UK social media influencers warned over ad rules breaches

Social media influencer

The UK advertising watchdog has warned social media influencers that they face being named and shamed, after a spot check of posts found widespread flouting of advertising rules.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) monitored the Instagram accounts of 122 UK-based influencers over a three-week period last September, which involved assessing more than 24,000 posts, to see if they were following rules that state they must declare when their posts are ads.

It found that while nearly a quarter of the posts were ads, only 35% of those were clearly labelled as such.

The ASA said the level of noncompliance with the UK ad code was “unacceptable” and it has contacted all the social influencers, and a number of brands, putting them “on notice” that future breaches could lead to them being publicly named and shamed by the regulator.

“There’s simply no excuse not to make clear when positive messages in posts have been paid for by a brand,” said Guy Parker, the chief executive of the ASA. “We have given influencers and brands fair warning. We are now targeting our follow-up monitoring and preparing for enforcement action.”

While the ASA did not specifically name any of those who flouted the rules, the spot checks were carried out on individuals who had previously been contacted about breaches.

The ASA has previously issued rulings against influencers including Emily Canham, in its first censure of a post on TikTok. Canham, who has more than 700,000 followers on TikTok, has been profiled by several newspapers and magazines, because of her marketing skills and her relationship with Busted band member James Bourne. Others to fall foul of the ad rules include the former Love Island contestant Luke Mabbott and Zoë Sugg, a fashion and shopping blogger who has also written a novel, Girl Online.

The ad watchdog said that it experienced a 55% increase in complaints about social media influencers last year, rising from 1,979 in 2019 to 3,144 in 2020. More than 60% of the complaints last year were about postings on Instagram.

In October, Instagram said it intended to crack down on social media influencers and celebrities in the UK who break rules regarding advertising disclosures, following an investigation by the Competition and Markets Authority. In 2019, the CMA secured formal commitments from 16 celebrities, including Alexa Chung and Ellie Goulding, to clearly state if they have been paid or receive any gifts or loans of profits when making posts on Instagram.