Social media influencers put ‘on notice’ over advertising disclosure

The Advertising Standards Authority said monitoring of 122 Instagram accounts found compliance with the rules was unacceptably low.

Social media influencers put ‘on notice’ over advertising disclosure

A watchdog is putting social media influencers “on notice” after a monitoring sweep of posts revealed widespread failure to disclose advertising.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) checked the Instagram accounts of 122 UK-based influencers over three weeks in September to gauge whether they are sticking to rules which require them to clearly reveal when their posts are ads.

The findings show the proportion of influencers sticking to the rules “is far below what we would expect”, the ASA said.

Almost a quarter of the Stories it assessed were advertising but only 35% of them were clearly labelled and obviously identifiable as such – an “unacceptable” level of non-compliance after years of extensive advice to help influencers and brands understand their responsibilities, the watchdog said.

The rules apply across all platforms and media but the ASA focused on more than 24,000 Instagram Stories as they tended to attract the most complaints.

Among the failings were inconsistent disclosure of ad content across consecutive Stories, ads accurately disclosed in a post but not in a corresponding Story, and ad labels in small font, obscured or in a very similar colour to the background of the Story.

The ASA also warned influencers not to rely on bios or past posts to make it clear to consumers they are connected to a product.

Some 61% of complaints in 2020 were about ad disclosure on Instagram.

Under the rules, it must be obvious to consumers before they read, “like” or otherwise interact with a social media post if it is an ad.

In most cases, the use of #ad, or a similar indication, is the clearest way of alerting readers.

The ASA said it had contacted all the influencers as well as a number of brands and put them on notice that it will take enforcement action if future spot-checks reveal problems.

It declined to name any of the influencers it found to be breaking the rules at this stage.

It warned it would consider naming them on a dedicated page on its website and work directly with the platforms and the Competition and 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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