Instagram is finally making rules to govern content in influencer advertising.
Influencers, the photo-sharing app’s most-followed users who are paid by brands to post, will no longer be allowed to promote products related to vaping, tobacco and weapons, Instagram said Wednesday in a blog post. The decision came after the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority ruled this week that British American Tobacco can’t use influencer marketing to advertise e-cigarettes. An Instagram representative said the move to ban such posts more broadly was unrelated.
Instagram, owned by Facebook, has long allowed people with thousands or even millions of followers to operate their own sponsored-content operations, outside the Facebook ad-buying system, without the level of oversight applied to the rest of the company’s advertising. For years, the company felt that if an influencer had cultivated an audience willing to hear their messages, Facebook shouldn’t get in the way.
However, there’s been a surge of sponsored content promoted by influencers, so Instagram wants to “establish clear rules to help protect our community,” at least when it comes to vaping, weapons and tobacco, according to a spokeswoman. Facebook already has rules against such products in its official advertising programs.
Instagram reaches a younger demographic than Facebook’s flagship social-media app, and that audience may be more easily swayed by promotions from famous users of the platform. Influencers popular with teens on Instagram have especially helped spread the appeal of e-cigarettes, drawing US Federal Trade Commission scrutiny over their promotional tactics. Beginning next year, Instagram, which recently started requiring new users to disclose their birth dates, will restrict the audience for influencer ads about alcohol and diet supplements.
Having new rules doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll be enforced. A few years ago, after pressure from the FTC on advertising disclosures, Instagram started to require influencers to use a specific branded-content tool to disclose the money behind their posts. Influencers regularly flout that rule with little consequence, and sometimes don’t even disclose whether they are paid to post about a product.