Geordie Shore star Marnie Simpson, and her PR agency Unleashed PR, have been cautioned by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) for failing to signpost ads on Snapchat.
On two separate occasions, the reality TV star posted images that contained paid-for brand endorsements; one for teeth whitening product Diamond Whites and another for her own contact lens range I Spy Eyes, which was handled by Unleashed PR.
In June, Simpson posted two images on Snapchat, the first of which showed her posing with a case for Diamond Whites tooth polish alongside the text: '50% of [sic] everything' and a link to the company's site. The second, showed her sporting pair of grey contact lenses, promoting her line with the text: 'mrs grey [sic] coming soon' superimposed into the image.
Diamond Whites defended the ad by saying that Simpson's followers would already have been aware of her relationship with the firm, while Unleashed PR said that the wording featured in the contact lens ad was indistinct that consumers would not view it as an ad.
Complaints from the public sparked two separate investigations, with both rulings being upheld by the advertising watchdog on the basis that Simpson should have labeled the posts using the #ad hashtag.
It is the first case of its kind to have involved Snapchat, and given the ephemeral nature of the platform – which means images and pictures disappear after 24 hours – the ASA did not ask Unleashed PR or Diamond Whites to remove the posts in question. Instead the ASA warned that this shouldn't happen again, with both companies involved agreeing to ensure content posted this way was clearly badged in the future.
Despite the industry's best efforts it is increasingly difficult to police influencer advertising across the variety of social platforms it appears across. Just last month Guy Parker, the chief executive of the ASA, singled out Snapchat's rival Instagram for failing to label paid-for content.
Speaking at the time, he said that adequately signposted native, affiliate and influencer advertising is simply "not where we need [it] to be", adding that the watchdog was planning its own research into the way this kind of advertising appears online, with more details to be issued later in the year.
Matt Donegan, managing director at influencer agency Social Circle, said that while it was unfortunate that Simpson didn’t declare her post was an ad, the ruling raises the spectre again about the "lack of understanding among social media influencers around what the rules really are".
Implying that the ASA was making an example with its first Snapchat case, he said that education and awareness were the keys to ensuring there was transparency across the board.
He said: "This is not surprising – the sheer volume of big-name celebrities flouting the rules that are not chastised by the ASA, when these celebs have huge teams behind them who should know better, means it would be hard for many outside of our industry to be completely aware of what the rules are."