Today, Instagram is launching a feature that will allow celebrities and “influencers” to make it more clear when they’re doing a post that is sponsored by a brand. The new tool will say “Paid partnership with…” at the top of a sponsored post or Story.
The feature will, at first, be rolled out to only a handful of brands and celebrities (including BuzzFeed).
Here's what it will look like:
It will work in Stories too, and not just in standard posts:
It’s no secret to anyone who has ever used Instagram that celebrities post ads there, and that it’s often kind of hard for the average person to tell if sponsored content is an ad or not. The Federal Trade Commission has strict guidelines about how celebs should disclose ads. It should be as clear as possible if a celebrity is getting paid to post, got free stuff for a post, or has some other business relationship with a brand. Celebrities are required to tag their ads with #ad or #sponsored (not just #sp, because that’s not clear enough), and they shouldn’t bury these disclosures at the end of a long caption that will get cut off.
Simply tagging the sponsor or saying “thanks @BRAND” isn’t enough, and that kind of half-assed disclosure is rampant. According to a recent report, up to 93% of the ads the top 50 celebrities on Instagram are posting are not FTC compliant.
But it’s unclear if Instagram’s new feature will itself meet the FTC’s standards for proper disclosure of ads. The FTC told BuzzFeed News it had no comment on this new feature.
A representative of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen told BuzzFeed News the group isn't impressed. “We are happy to see that Instagram has the ability to create a feature that helps to identify posts as advertisements, but this new feature does not address the problem of undisclosed paid ads,” said the representative. The sticky wicket here is the term partnership. The FTC says that simply hashtagging #partner is unclear.
“If it wants to help identify paid ads on its platform, Instagram should create a system that makes advertisements clear to all users and is compliant with the FTC’s policy. Otherwise, Instagram is enabling deceptive influencer marketing,” the representative of Public Citizen said.
Here's how complicated and confusing it gets: A different consumer advocacy group thinks the wording is perfectly fine. What they’re concerned with is the fact that the disclosure is located in that geotag area, which people tend to ignore. “It appears that the language used clearly discloses the material connection between the endorser and the company,” said Bonnie Patten, executive director of Truth in Advertising. “Where there is room for debate is whether these disclosures are conspicuous.”
It appears Instagram is testing different ways for celebrities to disclose ads. This week, I saw that Khloé Kardashian posted in her Story an ad for a vitamin brand that used a black and white sticker that said "AD." This is not available to us regular folks, but Instagram said that this wasn't part of the particular new feature it's debuting.
Instagram plans to use the limited rollout of the new feature to gather feedback from the community and launch partners, as well as from industry advocates and consumer groups. The next phase will be to create a policy that includes some sort of enforcement. A representative of Instagram told BuzzFeed News that “this is a first step in a journey.”