Cosmetic Blunder – All UK Instagram Content Must Make Clear on The Face of It that It Is an Ad, Including Reels and Stories
The UK Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) has found that an influencer’s Instagram reel and story breached the advertising regulations. All advertising made by influencers must make it clear that it is an advertisement; otherwise, brands, even if they have no control, will be held jointly responsible.
The Content – Instagram Reels and Stories
For those unfamiliar with Instagram reels and stories, a reel is a video up to 30 seconds (which can be made up of many videos), and a story is a vertical photo or video of up to 15 seconds, which disappears 24 hours after posting.
Eliza Batten, a social media influencer, posted a reel and story on Instagram promoting the use of a large cosmetics company’s (the Cosmetic Brand) products. The story had a “swipe-up” function that took users to the relevant product page on the Cosmetic Brand’s website. The reel stated:
“Nowhere to go to in my go-to makeup @ [CosmeticBrandhandle] [camcorder emoji] […] #collab #makeup.”
A complaint was made that neither the reel nor the story was obviously identifiable as an advertisement.
Ms. Batten received a small commission via a thirdparty influencer network for all sales made through the story’s link to the Cosmetic Brand’s website. Ms. Batten was also gifted the Cosmetic Brand’s products.
The ASA found that as “the direct beneficiaries of the marketing material through an affiliate programme,” the Cosmetic Brand and Ms. Batten were jointly responsible for such ads and their compliance with the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.
The complaint was upheld despite the following facts:
The Cosmetic Brand had no form of control over Ms. Batten’s Instagram posts;
The Cosmetic Brand also did not request any posts in exchange for the gifted items;
The network required influencers to comply with all applicable advertising rules and disclosure obligations;
After the complaint was known, the network reminded Ms. Batten of the ASA requirements;
Ms. Batten apologised and added the necessary “#ad” to her posts; and
The inclusion of the hashtag “#collab” in the caption of the reel (which the ASA considered insufficiently clear that there was a commercial relationship).
The ASA therefore found that the reel and the story were not obviously identifiable as marketing communications and did not make their commercial intent clear, and the complaint was upheld.
Key learning points from this case:
Train your influencers: Provide up-to-date training to influencers before the influencers are given free products or can monetised links;
Audit your influencers: Ensure ongoing compliance by conducting randomised audits of influencer posts;
Introduce approval mechanisms: Consider introducing some sort of approval mechanism, as the brand is likely to be held responsible regardless of control; and
Remember that duration does not matter: Remind your influencers that it does not matter how short the video is or the duration of the posts; the advertisement must identify all posts as advertisements—using “#ad” and “#collab” is not sufficient.