Ad watchdog escalates sanctions against persistent rule-breaking influencers

Brands could face similar sanctions in future, the advertising regulator has warned, as it puts six former Love Island stars on blast for failing to disclose when their social media posts are ads.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is taking out Instagram ads exposing six rule-breaking influencers who have consistently failed to disclose ads on their own accounts, despite explicit warnings.

The regulatory body’s rules state that any advertising on social media must be clearly signposted and labelled as such to protect consumers. This can be achieved with a label such as ‘#ad’ within the image or caption.

In June 2021, the ASA set up a webpage naming and shaming influencers who were failing to abide by the rules. Francesca Allen, Jess Gale, Eve Gale, Belle Hassan, Jodie Marsh and Anna Vakili were among those influencers added to the site.

As all six have failed the improve disclosure of their ads, the ASA is now escalating its sanctions against them.

The ASA’s ads read: “[Name] has been sanctioned by the UK’s ad regulator for not declaring ads on this platform. Be aware that products and services recommended or featured by this influencer may have been paid for by those brands. Our non-compliant social media influencer page at asa.org.uk is regularly updated to inform consumers of those who break these rules.”

Further sanctions are also being considered, including working with social media platforms to have the content of non-compliant influencers removed, or referring influencers to statutory bodies such as Trading Standards for consideration of statutory action, including possible fines.

“For the minority of influencers that repeatedly fail to disclose their paid-for posts, it’s important their social media followers are told,” explains the ASA’s director of advertising policy and practice, Shahriar Coupal.

“In a new front of enforcement activity, we’re using targeted ads to highlight the breaches of six social media personalities to the very same audience they’re seeking to influence. When we see the necessary changes to their disclosure practices, we’ll call off the ads. But, where non-compliance persists, we’ll look to more direct forms of enforcement.”ASA threatens action against rule-breaking brands as it names and shames influencers

Collectively, the six influencers – five of whom are former Love Island contestants – have almost 5 million followers on Instagram. They have worked with brands including Amazon, Jack Wills, Dorothy Perkins, Boohoo, Boux Avenue and Fashion Nova, though there is nothing yet to suggest these brands are guilty themselves of any rule-breaking.

The ASA has elected not to flag any brands at this time, however in future brands could face similar sanctions. Last year the ASA promised to “take action” against brands which also repeatedly fail to disclose ads.

The ASA first put brands and influencers “on notice” in March 2021, after finding that only 35% of ads in Instagram stories were clearly labelled and identifiable as such. At the time, it described the level of non-compliance with the rules as “unacceptable”.

In 2020, the ASA recorded a 55% increase in complaints received about influencers across platforms compared to 2019, from 1,979 to 3,144 individual complaints. Almost two-thirds of those complaints in 2020 were about ad disclosure on Instagram.

Aside from influencers, the regulator is also currently cracking down on “misleading” environmental claims and greenwashing in advertising, banning an ad from Alpro in October over unsubstantiated claims that its oat milk product was “good for the planet”.

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