93 Percent of the Biggest Celebrity Instagram Ads Are Kinda Lying to You

Ads need to be disclosed according to the FTC’s guidelines. When they’re not acknowledged to be ads with an #ad here or a #spon there, social media posts are essentially tricking the reader into thinking they’re completely unbiased. Even in the world of Instagram celebrities, where we all kinda know that no one loves name-brand teas that much, it can be hard to tell the ads from the real thing. How hard? 93 percent harder than it should be, according to a new study.

Marketing firm Mediakix issued the report, and Buzzfeed covered it: After looking at the top 50 Instagram posts each month, the firm found that about 32 of the top 50 celebrities ran sponsored content, and of that group, 93 percent didn’t meet FTC guidelines.

digital influencer marketing apps

What Are the FTC Guidelines Exactly?

Turns out the #sp tag is too vague, and needs to be #sponsored to appease the FTC, which requires that an ad clearly indicates to the average viewer that Instagram celebrities have a “material connection” to the sponsoring brand. Here’s the list of explanations that the FTC sent out to over 90 big-name Instagram accounts last month to clarify the rules, per Buzzfeed:

  • Clear disclosure like #ad or #sponsored (#sp instead of #sponsored is NOT OK)
  • No hiding the disclosure at the end of a long caption, which gets cut off after 3 lines in Instagram, or in a #forest #of #hashtags #where #no #one #will #notice #ad
  • No using #partner – most people don’t know what that means.
  • No simply tagging the sponsor

Instagram is already cracking down on auto-commenting marketing bots. Now the FTC is drawing a line in the constantly shifting sponsored content sands. Marketers spent over $570 million on influencer marketing last year. Now those dollars are increasingly well-regulated.

The bottom line is that this study confirms what we’re all thinking: a massive amount of advertising goes on over Instagram, and very little of it is completely aboveboard.

Read more about advertising strategies on Tech.Co

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Written by:
Adam is a writer at Tech.co and has worked as a tech writer, blogger and copy editor for more than a decade. He was a Forbes Contributor on the publishing industry, for which he was named a Digital Book World 2018 award finalist. His work has appeared in publications including Popular Mechanics and IDG Connect, and his art history book on 1970s sci-fi, 'Worlds Beyond Time,' is out from Abrams Books in July 2023. In the meantime, he's hunting down the latest news on VPNs, POS systems, and the future of tech.
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