The UK ad watchdog has warned 'hundreds' of influencers over opaque brand deals

Influencer Louise Thompson has been rebuked by the ASA for sponsored Instagram posts.

The UK advertising watchdog has cautioned "between 200 and 300" social media influencers for breaking strict rules around paid for posts on the likes of Instagram over the past few years.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) told Sky that since the influencer boom took off its warned hundreds of social media stars over their failure to be transparent with their followers about when content has been sponsored or paid for by a brand.

As per the guidelines set by the ASA's regulatory arm, the Committee for Advertising Practice (CAP), both brands and influencers have a responsibility to ensure consumers are made aware that content is sponsored before they engage with it.

Among those who have faced official investigations and subsequent bans from the ASA are Love Island star Olivia Buckland and Made In Chelsea cast member Louise Thompson who failed to disclose that one of her Instagram posts was in fact an ad for watchmaker Daniel Wellington.

Last year, the regulator revealed that it was readying for a crackdown on brands and platforms that do not properly signpost such images or videos. It then launched a probe into online advertising – including social media posts and 'native' editorial content.

The review will investigate whether current guidelines around both influencer deals and sponsored content printed by online publishers are fit for purpose, with Guy Parker, the watchdog’s chief executive, saying: “People shouldn’t have to play the detective to work out if they’re being advertised to. That means the status of a tweet, blog, vlog, Instagram post or story should be clear.”

Separately, the government's Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is running its own investigation looking at the problem of social stars failing to signpost brand deals.

A 2018 study from the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) found that 65% of multinational brands had plans to increase their influencer investment in the coming 12 months, with Instagram being the main target.

While brands are funneling larger slices of their budget into the medium, issues with disclosure and measurement have been highlighted by some of the world's biggest spenders.

Last year, Unilever's outgoing chief marketing officer Keith Weed said concerns around influencer fraud and fake followers were damaging trust in the space.

With Twitter and YouTube purging inauthentic accounts and Instagram recently announcing measures to stop people buying followers, Weed recently told The Drum he’s happy with the progress in the market.

“If we can keep this momentum, I think this time next year the influencer marketing industry will have been transformed,” he admitted.

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