So­cial me­dia stars face crack­down over money from brands

In­sta­gram ‘in­flu­encers’ told to clar­ify paid-for ads

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Elle Hunt

Health claims taken down af­ter ad­ver­tis­ing breaches

Con­sumer pro­tec­tion bod­ies in the UK and US are in­creas­ing their crack­down on Ista­gram “in­flu­encers”, in an at­tempt to rein in the big busi­ness be­ing done covertly on so­cial me­dia.

In­sta­gram’s pop­u­lar­ity with young peo­ple, and women in par­tic­u­lar – in April it re­ported 700 mil­lion mem­bers – has led to a roar­ing trade be­tween mar­keters and so­called in­flu­encers with large and en­gaged fol­low­ings. Mem­bers of the Kar­dashian fam­ily, who pro­mote a range of prod­ucts from “detox” tea to waist-train­ing corsets to their tens of mil­lions of fol­low­ers, can re­port­edly com­mand as much as $500,000 (£370,000) per post.

But even lower-pro­file celebri­ties can make a profit from the photo-shar­ing app owned by Face­book.

El­iz­a­beth Olsen, who plays an in­flu­encer in the forth­com­ing film In­grid Goes West, has at­tracted 745,000 fol­low­ers since she joined In­sta­gram for the first time in May, telling the LA Times: “Fi­nan­cially, it’s a bril­liant op­por­tu­nity. I was only hurt­ing my op­por­tu­ni­ties by not par­tic­i­pat­ing.”

With many paid-for pro­mo­tions not dis­closed, the blurry line be­tween ad­ver­tise­ments and heart­felt rec­om­men­da­tions has led con­sumer pro­tec­tion bod­ies to take ac­tion against in­flu­encers for push­ing brands they have re­ceived pay­ment from.

In the UK, in­flu­encers have had to iden­tify ad­ver­tise­ments with the hash­tags “#ad” or “#spon” (spon­sored) since 2014. In April, the UK’s Ad­ver­tis­ing Stan­dards Author­ity (ASA) found makeup blog­ger Sheikhbeauty to have breached the CAP Code for non-broad­cast ad­ver­tise­ments by fail­ing to clearly la­bel a post about a her­bal detox tea brand an ad­ver­tise­ment.

This week the ASA or­dered re­al­i­tytele­vi­sion per­son­al­ity So­phie Kasaei to re­move her own photo of the Flat Tummy Tea she had shared with her 1 mil­lion-plus fol­low­ers in March.

Though Kasaei had ap­pro­pri­ately la­belled the im­age an ad­ver­tise­ment, the ASA up­held two is­sues with her post in its rul­ing on Wed­nes­day.

Kasaei’s asser­tion that the tea could re­duce water weight was found to be in vi­o­la­tion of rules for mar­ket­ing con­tain­ing nu­tri­tion or health claims. In the sec­ond part of the rul­ing, the name “Flat Tummy Tea” it­self was found to have vi­o­lated reg­u­la­tions be­cause it did not make ref­er­ence to a health or nu­tri­tion claim that was au­tho­rised on the EU’s regis­ter.

A spokesman for the ASA said that a brand name, in an ad­ver­tise­ment, can­not re­fer to health-re­lated well­be­ing without ap­pear­ing along­side an au­tho­rised health or nu­tri­tion claim, “which No­mad Choice Pty did not pro­vide us with”.

He said the ASA was not ask­ing that Flat Tummy Tea change its name, but its rul­ing did “make it very dif­fi­cult” for it to be used in an ad­ver­tise­ment.

In re­cent years the US Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion (FTC) has also ramped up its ef­forts to get in­flu­encers to “clearly and con­spic­u­ously” dis­close their re­la­tion­ships to brands. Let­ters from the FTC to celebri­ties re­mind­ing them of their obli­ga­tions note that many dis­clo­sures had not been suf­fi­ciently clear. “Many con­sumers will not un­der­stand a dis­clo­sure like ‘#sp,’ ‘Thanks [Brand]’, or ‘#part­ner’ to mean that the post is spon­sored”, it said.

Last week the FTC was in con­tact again with 21 of the orig­i­nal group, who re­ceived let­ters seek­ing clar­ity about spe­cific posts that had been iden­ti­fied as po­ten­tially non-com­pli­ant. Reuters re­ported that the mod­els Naomi Camp­bell and Am­ber Rose and ac­tors Lind­say Lo­han, Vanessa Hud­gens and Sofia Ver­gara were among those asked to re­spond by 30 Septem­ber.

The FTC also up­dated its staff guid­ance doc­u­ment on in­flu­encers and en­dorse­ments for the first time since 2015.

De­spite the US agency’s ef­forts to bring in­flu­encers to heel, much “#spon­con” re­mains uniden­ti­fied. Anal­y­sis of the 50 most-fol­lowed celebri­ties on In­sta­gram by US mar­ket­ing firm Me­di­akix in May found that 93% of posts pro­mot­ing a brand were not com­pli­ant with the FTC guide­lines.

In­sta­gram re­cently con­firmed that it would soon be­gin rolling out use of a “Paid part­ner­ship with” tag to “more clearly com­mu­ni­cate when a com­mer­cial re­la­tion­ship ex­ists be­tween a cre­ator and a busi­ness”. It would be tied to the plat­form’s first-ever branded con­tent pol­icy, re­strict­ing the post­ing of spon­sored con­tent to ac­counts with ac­cess to the tag.

In the mean­time, the FTC is hope­ful that its first ac­tion against in­di­vid­ual so­cial me­dia in­flu­encers, set­tled last week, will send a mes­sage to others.

On 7 Septem­ber the Amer­i­can Trevor “TmarTn” Martin and the Bri­ton Thomas “Syn­di­cate” Cas­sell set­tled FTC charges that they had de­cep­tively en­dorsed an online gam­bling ser­vice while fail­ing to dis­close that they jointly owned the com­pany. The FTC had also al­leged Martin and Cas­sell paid gam­ing in­flu­encers be­tween $2,500 and $55,000 to pro­mote the com­pany, CSGO Lotto, without re­quir­ing them to dis­close the pay­ments.

Un­der the set­tle­ment the pair would be li­able for hefty fines if found to have bro­ken FTC rules in the fu­ture.

Mau­reen Ohlhausen, the FTC act­ing chair, said in a state­ment con­sumers needed to know when in­flu­encers were be­ing paid by the brands en­dorsed in their posts. “This should send a mes­sage that such con­nec­tions must be clearly dis­closed so con­sumers can make in­formed pur­chas­ing de­ci­sions.”

Pho­to­graph: Carl Tim­pone/ BFA/Rex/ Shutterstock

Naomi Camp­bell is among celebri­ties re­quested to more clearly dis­close paid­for pro­mo­tions on their so­cial me­dia ac­counts by US reg­u­la­tors

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