Written by Noel Hung

On 18 January 2022, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (“ASA”) announced that they were launching a new campaign on Instagram to call out social media influencers who are repeatedly flouting its advertising rules.

Last March, the ASA monitored the Instagram accounts of various UK-based influencers over a three-week period and found that while over a quarter of the posts were ads, only 35% of those were clearly labelled as such. Following their investigation, in June 2021, the ASA launched a webpage to publicly “name and shame” influencers who failed to make their ads obviously identifiable. Under the current rules, promotional posts must clearly indicate that they are paid-for endorsements, typically including a hashtag such as #ad at the forefront of their caption or by using Instagram’s paid partnership feature. However, non-compliance with these rules continues to go on despite the ASA’s efforts to educate the industry with resource pages, infographic checklists and other guidance.

The new campaign will begin with six influencers (former Love Island stars Francesca Allen, Jess Gale, Eve Gale, Belle Hassan and Anna Vakili as well as TV personality Jodie Marsh) who have all been previously warned for breaking advertising rules in their posts, stories or reels. The ASA intends to pinpoint each of these influencers and say the following in targeted Instagram ads:

“[Name] has been sanctioned by the UK’s ad regulator for not declaring ads on this platform. Be aware that products and services recommended or featured by this influencer may have been paid for by those brands. Our non-compliant social media influencer page at asa.org.uk is regularly updated to inform consumers of those who break these rules.”

Shahriar Coupal, Director of advertising policy at the ASA commented, “In a new front of enforcement activity, we’re using targeted ads to highlight the breaches of six social media personalities to the very same audience they are seeking to influence.” - 

It is clear that the ASA is taking this issue of non-compliance very seriously and is preparing for further sanctions should it become necessary. This could mean working with social media platforms to have their content removed, or referring influencers to statutory bodies such as Trading Standards, which has the ability to impose fines. As such, the reputational risks associated with non-compliant social media advertising, for both influencers and brands, continue to increase.