development to popularize the latest IPCC report and banish among influencers “any representation of behavior contrary to environmental protection.”

“We can no longer see influencers showing McDonald’s orders delivered by private jet, or 3-day trips to Tahiti,” explains Mohamed Mansouri.

He refers in particular to the video published in January by the youtuber FastGoodCuisine, followed by more than 4 million people, entitled “I deliver a McDo in a private jet”. Has been very quickly challenged by subscribers, among othersand deleted his video.

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