The UK regulator for advertising has launched a new initiative in a move to make influencers more transparent about what they are paid to promote on their social media.
The Advertising Standard Authority (ASA) announced that its website would now host a permanent page dedicated to naming and shaming influencers who they say have repeatedly breached their guidelines.
For its launch, the organization named Chloe Ferry, Chloe Khan, Jodie Marsh, and Lucy Mecklenburgh for “routinely failing to clearly disclose when they are advertising to consumers.”
The four influencers, who have a combined following of nearly 8 million on Instagram alone, will remain spotlighted for three months, in addition to having their accounts monitored and being subjected to spot checks on their content.
The agency warned that should influencers continue to breach the guidelines, they could expect additional sanctions. The body is prepared to work alongside social media platforms to have their content removed, refer them for fines, and take out ads against them, it said.
It isn’t just influencers that the ASA sent a warning out to — brands were also notified to be on high alert.
“We will also be looking to take action against brands that repeatedly fail to disclose ads or do not provide assurances that they will properly label ads in future,” said the ASA.
The campaign comes on the heels of an Influencer Monitoring Report published by the ASA in March, which uncovered an “inconsistent disclosure” of sponsored content.
The report was based on 122 UK influencer Instagram accounts, where it found its rules around ad disclosure were being followed just 35% of the time.
The guidelines, established by the Committee of Advertising Practice and enforced by the ASA, require that ads must be identifiable as such to comply with British consumer law.
25-year-old Ferry found fame on reality television and has 3.7 million followers. She was recently reprimanded by the ASA for promoting a debt advice company and failing to disclose that the content was an ad.
The post was banned with the ASA ruling that “the ads must not appear again in the form complained about.”
Marsh, a former bodybuilder, addressed the announcement on her Instagram account, telling her 440,000 followers that “freedom of speech is dead.”
The 42-year-old claimed that her posts that had been flagged all related to her fitness brand JST Nutrition, for which she is the director. She said she uses the products in her everyday life, suggesting that this would make her exempt.
“So even though I own @jstnutrition and have used all my own products since 2012, I am supposed to say #ad every time I talk about it on here. Freedom of speech is dead,” wrote Marsh in a now-edited post.
In the announcement, ASA Chief Executive Guy Parker said that the watchdog group would prefer to work alongside influencers and brands to help them understand and follow the guidelines, but there was a need to take further action.
“The first influencers to be named on this list have been given every opportunity to treat people fairly about their ads. It’s not difficult: Be upfront and clear when posts and Stories are ads. If this doesn’t bring about the changes we expect, we won’t hesitate to consider further sanctions,” said Parker.
BuzzFeed News contacted the reps for all the influencers named for follow-up comments.
Correction: The Advertising Standards Authority's name was misstated in an earlier version of this post.