Who’d have thought #muffboss would be an inadequate ad disclosure marker? Apparently not everyone, curiously. The ASA took Laura Whitmore ‘to school’ recently over her social media promotions for Muff Liquor (geddit … I mean, good grief).
Whitmore is the host of Love Island TV reality show but also co-owner of Muff Liquor. Last year she uploaded an Instagram post for The Muff Liquor Company and included the caption: “If drinks were dance moves @muffliquorco #makemineamuff #muffboss #irishowned”.
Someone complained to the advertising regulator. They understood that Ms Whitmore was an investor in The Muff Liquor Company. They challenged whether the ads were obviously identifiable as marketing communications.
In response, the company clarified that Ms Whitmore was not paid for the ads, and confirmed that she was a shareholder of The Muff Liquor Company. The company believed that the use of hashtags featured in the captions of the ads, namely “#muffboss” and “#irishowned”, made it clear that Ms Whitmore was an investor.
Not so, said the ASA. The ad regulator “considered the meaning of “#muffboss” was not clear.” Not clear? I should cocoa! The ASA concluded that Whitmore’s ads were “not obviously identifiable as marketing communications and did not make clear its commercial intent”.
Creator owned and operated brands
Whitmore is an investor in the Muff Liquor Company. As such she has a commercial relationship with the brand. And, a commercial interest in the continued sale and success of its products. Each and every one of her posts which features Muff Liquor products must be marked as advertisements. This is irrespective of whether Whitmore is paid directly to produce and publish the ad.
Past posts from Whitmore had announced that she was a shareholder. Regular followers might have been aware that a commercial relationship existed. But, said the ASA, each post should be able to be viewed in isolation - and social media users shouldn't have to play the detective to determine whether the content is organic or paid-for.
RELATED READ: Logan Paul’s cautionary tale for creator-owned brands
The ASA’s ruling here provides very helpful guidance for how to treat the commercial content of creator-owned products. This is important. We will continue to see a rash of new creator-owned and operated products both launched and promoted as creators look to expand their revenue streams beyond solely being reliant on social media.
Many are already wildly successful: Emma Chamberlain’s coffee, MrBeast’s chocolate and burgers, David Dobrik’s pizza. Logan Paul and KSI’s sports drink. Many more creators will successfully build their own brands beyond content in 2023.
But, as they say on QVC … that’s not all. The ruling outlines well the regulator’s stance on the promotion of alcohol on social media especially via influencers who may have younger audiences.
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A version of this article first appeared on February 15 as a column for the Influencer Marketing Digest - the weekly newsletter I am commissioned to write for Fourth Floor. You can sign up to receive the newsletter here.