Is It Time To Get Serious About Cracking Down On Stealth Instagram Ads?
If you’ve used Instagram, you’re almost certainly familiar with apparently real people touting tummy-flattening tea, an array of subscription boxes, the benefits of some multilevel marketing scheme, or the latest in fashion, beauty, and electronics. If these people are being paid to shill these products, then they have to clearly be flagged as ads. Though the Federal Trade Commission has pledged to get serious about going after advertisers who taint your Instagram feed with these stealth ads, some consumer advocates say the FTC simply isn’t doing enough.
In the last year, the FTC harshly scolded (but did not penalize) retailer Lord & Taylor for its misleading use of social media influencers to push its clothes. The store provided free clothing to these social stars — and paid them as much as $4,000 — to show off a particular new dress. Lord & Taylor had to approve the copy of these Instagram posts, but allowed them to be shared without any indication that these posts were bought and paid for.
The Lord & Taylor settlement made some minor headlines, and sources at the FTC told Consumerist that the hope was that other companies would see it as a warning to not follow Lord & Taylor’s example.
However, in a letter [PDF] to the head of the FTC’s Consumer Protection bureau, a coalition of consumer advocates points to dozens of examples of unmarked ads — many of them from A-list celebrities, including Ryan Reynolds and Vanessa Hudgens — taken from Instagram in just a span of a few weeks this fall.
“Undisclosed paid product endorsements continue to persist as a serious problem on Instagram, and the Federal Trade Commission has yet to take action to enforce its policy, which states that paid endorsements should be identified with #advertisement or #ad,” reads the letter, which called for enforcement actions against “serial offenders, marketing agencies and endorsers that continue to violate FTC policy.”
The letter includes 50 examples of what the appear to be ads but which carry no disclosures about these people getting paid or getting free stuff.