Consumer protection bodies in the UK and US are increasing their crackdown on Instagram “influencers”, in an attempt to rein in the big business being done covertly on social media.
Instagram’s popularity with young people, and women in particular – in April it reported 700 million members – has led to a roaring trade between marketers and so-called influencers with large and engaged followings. Members of the Kardashian family, who promote a range of products from “detox” tea to waist-training corsets to their tens of millions of followers, can reportedly command as much as $500,000 (£370,000) per post.
But even lower-profile celebrities can make a profit from the photo-sharing app owned by Facebook.
Elizabeth Olsen, who plays an influencer in the forthcoming film Ingrid Goes West, has attracted 745,000 followers since she joined Instagram for the first time in May, telling the LA Times: “Financially, it’s a brilliant opportunity. I was only hurting my opportunities by not participating.”
With many paid-for promotions not disclosed, the blurry line between advertisements and heartfelt recommendations has led consumer protection bodies to take action against influencers for pushing brands they have received payment from.
In the UK, influencers have had to identify advertisements with the hashtags “#ad” or “#spon” (sponsored) since 2014. In April, the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) found the makeup blogger Sheikhbeauty to have breached the CAP Code for non-broadcast advertisements by failing to clearly label a post about a herbal detox tea brand as an advertisement.
This week the ASA ordered the reality television personality Sophie Kasaei to remove her own photo of the Flat Tummy Tea she had shared with her 1 million-plus followers in March.
Though Kasaei had appropriately labelled the image an advertisement, the ASA upheld two issues with her post in its ruling on Wednesday.
Kasaei’s assertion that the tea could reduce water weight was found to be in violation of rules for marketing containing nutrition or health claims. In the second part of the ruling, the name “Flat Tummy Tea” itself was found to have violated regulations because it did not make reference to a health or nutrition claim that was authorised on the EU’s register.