The days of free play by influencers are over. As a social media user, it becomes harder and harder to distinguish whether you are dealing with real content or an ad. This is in breach with laws that protect consumers. Consumers should be made aware that they are seeing an ad instead of a sincere post. That a lot of consumers think so too, becomes clear in posts like this:

Online users are not happy with the way things are going right now. We see someone sitting on the bed in a way to perfect way, acting as if it’s just another monday morning, but actually it is a Listerine ad. This gives us a feeling of deception.

In the US, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has already taken action to protect consumers from non-explicit advertising on Instagram. They are not only enforcing this law by pressing charges, but they also sent warning letters to 21 prominent Instagram influencers. In these letters, the FTC warns to always make any connection with a brand explicit: “To make a disclosure both “clear” and “conspicuous,” you should use unambiguous language and make the disclosure stand out”.

Instagram responded to this with creating a new feature for influencers. Maybe you’ve already spotted them: you can indicate above a post that it is a paid partnership. This feature is available for both Instagram posts and Instagram Stories, and must be activated by the brand and by the influencer. However, the FTC still thinks this is not enough.

Also, science says that this way of disclosing is not effective. A study by Wojdynski and Evans (2017) states that disclosures of advertisements should always be in the middle of the screen, or at the bottom. So Instagram, definitely not at the top!

It is likely that Instagram doesn’t want their users to notice the paid partnerships. When users notice that it’s about a sponsorship, they tend to evaluate the message more negatively (Wojdynski & Evans, 2017; Friestad & Wright, 1994; Tutaj & van Reijmersdal, 2012). And the attitude people have towards a post is likely to spill over to the complete medium (Wojdynksi & Evans, 2016), meaning that: when you think posts on Instagram suck, the whole app sucks. And of course Instagram wants happy users.

So, Instagram did take a step in the right direction, by giving users the option to indicate that it’s a paid sponsorship. However, this is not a very effective one. What will Instagram do next?