Supplementary written evidence submitted by the Advertising Standards Authority


4 February 2022

ASA system supplementary submission to the Digital Culture Media and Sport Committee’s inquiry into influencer marketing

1.       Supplementary submission


1.1.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The ASA system originally submitted written evidence to this inquiry in May 2021. This submission provides an update on our work in the last eight months.


1.2.   We have escalated our sanctions against influencers for ongoing non-compliance with the Advertising Code.  This follows our proactive monitoring sweeps of over 24,000 Instagram posts by 122 influencers to establish how many were correctly disclosing when their posts were ads.  We focussed our efforts on these influencers because the ASA had previously had cause to contact them about their inadequate disclosure of paid-for posts.  We have harnessed technology, in particular data science, to help us better identify at pace and scale those posts that are likely to be non-compliant and to take action to tackle them.


1.3.   In June 2021, we created a bespoke sanction for influencers: our non-compliant social media influencer page which highlights  those influencers who, despite fair warning and being provided with help and guidance, have been unwilling or unable to stick to the rules on ad disclosure. We consider it is fair and proportionate to place on this page for three months those influencers who, after previous correspondence and regulatory action against them, remain non-compliant.  This gives us time to establish that the sanction is having an effect and monitor whether a behavioural change has occurred. i.e. they come into compliance, which is especially important for Stories, which disappear after 24 hours.


1.4.   Fifteen influencers have been named so far for failing to sufficiently label their ads and were subject to a period of enhanced monitoring spot checks. Ten of those (as of January 2022) have now been removed after their behaviour improved, which evidences the value and effect of the sanctions. Brands have mentioned to us that they’re using the page before deciding who to work with, underlining its effectiveness as a sanction.  Platforms have also used it (our non-compliant influencers page) as a source of intelligence, as mentioned in evidence given to the Committee.


1.5.   In January 2022 we further escalated our sanctions, placing On-Platform Targeted Ads against six influencers for consistently failing to disclose ads on their Instagram accounts despite being placed on our non-compliant social media influencer page. Our targeted Instagram ads alerted Instagram users to the influencers failure to follow the rules.


1.6.   Those ads have been viewed 1,196,681 times and the six influencers are now complying with our rules. Whilst we have removed all sanctions, we are continuing to monitor them to ensure their welcome change in approach to ad disclosure is not temporary


1.7.   If influencers refuse to come back into compliance despite sanctions such as these, we will have no hesitation in escalating the sanctions again: seeking platform-level support to address the non-compliance and putting in place the necessary steps to refer them to our legal enforcement backstop e.g. Trading Standards, and CMA.


1.8.   In support of our influencer enforcement work, our Data Science team has developed and deployed into production a suite of machine learning algorithms that can significantly help us determining if an Instagram Story is likely to be an ad, and if it appears to be correctly labelled.  These algorithms are helping our compliance teams to sort through influencer content more quickly and efficiently. 


1.9.   These algorithms are currently targeted at Stories produced by influencers who have either already been sanctioned by the ASA for non-compliance with the rules or are of interest to our compliance team because of recent complaints.  Every Story they produce is captured and scored by our tools to determine the likelihood of non-compliance. This allows the team to be quickly alerted to problematic content while spending less time manually monitoring influencers. Using our data science capabilities, the compliance team also now receives other insight into topics such as trends in compliance over time and the ability to search for brands and products, even when those products appear as text embedded in images and videos.


1.10.                      We’re always trying to find new and creative ways to raise awareness about the advertising rules. In October 2021, we partnered with TikTok and nine content creators to raise awareness about the rules that are in place for influencers. The videos the content creators made provided top tips on how to make sure anyone who promotes a brand or product follows the rules and advertises responsibly.  The videos focussed on key areas advertisers need to be aware of. Specifically:



1.11. We’re also exploring how we might standardise across a range of online platforms the cooperation we receive from key social media platforms to help promote and uphold advertising standards online, as part of our efforts to promote greater transparency and accountability in online ad regulation. Government has signalled its support for this initiative and made clear it will be watching closely the progress we make.