Is it or isn’t it? ASA changes its mind about yet another dodgy influencer post that fails to declare it’s an #ad

The Advertising Standards Authority has taken the unusual step of reversing a ruling from last year, and this time round has upheld a complaint against a post on Instagram that should have been labelled as an ad, but wasn’t.

Originally the ASA ruled that the offending post was labelled as an ad, but a year later has decided that it wasn’t properly flagged. It shows just how murky the whole social media and influencer waters have become, and credit to the ASA for persevering on this issue, even if it did take more than a year to get it right.

@dresslikeamum wearing another new pair of Air & Grace shoes

The controversial post was by Zoë de Pass, AKA @dresslikeamum, promoting her collaboration with Air & Grace shoes, a brand that has been built almost exclusively on Instagram.

De Pass has 133,000 followers and works with a lot of brands — including Marks & Spencer, Barbour and Sweaty Betty – as well as getting sent an enormous amount of free stuff, judging by her feed. It’s the hustler influencer business model and it looks like it’s working well for her, but one whiff of inauthenticity and it could all come crashing down.

De Pass’ agreement with Air & Grace didn’t give the company any editorial control over her posts, or stipulate any specific social “deliverables,” so neither party considered the post in question to be an #ad.

The ASA agreed first time round, but on closer inspection decided that, because the post was promoting the shoe collaboration and thus directly connected to the supply of goods – including links – the post was indeed an unlabelled piece of marketing communications which fell within the ASA’s remit and upheld the single complaint.

Influencers can have a huge and instantly-measurable impact on sales, which is what makes them so popular with brands. But it can be a pretty short-term and unreliable marketing strategy: complaints to the ASA about influencer posts have more than tripled over the last year (up from 352 in 2018 to more than 1,300 already in 2019).

Instagram is experimenting with hiding likes, which it claims to be doing in the interests of mental health, but some are convinced that if support for influencers is not public, brands will switch from spending their money with individuals and put it straight into the platform instead.

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About Emma Hall

Emma Hall
Emma Hall is the former Europe Editor of Ad Age, where she covered European marketing advertising, digital and media stories. She has written for newspapers including the Financial Times, The Guardian, The Times and the Telegraph, and was previously a section editor at Campaign. Emma started her career in New York as a researcher for a biography of Keith Richards.