Some people hang on their every word but it seems many social media influencers are far from upfront about whether they are promoting products with scores of them fingered for breaking advertising regulations following an undercover sweep of Instagram posts.
The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has now warned influencers that they face being named and shamed after it trawled 122 UK Instagram accounts last September to see if there were any ads among 24,000 posts went and uncovered evidence of “widespread failure” to respect the rules.
The investigation revealed that one in four Instagram Stories assessed could be classed as advertising – but only 35% of the examples it looked at were labelled and identifiable as such; a level of non-compliance the ASA branded “unacceptable”.
Among the issues uncovered were inconsistent disclosure across Stories, and even where Stories were labelled as ads, the labels were sometimes in a small font, obscured by the platform architecture or otherwise difficult to spot.
The regulator also uncovered the use of #affiliate or #aff with no additional upfront disclosure; those labels are not likely to be enough on their own to disclose to users the advertising nature of the content the ASA argues.
Meanwhile, influencers have also been relying on bios or past posts to flag up to consumers that they are connected to a product; again this is against the rules.
ASA research shows the difficulty that consumers have in distinguishing certain types of online ads from surrounding content and that it claims, is evidenced by complaints to the ASA. In 2020, there was a 55% increase in complaints received about influencers from across platforms, from 1,979 in 2019 to 3,144 individual complaints. Some 61% of those complaints in 2020 were about ad disclosure on Instagram.
The watchdog says it has contacted all the influencers involved in the sweep, as well as a number of brands, and put them on notice that if future spot checks we carry out on any platform reveal problems, we will take enforcement action.
That might include promoting their non-compliance on a dedicated page on the ASA website, promoting their non-compliance through the ASA’s own targeted paid search ads and working directly with the platforms and the Competition & Markets Authority on further enforcement action.
ASA chief executive Guy Parker said: “There’s simply no excuse not to make clear to the public when positive messages in posts have been paid-for by a brand. While some influencers have got their houses in order, our monitoring shows how much more there is to do. We’ve given influencers and brands fair warning. We’re now targeting our follow-up monitoring and preparing for enforcement action.”
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