How does the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) usually tackle repeated non-compliance by influencers that fail to disclose their paid partnerships?
In an attempt to clean up the industry, last year the ASA set up a dedicated webpage that listed influencers who, despite warnings either repeatedly failed to disclose when their social media posts were, in fact, ads or failed to provide assurances that they would do so in future. The influencers were subject to enhanced monitoring.
A previous monitoring exercise had revealed that, of a sample of influencers that had come to the ASA's attention in the past, only 35% of their posts on Instagram (incl feed posts, Stories and Reels) were compliant with the disclosure rules.
So did being placed on this naughty list result in improved disclosure compliance? Seems not, at least for Francesca Allen, Jess Gale, Eve Gale, Belle Hassan, Jodie Marsh and Anna Vakili, who had all been previously named for not identifying commercial relationships in their posts. They have all continued to post branded content without identifying it as such, in breach of the CAP Code and Consumer Protection Regulations.
What is the ASA's latest sanction?
The ASA is now taking out their own branded ads against these influencers on Instagram, with the aim of alerting consumers to their failure to follow the rules.
How effective is this as a sanction?
The effectiveness will depend upon how many consumers actually see the ASA's ads. The tactic relies on the ad appearing in a follower's feed but not all follower's will spot the ad and some may ignore it, may not associate it with the influencer, or may not understand the implications of the warning within it. If it does result in a loss of followers, that may demonstrate it has reached the correct audience but, as everyone in the industry understands, there can be a myriad of factors affecting follower counts. And if these influencers are prolific on other platforms, the warning may not be as effective as the ASA would like.
Will it shame the influencers into disclosing all future posts? It may do if it was a simple case of ignorance or misunderstanding of the CAP rules. But if e.g. there's pressure from the brands not to disclose, or if the influencer is concerned that they will lose brand deals and/or followers by disclosing their brand partnerships, then it comes down to whether integrity can outweigh the commercial benefits.
Pressure from followers and the negative publicity generated by the ads may help to force a change. But, of course, if your reputation is built upon courting controversy (and at least one of these influencers is known for exactly that) the ASA ads may have no more effect than an irritating buzzing fly.
If you want help unravelling the rules and regulations on disclosure, contact influencer marketing regulatory expert Rupa Shah at Hashtag Ad Consulting.