With 9.4 million followers on Instagram and 4.82 million subscribers on YouTube, Zoe Sugg isn't exactly new to the influencer game — but that doesn't mean she's playing it perfectly.
On Wednesday, the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) warned Sugg to be more careful about how she disclosed paid-for posts, after the regulatory body ruled that a post to the British influencer's Instagram Story, which contained an affiliate link to shop at Asos, was not clearly marked as such.
The Instagram Story flagged by the ASA featured an image of Sugg wearing a floral maxi dress, with the accompanying text reading: "Lots of you loving the dress I'm wearing in my newest photos!...it's from @missselfridge Swipe up to shop… (Also popped it on my @liketoknowit profile if you'd rather shop straight from the app)." While she did write "*affiliate" at the bottom right-hand edge of the frame, it was obscured by the Direct Message icon.
The case made by the ASA against Sugg hinged on two things: First, that the word "affiliate" was largely hidden in the slide, and second, that the word "affiliate" on its own doesn't make it clear to followers that what they're looking at is ad content.
Though both Sugg and Asos pointed to past studies on how consumers identify whether or not something is an ad in defense of the post, the ASA ultimately ruled against them, also based on previous advertising research.
"In no example where 'affiliate' was used in isolation did more than 45% of participants recognize it as an ad, and the low levels of recognition of ads in the research overall demonstrated the difficulties of obviously differentiating ads from other content on social media platforms," the ASA explained. "We considered that the term 'affiliate' was therefore unlikely to be sufficiently clear as a standalone label to ensure affiliate ads were obviously identifiable."
What does this mean for Sugg and other influencers moving forward? Honestly, not all that much: She's mostly walking away with a slap on the wrist this time, being told by the ASA that "the ad must not appear again in the form complained about." She was also warned that future use of affiliate links should include "a clear and prominent identifier such as '#ad.'"
But considering that there aren't any real repercussions for Sugg having slipped up, who knows how much of a difference that warning will make.