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Covert influencer marketing of tobacco products investigated in Italy

Covert influencer marketing of tobacco products on social media is subject to an investigation by the competition authority in Italy that could have repercussions on the sector.

The Italian Competition Authority (AGCM), which has jurisdiction in Italy on also misleading advertising and unfair commercial practices, announced that it has launched an investigation against the Italian unit of one of the global giants in the tobacco sector, as well as against three well-known Italian influencers that stem from a possible phenomenon of hidden influencer marketing, conducted through the Instagram pages of the influencers involved.

Specifically, according to the AGCM, the three influencers in question would have invited their followers to post content on their respective Instagram pages using tags and hashtags linked to an advertising campaign relating to a heated tobacco device marketed by the multinational company, without “the advertising effect obtained by the professionals – and deriving from the tags to the brand and the hashtags – … [being] however recognizable in its commercial nature because there are no graphic or textual warnings that allow identifying its promotional purpose“. In this context, the Italian competition authority carried out inspections at the Italian headquarters of the multinational, with the support of the Special Antitrust Unit of the Tax Police.

The investigation is part of the AGCM’s actions aimed at countering the practices of covert influencer marketing on social media platforms, in particular in relation to the publication of content by influencers who do not duly disclose to the public the business relations entertained with the relevant brands and, therefore, the advertising nature of such content. Initiatives against this type of conduct by the AGCM formally began in 2017, when the Authority sent a series of moral suasion letters to a number of famous brands and influencers. The actions have continued in more recent years through the second round of moral suasion letters transmitted in 2018, as well as with the establishment of targeted proceedings.

All of these proceedings to date have concluded with the Authority’s acceptance of the commitments proposed by the brands and influencers involved; the proceeding opened by the AGCM against the tobacco multinational now involved represents the first relating to potential covert influencer marketing practices on social media involving the tobacco sector and confirms the AGCM’s growing interest in this type of practice, regardless of the product sector in question.

Indeed, the Italian Competition Authority and the Italian Advertising Self-Regulatory Authority issued specific guidelines on how they expect that influencer marketing shall be conduct, with detailed requirements in terms of transparency that you can read in this article “The compliance challenges to do influencer marketing right!“.

Photo by Troy T on Unsplash

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Giulio Coraggio

I am the location head of the Italian Intellectual Property & Technology department and the global co-head of the IoT and Gaming and Gambling groups at the world-leading law firm DLA Piper. IoT and artificial intelligence influencer and FinTech and blockchain expert, finding solutions to what's next for our client's success.

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