March 22, 2021
The ASA explains that the purpose of the monitoring sweep of influencer posts is to gauge whether influencers are sticking to the rules, which require that they clearly signpost when their posts are ads. The report reveals that the proportion of influencers sticking to the rules is far below what the ASA would expect.
In September 2020, the ASA undertook a three week monitoring exercise to review the Instagram accounts of 122 UK-based influencers to assess whether advertising content was being properly disclosed. That involved assessing over 24,000 Instagram Stories including posts, IGTV and reels to check compliance rates. The advertising rules apply across all platforms and non-broadcast media but this monitoring exercise focused on posts on Instagram because complaints to the ASA about Influencer ad disclosure tend to relate to this particular platform.
The ASA says that extensive advice, training and easy-to-understand resources have been provided to help the influencer marketing community and brands understand their responsibilities under the ad rules. Despite this, the ASA found that nearly one in four of the Stories it assessed was advertising, but only 35% of them were clearly labelled and obviously identifiable as such. The ASA says that this level of non-compliance is unacceptable.
In summary, the ASA found:
· inconsistent disclosure across Stories: when a piece of ad content spans a number of consecutive Stories, unless it’s absolutely clear that this is part of the same posting, each Story must be disclosed as an ad;
· inconsistent disclosure across Stories, IGTV, Reels, posts: the ASA noted instances where a post would be accurately disclosed as an ad, but a corresponding Story was not;
· visibility of ad labels: where Stories were labelled as ads, the ASA noted labels were sometimes in a small font, obscured by the platform architecture or otherwise difficult to spot, mainly due to being in a very similar colour to the background of the Story where it was placed;
· affiliate content is still an ad: the ASA noted 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; and
· own-brand ads: influencers should not rely on bios or past posts to make it clear to consumers that they are connected to a product.
Research shows the difficulty that consumers have in distinguishing certain types of online ads from surrounding content. This evidenced by complaints to the ASA: 2020 saw a 55% increase on 2019 in complaints received about influencers from across platforms, from 1,979 to 3,144 individual complaints. 61% of those complaints in 2020 were about ad disclosure on Instagram.
The ASA says that the ad rules are clear: it must be obvious to consumers before they read, “like” or otherwise interact with a social media post if what they are engaging with is advertising. In most cases, the use of #ad (or similar) is the clearest way of communicating the commercial nature of social media content. Alternatively, a platform’s own disclosure tools, such as Instagram’s Paid Partnership tool, can also help to distinguish advertising from other content.
The ASA has contacted all the influencers, as well as a number of brands, and put them on notice that if future spot checks it carries out on any platform reveal problems, it will take enforcement action. That might include promoting their non-compliance on a dedicated page on the ASA’s website, promoting their non-compliance through its own targeted paid search ads and working directly with the platforms and the Competition and Markets Authority on further enforcement action. To read the ASA’s press release in full, click here.