The ASA reported a 55% increase in complaints about influencers from 2019 to 2020 - 61% of those complaints were about ad disclosure on Instagram.
In September 2020 the ASA monitored the Instagram accounts of 122 UK-based influencers for three weeks focusing particularly on Instagram stories which were typically the subject of complaints to the ASA.
Within the review period over 24,000 stories were assessed - these were then categorised:
- nearly one in four were advertising; and
- only 35% were clearly labelled and obviously identifiable as advertising.
Nearly 75% of the ads analysed fell into the Beauty, Clothing or Leisure categories but the ASA found no correlation between compliance with the disclosure requirements and sector proving that, across the board, neither influencers or brands are taking the ad disclosure rules seriously.
Following the analysis the ASA spotted 5 trends and gave 5 pieces of advice for compliance going forwards:
- Inconsistent disclosure across stories - where an ad spans a number of stories unless it is completely clear that it is part of the same post, each story must be disclosed as an ad. It is insufficient to label only the first story.
- Inconsistent disclosure across Stories, IGTV, Reels and posts – often a post is disclosed as an ad but the related story is not. Further, if a story is created to highlight a new post and the new post is an ad, the story must also contain the ad disclosure.
- Visibility of ad labels – where stories were labelled as ads the labels were often small and incredibly discrete. The label must not only be present but must also be easy to spot (however the story is viewed - on desktop, mobile or other devices). The ad disclosure should be the first thing the consumer sees.
- Affiliate content is still an ad – the use of #affiliate or #aff with no additional upfront disclosure is insufficient - always use #ad including when promoting a discount code.
- Own-brand ads – Influencers must not rely on their bio to make it clear that they are connected to a brand or product. Where the content itself doesn't make it clear (e.g. "Download my app" or “Today we have launched my collection”) then the ad must be appropriately labelled.
All those monitored by the ASA in September have been notified (influencers and brands alike) of any non-compliance and warned that if further incidences of non-compliance are found enforcement action will be taken.
The level of non-compliance is unacceptable.