ASA slams KSI and JD Sports for omitting #ad in online post

Published on 07 July 2023

What if a social media post is clearly a piece of marketing? Do you still need to prominently label it with #ad?

The question

What if a social media post is clearly a piece of marketing? Do you still need to prominently label it with #ad?

The key takeaway

Predictably, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld a complaint against popular social media figure KSI when he did not use #ad to obviously identify his Instagram video for JD Sports as a marketing communication. The ASA’s message is simple. Whenever influencers make a marketing post in connection with a brand, they must almost always use #ad.

The background

Olajide Olayinka Williams “JJ” Olatunji, known professionally as KSI, is a well-known YouTuber, rapper and boxer from the UK. In November 2022, he posted a video on his Instagram account of himself and others playing games at a bowling alley and arcade with modern electric music playing in the background. The video included close-up shots of the pair of trainers worn by KSI. KSI also drew attention to his trainers during the video. The other people in the video were depicted wearing sports clothing from popular brands, such as Adidas, North Face and Nike. The end of the video showed the JD Sports logo, below which was the text: “King of the Game”. The caption which accompanied the video stated: “Welcome to the JD Arcade [devil emoji] Head over to the @jdofficial YouTube channel to watch the full-length film #kingofthegame”. The video tagged the Instagram accounts of @jdofficial and @adidasoriginals. Importantly, the post did not feature the hashtag #ad.

The ASA adjudication

The complaint was made on the grounds that the Instagram video was not obviously identifiable as a marketing communication for JD Sports. In response, JD Sports’ stated that their understanding of social media marketing was that the inclusion of hashtag #ad was only required where a post was not already obviously identifiable as a marketing communication. They argued that various aspects of their ad, such as the caption directing viewers to their YouTube channel and mentioning a full-length version, along with the high production value and involvement of 28 celebrities, made it clear that it was created for the purpose of being a marketing communication. They also emphasized that the video had gained significant exposure through prior appearances on TV, billboards and social media, and had been widely discussed due to the numerous celebrity cameos. JD Sports also confirmed that they had a contractual agreement with KSI, which was founded through a third-party agency, to post ads on their behalf. They had agreed on the ad schedule and content with KSI’s representatives, including the specific ad in question.

KSI stated that, at the time at which the Instagram video was posted, he believed that the references to JD Sports in the video’s caption, and the brand’s logo featuring at the end of the video, made clear to consumers that the video was a marketing communication. However, when he became aware of the complaint, he added the hashtag #ad into the caption.

In the ASA’s consideration of the complaint, they looked at a number of key elements, including the contractual relationship between KSI and JD Sports, the elements of the video’s caption and the content of the video itself. In conclusion, the ASA considered that these elements did not amount to a clear statement of the commercial relationship between KSI and JD Sports, which would be immediately understandable to consumers.

Therefore, the ASA ruled that KSI’s Instagram video must not be used again in its current form, ie without the inclusion of hashtag #ad in the video’s caption. Both JD Sports and KSI were warned that any future social media marketing communications must be clearly identifiable as such, for example by utilising the hashtag #ad, as soon as a video is posted, in a clear and prominent way.

Why is this important?

This decision is one in a growing line of upheld adjudications by the ASA against social media posts failing to properly identify themselves as marketing communications, and many of those adjudications relate to situations where the brand and influencer involved believed it was screamingly obvious that the post was an ad. The decision is important because it reinforces that pretty much every marketing communication you can conceive of which is made by a social media influencer needs a prominent and clear #ad disclaimer.

Any practical tips?

If we said it before, we’ll say it again: use #ad when making marketing communication posts by social media influencers, however obvious you think it is that it is clearly an ad.

If you need more on this, see the ASA’s “An Influencer’s Guide to making clear that ads are ads“, which provides a plethora of advice for any social media influencer to ensure that any posts they make for the purpose of marketing communication are clearly identifiable to the consumer.

Summer 2023

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