ASA decisions: NZ Instagram influencers caught out for not classifying ads as ads

Influencers caught out not calling ads ads.
Photo credit: Getty

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has caught out seven Kiwi influencers for not correctly identifying social media posts as advertisements on Instagram. 

Well-known influencers such as Ash Owens, Sophie Clark and The Bachelor New Zealand winner Vianni Bright have come under-fire for posting pictures of products they were gifted or paid to promote without labelling them as advertisements. 

Forgoing the correct labelling of content featuring gifted items is a common theme among recent ASA decisions.

The ASA states influencers are responsible for ensuring their followers are aware sponsored posts or pictures featuring gifted products are advertisements. Although sharing casual photos of a gifted item may not be what the average person considers an advertisement, the ASA says it is. 

The ASA's definition of an advertisement is: "Any message, the content of which is controlled directly or indirectly by the advertiser, expressed in any language and communicated in any medium with the intent to influence the choice, opinion or behaviour of those to whom it is addressed."

Gifted items often fall into this category as there is usually a mutual agreement between a brand and an influencer that the product will be posted to social media. 

The following Kiwi influencers have had complaints against their Instagram posts settled between March 22 and March 30, 2021: 

@viarnibright - 23,100 followers


Winner of The Bachelor New Zealand in 2017, Viarni Bright has been caught out wearing a gifted item in an Instagram post without clearly labelling it as an advertisement. 

Bright shared an image of herself wearing a dress from rental company Designer Wardrobe to her 23,100 followers, tagging the brand in both the photo and caption. 

There was no disclosure as to whether the post was an advertisement.

The complainant was concerned Bright was advertising the company in the post without clarification. 

The ASA found the post to be in breach of Principle 2: Truthful Presentation and Rule 2(a) Identification, meaning the post was seen to be misleading and difficult to identify as an ad. 

After receiving the complaint Bright amended the post to include the hashtags #gifted and #ad. 

@ashowens - 21,100 followers


Instagram influencer Ash Owens posted several images to her stories which show her using products from skincare company Dermalogica. The complainant was concerned Owens had been gifted the products and had failed to label her stories as advertisements.

Like Bright, Owens' ad faux pas was found to be in breach of truthful presentation and advertisement identification. 

Owens apologised for the stories, which are no longer online, and said she understood each frame of an Instagram story needed to be labelled. 

@nicole.and.her.girls - 7621 followers


Earlier this year, influencer Simone Anderson had three ASA complaints upheld against her. One was for wearing activewear brand Aim'n in a post and not disclosing her commercial relationship with the company. Anderson is a paid ambassador for the brand and although she had no intention of promoting the brand in the image, it was still classed as an advertisement. 

Now, a complainant has highlighted this decision in their complaint about influencer Nicole Alyce.

"Nicole is a brand ambassador for Aim'n with an ongoing affiliate code," the complaint read.  

"She is getting financial gain from posting about Aim'n. She is wearing Aim'n and hasn't put AD - I saw you upheld Simone Anderson for the same thing. So she should be upheld to." 

Alyce updated the posts to read "ad" and the complaint was settled. 

@hannahmellsop - 11,200 followers


Instagram influencer Hannah Mellsop posted stories of her workout at the Bout Fitness gym to her page @hannahmellsop. The stories featured the text, "gosh I love this place AMBASSADOR." 

The complainant was concerned Mellsop failed to tag her gym ambassador role as an advertisement. 

Mellsop acknowledged the label "ambassador" didn't clearly establish whether the since expired story was an advertisement. She confirmed to the ASA she understood the rules for identifying advertisements and made a commitment to label future posts correctly. 

@iamsoph - 627,000 followers


Instagram influencer Sophie Clark shared images showing baby apparel and toys from a range of companies including Hunter and Heau, Jellycat Official and Lily and George Toys without labelling them as ads. 

The complainant said Clark was advertising gifted items without an "ad" tag.

Upon receiving the complaint Clark acknowledged the stories, which are no longer on her page, should have been labelled as advertisements. Clark then amended the posts which were still up to include the "ad" label. 

@thestyleinsider - 22,100 followers


Leonie Barlow posted multiple stories wearing footwear from the company Sole Shoes NZ, without identifying the posts as advertisements.

"Is this lady not advertising the shoe company? There is no mention of advert on her post," the complainant said. 

The complaint was settled after Barlow acknowledged the stories should have been labelled as advertisements and deleted them 

@mattandnattravelthat - 179 followers


Matt and Nat, who document their travel via Instagram, posted a photo to their page showcasing their day in a sea kayak in Marlborough.

They captioned it: "On our awesome Kayak adventure in the Marlborough Sounds with @sea_kayak_adventures…This is a #mustdomarlborough 10/10 Highly recommend."

The post was not identified as an ad, but the complainant believed there was a commercial partnership between Matt, Nat and Marlborough tourism companies. 

"It is not clear in [their] Instagram posts but it appears that these activities are some kind of partnership between not only themselves and Marlborough NZ (I think that is Destination Marlborough) but also the activity provider as well in this case Sea Kayaking adventures," the complainant wrote. 

The complaint was settled after Matt and Nat agreed the post should have been labelled and amended it to do so.