Money & Business

Advocacy Groups to FTC: Regulate Influencer Marketing on Instagram

By / Sep 12, 2016 Actor Mark Wahlberg, shilling for Nike on Instagram. (Instagram screenshot courtesy Public Citizen)

A number of public-interest groups are calling on the Federal Trade Commission to keep an eye on marketers that are relying on celebrity endorsements without properly disclosing that the stars were paid for their Instagram posts.

If you have enough followers, Instagram can be pretty lucrative. Doubly so if you’re famous.

But the unchartered territory of influencer marketing on social media has a number of advocacy groups asking federal regulators for some clarity. Last week, the leaders of four public-interest groups—Public Citizen, Commercial Alert, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, and the Center for Digital Democracy—called on the Federal Trade Commission to strengthen its rulemaking for what appears on the photo-sharing platform.

“We request that the FTC engage in an affirmative effort to change the culture around paid endorsements on Instagram, and that it act promptly and aggressively,” the letter to the commission stated [PDF]. “We are pleased that FTC representatives have recently made public statements regarding the importance of endorsement disclosures on Instagram. Now is the time to announce and carry out an aggressive enforcement plan, especially regarding repeat offenders.”

Beyond simply highlighting the problem, the letter to the FTC provides dozens of specific examples of Instagram users promoting products without properly disclosing the fact the items are paid endorsements.

You might recognize many of the 113 names mentioned if you’ve watched reality television sometime over the past decade: Farrah Abraham, Kylie Jenner, Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, and Scott Disick are well-represented on the list. But so are major music stars like Rihanna, big-name athletes like Michael Phelps and David Beckham, and popular actors like Chris Pratt and Lindsay Lohan.

The groups are particularly concerned about the fact that many celebrity endorsements tend to be for cosmetics and weight-loss products targeted at teens, “a demographic especially susceptible to advertising preying off of unrealistic standards of beauty.”

The advocacy groups, beyond calling on the FTC to investigate the “serial non-compliance” with the commission’s endorsement policy, are asking the commission to ensure that companies are following set standards for influencer endorsements.

“As demonstrated in an accidental leak by reality TV star Scott Disick, endorsement instructions from marketers often do not come with any instructions for disclosure,” the letter stated [PDF]. “There must be a major effort undertaken to deliver the message that while hidden endorsements may be rampant, they are illegal and will no longer be tolerated.”

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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