Legal Influencer Marketing: the UAE law explained

Influencer marketing has emerged in the marketing industry as a form of advertising and promoting branded content. It has been revived and enhanced throughout the rise of social media. During the last decade, countless brands have turned to this form of marketing campaign – which you must have noticed by scrolling down your Instagram feed. However, if you are one of the brands engaging with influencers, or an influencer promoting brands, it is crucial for you to ensure you do engage in a proper and, more importantly, legal way.

In one of our previous posts, we have covered the relevant regulatory bodies in the UK, ASA and Cap. Today, we are going to clarify and simplify the industry regulations introduced by the National Media Council in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), regarding influencer marketing.

It is crucial for both hotels and influencers to stay within the legal framework and familiarise themselves with global advertising guides, to make sure that the content produced complies with updated regulations. So, if your business is based in the UAE, or if you are an influencer planning a collaboration in the area – pay attention!

What is the UAE National Media Council?

The NMC is a federal government body which regulates the media sector in the UAE. Last year, NMC introduced a series of regulations regarding influencer marketing in the UAE, with a purpose of standardising and professionalising the industry.

Who/where/what of the NMC regulations regarding influencer marketing in the UAE

From March 2018, new electronic media regulations introduced by NMC apply to UAE residents and influencers who operate in the UAE, both onshore and in the free zones. While NMC does not define social media influencers or content creators, they do use a term ‘online activists’.

The law concerns any online activist/social media influencer who is using their social media account to promote and/or sell products or endorse a brand in exchange for a payment. It should also be noted that the number of followers or the size of the financial compensation does not make a difference – basically, it applies to anyone and everyone engaging with digital media for commercial purposes.

These electronic media activities include selling or otherwise dealing in print, audio and video materials, electronic publishing and on-demand printing, as well as specialised websites, online advertisements and applications.

Okay, I am an influencer in the UAE- what do I need to do?

If you wish to start/continue promoting brands or services in the UAE across your social media channels, it is mandatory for you to obtain two different licences:

E-media licence: this is a new type of permit introduced by the NMC. There are also three categories of the licence, depending on what suits your needs the most.

     · Individual licence: suitable for independent influencers, and costs Dh15,000 (around £3,100).
     · Partnership licence: suitable for small groups of friends or family that can set up a company together, and costs Dh15,000 (around £3,100).
     · Influencer Agencies: influencers can sign up with official influencer agencies, certified by the NMC. If choosing this particular option, influencers will not have to pay any licensing fees, but they are obliged to collaborate with the clients of their agency exclusively. They would also not be allowed to arrange independent collaborations or acquire independent businesses.

Trade licence: influencers must also apply for a separate trade licence, but the costs of these permits vary, depending on the type, the authority and the location that is chosen.

If you are an influencer operating in the UAE, it is up to you to ensure you meet the required standards and guidelines, as the regulations specify that the social media account holder, and not the brand, is responsible for the content that is posted.

Okay, our hotel in the UAE wants to work with influencers – what do I need to do?

If you are a hotel manager planning a collaboration with an influencer, it is suggested for you to first draft a precise and detailed legal contract, explicitly tailored according to UAE influencer regulations. This will guarantee clarity during your collaboration. While it is up to the influencer to make sure they own the right permits to operate in the industry, you should make sure your contract allows you to remove content associated with your brand if you find that the influencer’s actions do not comply with the NMC regulations. You can use a tool like Swayy to manage the collaboration, and supplement it with this legal contract which takes into account the UAE regulations.

Fines for not complying with the regulations

Any breach of the UAE influencer law may result in an initial fine of Dh5,000 (around £1,030), which has to be paid within 5 days to avoid late penalty fees (which can also increase up to a cap of Dh5,000).

If you make the same breach within the next year, the fine will be doubled in amount, capped at Dh20,000 (around £4,120). Also, the NMC has the right to delete any advertisement that does not comply with the mentioned regulations, and can even shut down your social media account in some cases.

Transparency is key

The NMC also provided a list of recommended practices which make sure there is no vagueness when it comes to the content published by the influencers – if it’s branded or paid for, it should be clear to anyone that finds it on their social media feeds.

When it comes to the actual posts, the guidelines provided the following examples:

· Hashtags: #ad, #advertising, #paid_ad or equivalent should be easily noticeable and not accompanied by a larger number of other hashtags, which would make the former ones harder to see.
· Disclosure: generally, disclosure regarding the nature of the post (e.g. branded content) should be made at the beginning of the post description (e.g. in the caption). For instance, on Instagram, when the captions are too long, the user must click on the “more” link in the caption to see the rest of the description – avoid placing disclosures in such places.
· Paid advertising: it should be instantly understandable that the promotion was paid for if that is the case. So, avoid using imprecise words such as “in cooperation with…”, since these are insufficient and do not meet the existing requirements.
· Video marketing: if a promotion is in a form of a video (e.g. a holiday vlog), the description bar must clearly state the content is branded AND it must also be stated verbally in the video itself.

If you still have some questions, you are not the only one…

It must be noted that the NMC regulations are relatively new to the market and are certainly not entirely all-inclusive. In the near future, specific regulations regarding the specific industry an influencer and a brand operate in, e.g. hospitality, will be needed to clarify advertising guides further.

For instance, if you own a hotel in Dubai, it is to be expected that a large number of your guests will be international – which means international influencers. For someone travelling from afar, attaining necessary licences simply to promote your hotel during a single trip may not be the most cost-effective option. But it seems that this is the case at the moment. In the future, NMC regulations should most probably include a more exhaustive advertising guide fitted to fill everyone’s needs, especially for instances like the one described above.

However, some of the UAE bloggers have pointed out their concerns and questions online, regarding some vague areas in the existing guide. For example, many influencers occasionally post branded content for magazines or other online platforms – what are the exact regulations if the stay at a hotel is free and an article is then written for a magazine? Are they still considered as influencers promoting the hotel, since they are being paid by the media outlet?

One food blogger also pointed how she now has a lot of friends owning restaurants – if she receives a friendly invitation to a free meal, which she then writes about on her blog, is she not meeting the NMC regulation terms?

As mentioned, these electronic media regulations are fairly recent, and there are no instances of prosecutions for unlicensed influencers just yet. But if these start to happen occasionally, more extensive guidance is to be expected from the NMC in the near future.

For now, make sure you pay attention to the specific regulations when it comes to the necessary licences, as well as the disclosure guidelines – and we will make sure to keep you updated with future news from the NMC.

Having trouble understanding the NMC regulations? You can contact us at any time. If you are an influencer interested in a collaboration, read up on what we can do for you.