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How to tell when an Instagram post is actually an ad

With all of the #ads on social media, it can be hard to tell what's real when scrolling through your feed.

CALIFORNIA, USA — You're scrolling through Instagram. You see your favorite celebrity has posted a new photo. It looks normal enough, until you notice they've tagged a product that they are enthusiastically telling you is "a must have."

Then, you look closer. There it is in their collection of hashtags... #ad.

Much like when celebrities do advertisements for TV or magazines, influencers and Instagrammers are getting paid for every #ad on your feed. However, that individual may or may not have actually tried the product they are endorsing, so if you see a post with that specific hashtag, be sure to take it with a grain of salt.

As part of a new initiative on the social media platform to make users aware of which posts are sponsored content, Instagram posts that are advertisements should say #ad in the caption.

There are also several other ways to tell if an Instagram post is an advertisement:

  • Is a specific product featured prominently?
  • Did the influencer or celebrity tag a company or brand?
  • Have they included some kind of offer code or discount in their post? Look out for the phrase "use my code," as influencers can get paid for referring a certain amount of people, as well.
  • Is the post linking out to content on another site?

It is important to look out for these signs when determining if an Instagram post is actually an ad. Though it is illegal for brands or individuals to post sponsored content without disclosing it, there are always some posts that can slip through the cracks.

The Advertising Standards Agency [ASA], which recently created an Influencer's Guide to advertising, has had to ban posts in the past that failed to identify as an advert. The problem with Instagram #ads not being properly labeled stirred online controversy when it became clear that certain brands, such as Flat Tummy Co., were influencing buyers through celebrity endorsements on Instagram. 

Flat Tummy products contain a laxative ingredient and have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Many social media users have commented the dangers of endorsing such a product without clearly disclosing it as an advertisement.

If you come across an ad for a product that you'd like to try, here is what you can do to make sure that product is safe:

  • Do your own research on the product.
  • Learn about the ingredients or materials of the product.
  • Read up on the company that makes the product. Do they seem like a reputable business?
  • Check out real testimonials from people who have actually used the product.

More and more, brands are focusing on paid advertising in order to be heard through the social media chatter. Often, these posts include a celebrity appearing to use the product (even if they haven't in reality). As such, these posts often look as if the celebrity is truly giving a recommendation based on their genuine opinion.The user is none the wiser.

However, celebrities and influencers are paid by companies to create these posts and might never have tried the product they are pushing you to buy. 

Always be aware of #ads on Instagram, and report posts that you strongly believe to be sponsored content. 



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