On December 12, 2022, the Advertising Regulatory Council of Nigeria (ARCON) advised influencers and digital content creators in the country to obtain its approval before sharing any advertising and marketing content online. The new rule would apply to brand owners, digital agencies, bloggers, vloggers, influencers, comedians, and skit makers. “Most of the advertisements exposed by this group are not only unethical with unverified claims and misinformation, but also in violation of the Nigeria Code of Advertising Practice,” the statement said.

According to ARCON’s director-general, Olalekan Fadolapo, some of the unethical behavior by influencers and digital content creators includes endorsing investment opportunities that turn out to be scams.

Content creation and influencer marketing are fast-growing industries in Nigeria, driven by a youthful population and an increase in internet penetration. Experts and influencers told Rest of World that they believe the new rule could drive up the price of advertising with creators and influencers, and hurt the small businesses that depend on them for awareness. They added that the regulator has placed too much responsibility on the creators instead of the advertisers, and the rule would be hard to implement.

“How do they even define what qualifies as an ad?” Ifeoma Jennifer Areh, a communications expert and principal consultant at WildFlower PR and Company, told Rest of World. “How and when are creators supposed to submit for approval? Is it during scripting or after shooting?”

ARCON did not respond to Rest of World’s request for comments.

“I think implementing [the regulation] will be tricky,” Tayo Aina, a YouTube content creator with over 512,000 subscribers, told Rest of World. “They should go and implement it from the client side. The companies doing the adverts should be regulated and verified, not the creators.” Since August 2022, ARCON has made a series of moves to tighten advertising control in Nigeria. In October 2022, the regulator filed a 30 billion naira ($67.3 million) lawsuit against Meta for violating advertising laws. In November, it banned foreign voice-over artists and models in Nigerian-targeted advertisements.

Over the years, companies have shifted to advertising through influencers, celebrities, and content creators as complementary or alternative methods to more traditional advertising tactics. According to a PWC report, mobile advertising grew globally by 57% between 2020 and 2021. It will continue to grow by around 18% over the next five years, with internet advertising now generating more revenue than TV advertising.

The growth in digital advertising has also spurred different attempts at regulation globally. In the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission requires social media influencers to publicly disclose when they “have any financial, employment, personal, or family relationship with a brand” they’re endorsing or advertising for. In the U.K., regulators instruct social media influencers, content creators, and even celebrities to label endorsement posts as adverts, and to make the endorsement clear, prominent, and timely. Earlier this year, China also made news with stricter regulations that require paid advertisements to be clearly labeled and claims on the veracity of products to be adequately vetted. In these countries, regulations are often accompanied by detailed guidelines — and punishment if those are violated — but ARCON’s approach is based on the regulator’s approval.

“Like many other regulations of this nature, implementation should normally be pretty straightforward — download a form online, fill, submit, wait for approval,” content creator and influencer, Alma Asinobi, told Rest of World. “But the country has a way of overcomplicating simple things and seizing every opportunity to frustrate everyone to a point where stuffing corrupt people’s pockets is the only way to not wait months for something that should normally take days.”