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93% of celebrity influencers don't signpost ads correctly on Instagram

Reality TV star Kylie Jenner often features sponsored content on her Instagram feed

Over 90% of A-list endorsements on Instagram are in violation of rules around influencer marketing.

A study has found that that just 7% of sponsored content posted by the most followed celebrities on Instagram was compliant with guidelines and regulations set by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The data from influencer agency Mediakix found that 32 of the top 50 celebrities posted some kind of sponsored content in the month of May, and that of those posts 93% failed to meet FTC rules.

The FTC requests that ambassdors make it clear and apparent when posts have a "material connection" a brand – a rule that applies whether the product or service has been provided as a freebie or as part of a paid for deal. Ads should be signposted with a clear tag like #ad and feature high up in the post, ie not cut off in a caption. Tagging the brand is not acceptable, neither is the use of #sp or #partner instead of sponsored.

Mediakix hasn't published the list of ads in breach of the rules, but revealed that only nine ads out of a total of 152 were signposted correctly. BuzzFeed has categorised the total number of posts into four categories, determined on the nature of the sponsored content. It found that the majority of images published (49%) were part of a longtime sponsorship deal, while 12% were "pay to post ads" and 16% were a "big freebie" like free accommodation and designer dresses.

The top 50 most popular celebrities on Instagram have a combined following of 2.5 billion. A host of models and entertainers feature in the top 50, like Selena Gomez, Beyonce, Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner and Gigi Hadid, but it's not clear from the data which stars have broken the rules.

In April, the FTC sent 90 warning letters to influencers and brand partners clarifying its position, while in July last year it took issue with Warner Bros for failing to disclose paid-for reviews from the likes of PewDiePie. Earlier this year, non-profit group Truth In Advertising (TINA) claimed that the Kardashian-Jenner clan, who boast a collective 316 million followers, had a combined 100 Instagram posts in violation of the rules, showing the problem isn't going anywhere despite the FTC's crackdown.

The regulation of influencer marketing is just as murky in the UK. In March, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has issued fresh guidelines for brands working with influencers, but some experts have argued they still don't provide enough clarity or incentive to ensure a level playing field.

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Rebecca Stewart

Rebecca Stewart is a reporter at The Drum with a remit to cover the latest developments in social media marketing and wider industry news. Based in Glasgow, she has interviewed key figures from brands like Airbnb, Amnesty International, Facebook and Spotify. She has covered international events in Berlin and Amsterdam, as well as Advertising Week Europe.

All by Rebecca