'Blurry area' for what counts as advertising after influencer's posts found to be misleading in landmark ruling - expert

There are questions over the future of advertising after a landmark case was upheld against an online influencer for misleading posts.

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For the first time, the Advertising Standards Authority have upheld complaints against an influencer for misleading Instagram posts. Source: Breakfast

Four complaints were laid against Simone Anderson, a Kiwi influencer who boasts more than 313,000 followers on Instagram alone.

They centred around whether she had clearly disclosed sponsored content - posts she was paid to do.

This week, the Advertising Standards Authority upheld the complaints and ruled her Instagram posts were misleading.

It's the first time such a ruling has been made against an influencer.

"The crux of the matter is that this particular influencer didn't disclose that this is sponsored content or an advertisement," marketing and communications expert Bodo Lang says.

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Kiwi Instagram star Simon Anderson says the Advertising Standards Authority has made an example of her. Source: 1 NEWS

Normally there's a clear distinction between advertising and editorial content, Dr Lang says, but that boundary is "much, much more blurry" on social media.

"For example, if someone receives a free product - it might be a television - and the brand gives them some information that they might like to have mentioned, but the influencer writes an entire post by him- or herself without direct control of the brand, and they don't sign off on the final post, then that is not considered to be an advertisement," he says.

"There is a grey area there... There are clear rules about this but there are some cases I think perhaps could be clearer."

Dr Lang says these issues with social media are relatively new.

"All the people think, 'I'm not influenced by any of this stuff, I just buy the things because they're good', that's been disproven by many research studies," he says.

"I think we need to be careful about how we regulate social media influencers because they can potentially fly completely under the radar."

As an industry self-regulation body, questions remain over whether the ASA is suitably fit for purpose.

While the Commerce Commission, as a government body, can take companies or people to court if they breach the rules, that's not the case with the ASA.

For Anderson's case, the ASA said using "#gifted" in the post wasn't enough disclosure in a post that was otherwise organic content.

"I think whether the ASA is sufficient or not is really to be seen in how they handle future cases," Dr Lang says.