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Majority of Instagram ads not labelled correctly by brands and influencers

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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The grey area of advertising on Instagram remains much too broad, with just 35 percent of ads clearly labelled by influencers and brands.

A new report by the ASA, British Advertising Standards Authority, finds influencers not sticking to the rules with too much content not disclosed as advertising.

In September last year, 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.

In its report, ASA found that nearly one in four of the Stories it assessed was advertising, but only 35 percent of them were clearly labelled and obviously identifiable as such. Inconsistent disclosure across Stories, IGTV, Reels and posts, such as when a post disclosed an ad but the corresponding Story did not. Visibility was questionable, with labels sometimes in a small font on Stories, obscured by the platform architecture or otherwise difficult to spot, such as being in the same colour as the background.

Affiliate content is still an ad

The report 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.

Further research has shown the difficulty that consumers have in distinguishing certain types of online ads from surrounding content. And that’s evidenced by complaints to the ASA: 2020 saw a 55 percent increase on 2019 in complaints received about influencers from across platforms, from 1,979 to 3,144 individual complaints. 61 percent of those complaints in 2020 were about ad disclosure on Instagram.

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.

Image and article source: British Advertising Authority