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ASA ruling on “#brand ambassador” – Cocoa Brown

Published on 21 January 2020

Does the use of “#brand ambassador” in an Instagram caption make the post easily identifiable as an ad?

The key takeaway

According to the ASA, the term “#brand ambassador” is not sufficient to identify a post as an ad. In order to comply with the CAP Code rules on recognition of marketing communications, the ASA requires a clear, prominent identifier such as the term “#ad” in content that comes under the marketing communications umbrella. 

The ad

An Instagram post on TV personality Olivia Buckland’s page, seen on 12 February 2019, featured an image of Olivia holding a pink bottle with the logo “CB” visible on it.
The visible caption on the post stated “The V-Day prep is well underway and I’m topping up my tan with my fave @cocoabrowntan by @marissacarter 1 HOUR TAN MOUSSE … more”. Once the caption was clicked on, additional text stated “Original –it gives me such a natural glow with no streaks and is the perfect accessory for date night with bae [heart eye emoji] Get yours now @superdrug #TeamCB #CocoaBrownTan #ValentinesDay #BrandAmbassador”.

The complaint

The complainant challenged whether the post was obviously identifiable as a marketing communication.

The response

Cocoa Brown said they advised Olivia that “#ad” should be used on all future posts on Instagram. Olivia Buckland said that “#brand ambassador” was used on the post, in addition to her Instagram Bio. Olivia provided a dictionary definition of a “brand ambassador” as “a person who is paid or given free products by a company in exchange for wearing or using its products and trying to encourage others to do so” and stated that she believed this made clear that some of her posts were marketing communications.

The decision

The ASA understood that as a “brand ambassador” for Cocoa Brown, Olivia Buckland was paid to market their products, and that Cocoa Brown had some control over any content she produced in relation to their products. The ASA therefore concluded the post was a marketing communication which fell within its remit.

The ASA considered whether the post was obviously identifiable as a marketing communication. The ASA held that the inclusion of the term “#brand ambassador” in Ms Buckland’s Instagram bio was unlikely to be seen by Instagram users at the point they were viewing individual advertising posts and as such this was insufficiently prominent to ensure that individual posts were each obviously identifiable as ads. 

While the term “brand ambassador” was likely to suggest to readers a general relationship with the brand, the ASA considered that it was unlikely to convey that Cocoa Brown had both paid for and had a level of control over the content of the post.

Additionally, the ASA then assessed the post as it would have appeared in-feed and considered that there was nothing in its content, such as “#ad” placed upfront, that made clear to those viewing it that it was an ad.

The ASA upheld the complaint that the post was not obviously identifiable as a marketing communication and breached CAP Code rules 2.1 and 2.4 (recognition of marketing communications).

Why is this important?

The term “#brand ambassador” is not sufficient to differentiate between posts that are marketing communications and those that are not. The recent rulings by the ASA indicate that the term “#ad” (or “advert”, “advertising” or “advertisement”) is the only sufficiently clear identifier for marketing communications. 

Any practical tips?

The term “#brand ambassador” can still be used within a caption of a post or bio. However, if you want an influencer to be a “brand ambassador”, any paid-for-posts (or any other content that would be considered a marketing communication) must also include the term “#ad” and this must be placed prominently within the caption (prominently being upfront rather than in a bio or a click away caption).