Hundreds of cricketers may be breaking the law and could in theory face significant penalties, as the UK government cracks down on covert social media advertising.
Following high-profile scandals such as the Fyre Festival, where celebrities were paid up to a quarter of a million dollars to promote a non-existent music festival via posts on Instagram and Twitter, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has published new guidance for social media influencers, which lays down the law about sponsored content.
The start of a new cricket season is always heralded by a murder of posts to the tune of: “Can’t wait to get out in the middle with my new Batty-Bats bat!”
But George Lusty, the CMA’s Senior Director for Consumer Protection said:
“If celebrities or influencers are posting about a product on social media, they must make it clear if they’ve been paid.”
The CMA’s guidelines now state that such posts should include the hashtag “#ad” at the start of the post to indicate this.
And crucially these guidelines don’t just address traditional endorsement deals, where top players are paid directly to lend their name to a range of equipment; but also to those cases where players have a less formal relationship with a brand, such as being sent free kit, even when no money changes hands and there is no signed agreement between the player and the brand to promote the product.
The guidelines state that:
“Any form of reward, including money, gifts of services or products, or the loan of a product, is ‘payment’ – whether you originally asked for it or got sent it out of the blue (e.g. ‘freebies’).”
This would apply not just to players promoting bats, but to those who are lent cars during the season, or sent energy bars, headphones, or beer (yes… beer!) to try. A quick scan through the recent social media feeds of current and recent England players shows several such posts, one as recently as yesterday, none of which are accompanied by the “#ad” hashtag.
And as Lusty explains, this matters because it is important to ensure that all advertising relationships remain transparent in the social media age:
“Stars can have a big influence on what their followers do and buy. If people see clothes [or] a car… being plugged by someone they admire, they might be swayed into buying it. So, it’s really important they are clearly told whether a celebrity is promoting a product because they have bought it themselves, or because they have been paid or thanked in some way by the brand.”
Although the most likely outcome of any direct investigation would be a slap on the wrist, in theory breach of the applicable law (The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008) could lead to a large fine or up to two years in prison.
Want to know more? Download the official guidance here: