The Federal Trade Commission has been closely watching the Instagram accounts of 90 celebrity influencers, including models, actors and athletes—and it’s not because they post so many hot selfies. The FTC is a government agency that protects consumers from unfair or deceptive practices, and it sent letters to the celebrities warning them to more clearly disclose their relationships with brands. This Kim Kardashian post originally only had the hashtag #sp at the end of the caption, but has since been updated to include the more obvious #ad hashtag:
While the FTC didn’t say which celebrities had broken the rules, the organization Public Citizen wrote two letters to the Commission last year detailing specific offenses by A-list Instagrammers including 50 Cent, David Beckham, Ciara, Drake, Bella Hadid, Gigi Hadid, Kylie Jenner, Lucy Hale, Anne Hathaway, Dwight Howard, Kendall Jenner, Khloe Kardashian, Kourtney Kardashian, Heidi Klum, Blake Lively, Demi Lovato, Michael Phelps, Emily Ratajkowski, Rihanna, Amber Rose, Bella Thorne, Sofia Vergara, Pharrell Williams and Zendaya.
Whenever influencers are promoting specific products because they’ve been paid, they received something for free, or they’ve benefited from a relationship with the company in other ways, the FTC wants related posts to have the #ad hashtag in the first three lines of the caption, so that Instagram users don’t have to click “More” to see it. In the letter, the FTC emphasized that less obvious wording is unacceptable, because “many consumers will not understand a disclosure like ‘#sp,’ ‘Thanks [Brand],’ or ‘#partner’ in an Instagram post to mean that the post is sponsored.”
Despite the warning letter, the FTC admits it is unlikely to take legal action against the offending Instagrammers. According to their guidelines, “If law enforcement becomes necessary, our focus usually will be on advertisers or their ad agencies and public relations firms. Action against an individual endorser, however, might be appropriate in certain circumstances.”
It seems like the guidelines call for some celebrities to identify nearly every post as an ad. Scrolling through the Instagram feeds of Gigi and Bella Hadid, for example, nearly every image involves an ad campaign, magazine, or endorsement deal. When your livelihood involves promoting things, is it even possible to create a post that ISN’T an ad?