“Mobile Mogul” Kim Kardashian and her sisters are in hot water, being accused of deceptive marketing on Instagram by nonprofit Truth in Advertising.
After a team of four examined more than 500 posts on each Instagram account of Kim, Khloé and Kourtney Kardashian as well as Kylie and Kendall Jenner, Truth in Advertising discovered that each of them has around 100 posts that “do not clearly or conspicuously disclose their relationships with the companies being promoted in the posts as is required by federal law,” according Bonnie Patten, executive director for Truth in Advertising. The organization has sent a legal letter to the Kardashian family.
“They can simply put three characters — #ad — in their caption,” said Patten. “We hope that these women who have tens of millions of followers can comply with the law.”
Kim Kardashian, for instance, endorsed Jay Z-backed private jet booking startup JetSmarter on Instagram at least five times from April to June of this year. “I’m truly obsessed with the @letsjetsmarter app! I’m a member and it has changed my traveling life! Download the app!”she wrote in one Instagram post, without disclosing if it’s an ad or a piece of sponsored content. JetSmarter didn’t reply to Digiday’s email seeking details.
JetSmarter aside, Truth in Advertising’s legal letter lists other 26 brands — including Puma, Calvin Klein and Estée Lauder — that are suspected of paying the Kardashian clan for endorsements.
“This is another huge wake-up call for brands on how and where they should spend their money,” said Brian Salzman, founder and CEO for agency RQ Media Group. “Pay-to-play is detrimental for brands as they don’t nurture relationships with those celebrities first. Influencer marketing is fundamentally broken — it’s a quick KPI instead of strategic marketing.”
But Aliza Freud, CEO for influencer marketing platform SheSpeaks, stressed that the Kardashians don’t represent the whole influencer marketing industry. “It’s a shame. I think it’s because they treat their social channels as an extension of what they have been doing in their reality show on TV,” said Freud. “By and large, influencers want to comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s endorsement guideline. But the issue is that the compliance is unclear in terms of what they should disclose and how they should disclose.”
The FTC requires that social followers “need to be aware of the relationship between the influencer and the brand.” In SheSpeaks’s August 2016 survey of 347 influencers, 328 responded that they typically tell their followers when a brand has hired them to blog or comment on its products.
Many influencers add hashtags like #ad or #sponsoredcontent to disclose their paid relationships with companies, but that’s not enough, according Freud. “There’s no industry standard right now,” she said. “If you ask five people, they will give you five different answers to what is appropriate in terms of disclosure.”
Of course, the Kardashians are not the first celebrities who are criticized for controversial endorsements on Instagram. Supermodel Naomi Campbell and TV reality start Scott Disick, for example, have both been called out for having simply copied and pasted the marketing instructions from the brand they represented.
In which Scott Disick copied and pasted the email from the skinny tea marketing team onto his Instagram caption pic.twitter.com/ocVdxi4jaZ
— its me frankie (@frankiegreek) May 19, 2016
Truth in Advertising will send a complaint to the FTC by this Wednesday if the organization cannot resolve the issues with the Kardashians by itself, Patten told Digiday.