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Fake Apple ad raises questions over Instagram’s open door advertising policy

A company's ability to masquerade as tech giant Apple for an ad campaign on Instagram has shone a light on the open door advertising policy of the social network, with ISBA suggesting that trust in the fledgling ad platform could be eroded. 

The ad in question first appeared on 12 January, with the copy running under the name Apple Store UK. However, on closer inspection it transpired that it is in fact run by a company called Moonlight Mobile, which describes itself as an "adult entertainment service for a worldwide mobile audience." 

The ad asked users to sign up to win an Apple iPhone 6s by filling in their personal and financial information. It received some 12,000 likes and half as many comments. 

Screen grab of counterfeit Apple ad
 
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The small print terms and conditions tell another story.

Terms and Conditions of 'Apple' competition
 
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Concerns over the legitimacy of the ad were raised by Instagram users, who commented the ad was "fake" and a "scam". 

It is not known how many users might have entered the competition, or how long the ad ran for before being removed. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) told The Drum that it has not yet received any complaints on this specific campaign. 

It will come as a blow to Instagram, which has been working hard to prove its worth to brands after only opening itself up to advertisers in September last year. Previously, the photo-editing app had imposed strict measures on what brands could use its ad tools but now that arsenal is available globally for all businesses, big and small.

Instagram ads are now available on a self-service basis, meaning advertisers booking campaigns on the photo sharing service do not necessarily have to interact face-to-face with sales staff.

This has raised the potential that rogue actors can evade Instagram's security checks and fair-use measures.

The Drum contacted Instagram for comment on the Moonlight Mobile ad, with a spokesperson saying: "This ad was in violation of our ad policies and has been removed."

Instagram declined to elaborate on why this has happened, what ad vetting process they have in place or how it is now working to reassure both premium advertisers and consumers alike that the platform is a safe environment for them.

It raises concerns about the ongoing issue of brand safety on social platforms without rigorous vetting processes in place.

Ian Twinn, ISBA’s director of public affairs, said that in his view the ad had the look of a serious fraud attempt which could be further examined by ASA and Trading Standards, which has the power to prosecute the advertiser.

"For Instagram the consequences are diminished trust in their platform. If fraudulent ads are appearing on their platforms it may harm the trust advertisers have in them," he added. 

"This could have severe reputational repercussion for advertisers’ reputation if their ads are placed near to fraudulent ads."

The Drum contacted Apple but had yet to receive a response at the time of writing. 

Meanwhile, Moonlight Mobile repeatedly declined to comment when approached by The Drum.

UPDATE: Following the publication of this article, an Instagram spokesperson added: “It is a priority that our community, including marketers, has the best ads experience possible and in this case the ad was approved by mistake.

"We invest significant resources in both automated and manual tools to enforce our policies. While these methods are effective at identifying and removing the vast majority of prohibited ads before they run, no system is perfect."

Featured by The Drum