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ASA pushed to prevent influencers and brands from selling 'perfectionism'

Application made to ASA in attempt to regulate influencers and advertising against selling perfectionism

An application it set to be made to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and Instagram to introduce a new code that will prevent brands and influencers from promoting "perfectionism".

The initiative is being led by Chris Ward, a former creative director of Comic Relief and 1Goal (an organisation which focused on driving the legacy left by the Fifa World Cup).

Ward has recently penned a book highlighting the problems caused by perfectionism, a condition he argues sees the sufferer constantly strive to achieve flawlessness. The issue has been described as "an epidemic" and "a public health issue" by researchers, and in 2017, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recognized the effects of perfectionism within its report; ‘Depression and Other Common Mental Disorders.”

Ward intends to submit a 50-page application to the ASA highlighting how influencers are selling idealistic images of their lifestyle, leaving followers feeling unsatisfied about their own aspirations.

Currently, UK influencers who promote products on their social media feeds are instructed by the ASA to include the hashtag #ad in their posts to indicate that they have been paid to create and distribute a message. However, Ward's application to the ASA, which cites a number of articles and posts from Instagram, argues that the ruling should be updated so that #influencer is used instead.

“This is in-order to provide critical context to the advertisement. Advertisers should not be allowed to pay influencers to post an #ad where the influencer does not hashtag all their posts on the same account with #influencer.

"At a minimum, these [rules] would apply to all marketing communications targeted at those under 18 but [would be of most] benefit to positive mental health, to all consumers,” the application explains.

Talking to The Drum about the application, Ward explained some symptoms of perfectionism can be triggered through advertising: “[Sufferers] believe if we can make things perfect, we will be validated. We will feel loved and whole. And the epidemic is caused by social media pressure, which is probably obvious in this field. Academic pressure and advertising pressure [contribute too]. And essentially it all stems from neoliberalism…

"[Advertising is] regulated, but [it has sold the idea that] if you work harder, you earn more money, your house would be bigger, you'll be happier, and that [has worked] for 20 or 30 years until probably 2008, until the [economic] crash and until the internet [started] to go through government regulation.

"Now we have zero-hour contracts, which is unbelievable. And all the profit is unregulated and untaxed. But in those 20 or 30 years, it meant that everything has become measured and graded and you achieve based on success… humans have become about success.”

As to how advertisers could make a difference, Ward continued to explain that it should stop putting pressure on young people to be perfect.

“Let's lead the way and say ‘we're not going to do it anymore,’ and therefore hopefully social media platforms could follow suit and say that we won't allow any sort of imagery of perfection around advertising on our platforms.

"For me, one of the major problems is that on social media, when an influencer creates an ad, they have to hashtag it ‘ad’ but they don't have to hashtag any of their other posts whatsoever. So it completely loses the context.

"There's no context. So they've benefited from that ad without actually having to put the context down… a social media influencer is like a magazine, but a young person doesn't know that… every post should really be tagged.”

Ward doesn’t believe that influencers, in the main, understand the impact their posts can have in adding such pressure to their followers.

“They could potentially be some of the real sufferers of this because one of the other ways of trying to, feel validation is by becoming famous and becoming famous is almost presenting itself that way these days.

"You don't need to have any particular skill and having a perfect body and getting on TV or presenting on social media seems to be one of the main ways of becoming an influence.”

Asked whether he believes that the implementation of this regulation could save lives, Ward confirms that he does.

“I genuinely believe that. Yes, definitely. And especially [for] young teenagers who are first coming into social media and first coming into advertising, they don't understand it and get bombarded with perfect imagery… also cosmetic surgery is [being sold to people who are] so young, and the demand from schools and parents isn't particularly great, they just say; ‘get on with it’ because that's what we [our generation was] told when we were growing up.”

At the time of writing the ASA would not comment without having reviewed the application in full.

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