Enzo Knol has a surprise for his girlfriend. “I’m sure she’s going to love it,” the 29-year-old vlogger says in a YouTube video from early July, conjuring two packs of ‘sickly beautiful’ Pokémon cards from his pocket. “You know I’m Pokémon crazy,” he says. “This isn’t a collaboration or anything.”
But according to marketing expert Mark Kohnstamm, Knol is actually advertising in this video. Nowhere does the influencer state that he has been repeatedly sponsored by Pokemon cards’ parent company, Mojocards, over the past few years. For example, in a 2020 video, he opened a large box of cards the company sent him and exclaimed “wow!”, “awesome!” and ‘sick!’, but never used the words ‘advertisement’ or ‘advertisement’.
In a complaint he filed against Knol, Kohnstamm also points to another instance of hidden advertising in the same video. Knol also shows the infrared shower that the company Sunshower has just sent him. “It will be fun in the new bathroom,” he says. An apple pie appears on the screen with the text ‘Sunshower voor Knolpower’ on it. But he again does not explicitly mention the ad, not even in the description of his video.
Insidious advertising for children
Enzo Knol is a phenomenon on YouTube. His videos have been viewed more than three billion times and have earned him millions of euros. A large part of his income comes from collaborations with companies. But he has been reprimanded for hiding in his videos that he was promoting something.
Here he is not unique. Covert advertising, often aimed specifically at children, is widespread among influencers. Since 1 July, a new media law has come in to put an end to this. However, it remains to be seen whether the law will have a major effect.
According to the new law, influencers with more than 500,000 followers must be very clear about commercial messages in their videos and protect minors from harmful content. Otherwise, they risk a fine of up to 225,000 euros. “But the influencers don’t care,” says Kohnstamm.
Monica Geuze and Bram Krikke do it too
The marketing expert also goes after two other popular influencers: Bram Krikke and Monica Geuze. He has a million followers on Instagram, she has over half a million YouTube subscribers. Both therefore fall under the new Media Act. But according to Kohnstamm, ‘they don’t take the new rules seriously at all’.
“They allegedly share personal experiences and then cleverly combine them with hidden advertising. Younger viewers in particular will absolutely not realize that it is about advertising. This is to the benefit of advertisers who are willing to pay for this hidden advertising.”
Therefore he also filed a complaint against Geuze and Krikke. He suspects the latter, a popular Youtuber, TikToker and Qmusic radio DJ, not only of hidden advertising, but also of other breaches of the advertising code. Krikke recently launched a brand of crisps: Krikkies. His TikTok, YouTube and Instagram are filled with them. In some videos, he challenges viewers to “eat as many Krikkies as possible.”
Eating twenty bags of chips
“It is said cheerfully that Bram’s friend has already had twenty bags. That’s 10,600 calories, about four times the recommended daily calorie intake for young people,” says Kohnstamm. Even before the new media law, advertising could not cause “moral or physical harm to children”, nor could it encourage “excessive consumption”. “This approach completely ignores the problem of overweight and obesity,” says Kohnstamm. – It is socially unacceptable.
According to Kohnstamm, influencers should be aware of the new rules. “These are super professional influencers who can be expected to be aware of the changes to the media law and their consequences.”
This is confirmed by media expert Corinne Keijzer. “It’s also about rules for underage viewers, so surely the Enzo Knols of this world should look into this,” she says. Both Knol and Geuze have previously been reprimanded by the Advertising Code Foundation for hidden advertising.
Why would they risk a reprimand or fine? “For influencers, it is crucial that the relationship with their audience remains good,” says Keijzer. “They are afraid that their credibility will be lost. The moment they have to admit that they are advertising, they risk appearing insincere.”
Lots of room within the law
But even if influencers cared about the rules, the problem would not be solved. There is still a lot of leeway within the legislation.
