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Instagrammers who make a profit off a product in which they sponsor should be required to use hashtags such as #ad or #sponsored purely for the sake of being transparent with their viewers and fanbases. If an Instagrammer is not using such hashtags, then it can be construed that their reviews are honest and straight from the heart, rather than paid for by the company in which they are advertising for; if a fan or viewer saw the caption and thought the Instagrammer's words were a genuine review, then this would be incredibly misleading. If one is sponsored by a product, then they should be upfront about it. We see this on other social media platforms, publications and product reviews on websites such as Amazon.
Buzzfeed, for example, has begun using their content to make a profit off sponsored items. They will have a writer generate a list of products, often from websites such as Amazon or JET, that all have a similar theme, whether it's kitchen products or comfy clothes that are good for lounging around the house. At the top of their article, however, there is a disclaimer that reads, "We hope you love the products we recommend! Just so you know, BuzzFeed may collect a small share of sales from the links on this page." That "may" in there lets the reader know that while this listicle was created for their amusement and convenience, it also serves as an avenue for profit for Amazon, and therefore serves as an advertorial that directly benefits Buzzfeed financially. That disclaimer differentiates their news coverage and entertainment articles from their advertorial pieces. This is extremely important when it comes to a publication's credibility and trustworthiness. Had they hidden the fact that they profited from the sales associated with the link clicks, then their viewers likely wouldn't trust their news coverage as being authentic. Instagram posts are no exception.
On Amazon, if one's purchase is verified, then they have the option of writing a review. Often times, when a product is starting out or needs some positive publicity, the company selling the product, will allow Amazon patrons to try the product for free in return for an honest review. Those who review the products are required to disclaim that they received the product for free in return for honest feedback. Without this, customers would not be able to differentiate those verified purchasers who received the product for free versus those who paid cold-hard cash.
Instagrammers using the #ad or #sponsored do their part in differentiating one's honest opinion from a full-blown advertisement. It's not about whether someone can tell a product is sponsored or not based purely on the post; it's about whether the Instagrammer is credible and honest with his or her following base. Transparency goes a long way in this business.
Rachel Ettlinger, a student in Jon Pfeiffer's Spring 2018 Media Law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the following question:Do Instagrammers really need to use hashtags like #ad or #sponsored? Isn't that tacky? Can't people tell that it's sponsored content without them?
Contact Jon and his team today.