Don't Blame The Kardashians For Posting "Secret Ads" — Blame Instagram

Photo: MTV/Getty Images.
Instagram isn't just a destination for sharing photos anymore. It's a platform where a growing number of celebrities and influencers are making a living. And perhaps more so than with other social networks, it can be difficult to tell the difference between what is a fun, personal post, and what is, in reality, a paid, promotional advertisement.

This issue is exactly what's at the center of a recently filed FTC complaint against the Kardashians. An advocacy group called Truth In Advertising is alleging that the clan participates in "deceptive marketing campaigns" by not clearly labeling which posts are paid or sponsored, and which ones aren't. In an attempt to address the issue, a recent post from Kim Kardashian now clearly features the hashtag #ad appended to its description, while other, older posts have been updated with the tag retroactively.

But the Kardashians, who've built much of their fame and following based on their social media savvy, are just the poster children for this problem. They are not the only ones who are keeping their sponsored agenda on the down low — not by a long shot. This isn't a Kardashian problem. It's an Instagram problem.
In a way, Instagram culture has evolved such that it's understood that many "professional-looking" posts, let's call them, are sponsored in some way. Whether or not they're labeled as ads, the prolific hashtags and brand callouts imply that a product may have been given for free — if the posts weren't paid for outright. But let's be real: If you're getting paid to include a product in your Instagram shot in any way, that is an advertisement. And right now, there's no official way to convey that explicitly apart from hashtags.

To fix this issue, Instagram needs a new kind of post. Today, you have your regular old posts (which may or may not be sponsored in some way) and paid advertisements Instagram injects into your feed and clearly labels with a "Sponsored" tag on top. Instagram needs a new, third type of post: "Includes Sponsored Content" (or something similar). This label would indicate that the Instagrammer is getting some kind of compensation for their post, whether it be cash or free product, but separates it from a "true" advertisement that brands pay Instagram to run.

Obviously, it would be up to the Instagrammer to include this designation on their posts, but it would behoove them to do so if they want to maintain credibility with their followers and avoid drawing the ire that the Kardashians have recently experienced. It would also eliminate the need for 'grammers such as Kim K. to have to add the hashtag #ad to their posts (and eliminate the issue that could arise if that tag is tucked away, hiding between two dozen other hashtags at the bottom of a post).

This would create greater transparency between influential Instagrammers and those of us who follow them, allowing us to differentiate between something we purchased that we genuinely love, and something that's being promoted in exchange for money.

Instagram influencer culture isn't a secret anymore, and their sponsored posts shouldn't be either. It's time for the app to catch up.

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