Juice cleanses, hyped sneakers, teeth whitening kits, meal replacement regimes – all these are products you might find plugged by celebrities via Instagram, yet they are but a tip of the endorsement iceberg.
Such regulation was set up to monitor street style posts, avocado toast, sneaker-flexing, and the occasional holiday snapshot, presented in a manner that might lead you to double-tap a product that wouldn’t have ordinarily made it into your feed without a hefty bit of cash to back it up. Ordinarily, all sponsored content is supposed to be marked clearly as such. However, the reality is far from being so consistent.
“The only time I’d mark a post with a signifier is if the company puts in that request. I try to make the post as organic as possible,” admits prominent Canadian Instagrammer @Jayscale, speaking to us on the matter.
Let’s not forget that Instagram’s parent company since 2012 is Facebook, a platform with firm ordinances on how advertisements are presented. Yet, Facebook hasn’t cultivated the same aspirational, lifestyle-centric culture as Instagram, meaning a placement on IG can have a lot more penetration than its big blue overseer. This grey area of faux-glamorous lifestyle porn is much harder to police on Instagram, presenting them with a real issue when it comes to controlling revenue and upholding authenticity.
In an official statement on the matter, Instagram emphasized transparency, declaring “…for paid content that is not purchased through Facebook Inc., we think transparency is important, and we mark ads that appear on Instagram as ‘Sponsored.’ Understanding where sponsorships or endorsement deals do or don’t exist is a complex challenge for the industry — online and off, and we are exploring what works best for our community. We encourage everyone in the Instagram community to follow industry best practices around transparency with any sponsored content.”
Hinting at the future of hidden sponsored ads, the company went on to say, “We are watching the Facebook roll-out of the new branded content policy closely. We’ll look to do what’s best for the Instagram community, and at this time, the policy doesn’t transfer to Instagram. As with any reported content violation, we review all reports we receive from the Community based on Instagram’s Community Guidelines and remove content in direct violation of our listed policies.”
This becomes problematic, because a lot of us genuinely discover new products through Instagram in an entirely honest fashion. Now, with many of the platform’s most-followed users transforming their accounts into mannequins for promotion, brands of all shapes and sizes are falling over themselves to “seed” product to these highly visible individuals in the hopes of a shoutout. After all, the cost of one pair of sneakers (in fact, even 50 pairs of sneakers) pales in comparison to the price of genuine advertising space on a platform like IG.
While established news publications will all have a firm grasp of the fundamental rules of sharing content, Instagram personalities are often far less accountable to authority. Last year, the FDA had to step in when Kim Kardashian posted one of her many selfies, this time touting a supplement for morning sickness. Kardashian failed to disclose any side-effects of this pharmaceutical supplement, which is a clear-cut requirement upheld by the administration. The pictures in question were later removed from Instagram and Facebook and labeled as misleading. This is not the first time members of the Kardashian circle have been found guilty of blatant product placement.
Sony, Xbox, and a few other big names have also been stung by the FTC for circumventing fair marketing practices by paying Instagram users to share content under the pretense of an objective opinion. Yet, it doesn’t look like a practice that is going to slow down any time soon.
As this form of advertisement is a relatively modern phenomenon, there’s currently no proper way of filtering or unsubscribing from potential hidden advertisement, like one would perhaps do using pop-up or ad-blocking software in their internet browser. In fact, that’s largely why brands love this method so much – it is both subtle and largely inescapable. Ultimately, how susceptible you are to its effects largely comes down to your own ability to identify and navigate the tactics of the modern marketing machine, where dressing “work” up as “pleasure” is the name of the game.
Exactly how long influencers will keep being able to play such a game, however, remains to be seen…
Written by Madeleine Holth for Highsnobiety