For example, there are a number of requirements for influencers that are put under supervision. You must have at least 500,000 followers and have posted at least 24 videos in the last 12 months. Smaller influencers are not monitored and can pretty much do their thing. The Commissionerate says in a response that they ask smaller influencers ‘to comply with the rules as much as possible’.
Big influencers can also escape board oversight. For example, by sharing advertising on their other, smaller social media accounts. This is because the commissioner is not keeping an eye on it. Kohnstamm: “Suppose I have 500,000 subscribers on Youtube, but have fewer followers or friends on my Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, I can still promote what I want there.”
Loeki the lion
According to him, we need a kind of Loeki de Leeuw for social media. “It’s shown before commercial breaks on TV. When you see Loeki, you know: this is commercial. If you see him again, the commercial is over.”
Because the problem lies primarily in the mix of advertising and other content. “Influencers only need to mention in their video description and at the beginning or end of their video that the video contains advertising. Not where or when.” In addition, the mention can also be placed below the video. “On a mobile, it remains invisible unless a viewer clicks on the description bar.”
Monica Geuze sometimes gives a warning, but then makes 47-minute vlogs where she does and tells all sorts of things. “For example, it’s hardly clear when she’s announcing and when she’s not.”
Only with images that may be harmful to children are uploaders officially required to place a ‘view pointer icon’, but in practice this is rare. In some countries, the legislation surrounding influencers is more extensive. Norway, for example, passed a law last year that makes it illegal to post edited photos as a campaign without indicating that they have been edited.
‘Compliance has become less voluntary’
The Danish Media Agency says that one can imagine that the new media law is ‘quite exciting’ for influencers. “This has made compliance less voluntary.” The supervisory board also says that it will gradually lower the threshold of 500,000 followers. This would mean that people with fewer followers must also comply with the new rules in the future.
The policies provide tips on how creators can make it clear that a video contains advertising. For example, they can visibly and audibly state that this is an ‘advertisement’ or ‘paid collaboration’. But other designations also seem to be allowed. It is not immediately clear where exactly the border goes.
As far as the board is concerned, it partly depends on the intention of the influencer: “We initially choose to have a conversation with the video uploader. If it turns out that certain video uploaders are deliberately not following the rules, we can impose a fine.”
Three influencers who did not comply with the ad code
Chip advertisement by Enzo Knol
When Knol visited a chip factory for a video in 2019, he kept quiet about the fact that he had been paid for it. He was reprimanded by the Advertising Code Committee (RCC) because such an ‘advertising agreement’ must always be mentioned, according to the RCC. According to Knol, he was advertising “only for his own brand, Knol Power,” and “it was obvious to the viewer.” The committee disagreed. Finally, the influencer mentioned the collaboration during his video.
Energy drink on TikTok
Last year, 22-year-old TikToker and influencer Glen Fontein shared a pizza topping video with his 1.6 million followers. As he wonders ‘can pineapple on pizza’, he holds a can of energy drink from the brand Bang Energy. The video description had the hashtag #BangEnergy, but the mandatory #ad (for ad) was missing. According to the RCC, there was an infringement for which both Fontein and the Bang Energy brand are responsible.
Self-tanning in vlogs
Vloggers Monica Geuze and Anna Nooshin were also tapped by the RCC. On YouTube and Instagram, they made hidden ads for the Swedish self-tanner Tanrevel. Nooshin had included the word ‘partner’ in the description of the video, but it was not clear enough, the committee found.
The new rules for influencers at a glance:
▪ Advertising must be recognisable. Sneaky advertising is prohibited
▪ Advertising for medical procedures is prohibited
Sponsorship and product placement
▪ Sponsorship and product placement must be identified as such with a mention at the beginning and end of the video. It must say that the video is sponsored and by whom
▪ Advertising videos consisting of news or political information are prohibited
▪ Children should be protected from harmful content
▪ Advertising must be extra clear to children
▪ Influencers must clearly state who they are and their contact information on their account
▪ Influencers must clearly state that they are under the supervision of the Danish Media Agency
▪ And they are required to keep their videos for at least two weeks after they are published
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