Influencers and brands have been told by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority not to apply filters to images in paid-for posts if they exaggerate the beauty product's impact.
The guidance on the issue comes after the ASA upheld two complaints. The first related to two Instagram stories from the brand Skinny Tan, seen in July 2020, which included in-app "beauty filters" designed to enhance a person’s appearance. Both ads, which featured influencer Elly Norris, were reposted by Skinny Tan on its own brand account and because they were incorporated into its own marketing, they fell within the remit of the ASA's CAP Code.
The second case also related to an Instagram story, by influencer Cinzia Baylis-Zullo, seen in July 2020, which promoted We Are Luxe t/a Tanologist Tan and included a video of her applying the product using the “Yourbeauty by giorgiopivaa_” filter.
The ASA said: "We considered that the use of filters in ads was not inherently problematic, but that advertisers of cosmetic products needed to take particular care not to exaggerate or otherwise mislead consumers regarding the product advertised."
Under the new guidance, brands, influencers and celebrities are advised not to apply filters to photos that promote beauty products if such filters are likely to exaggerate the effect the product can achieve. This applies even if the name of the filter is referenced in the Instagram story.
The ASA said the issue came to light via the #filterdrop campaign by make-up artist and model Sasha Louise Pallari. The campaign encourages Instagram users to post pictures of themselves without any editing to produce a feed of realistic, nature images.
Pallari told the BBC: "I feel like the detrimental effect this is having on social media users has finally been taken seriously and this is a huge step in the right direction for how filters are used and the way cosmetics are advertised online."
Liam Keogh, director at Palm PR, said: “Whilst this new ASA ruling applies specifically to beauty, skincare and cosmetics, all brands should carefully consider the use of filters in their influencer campaigns. From fashion to fitness and food and drink, if agencies are promoting products that claim to improve the consumer’s aesthetic then they need to be extremely careful that digital tools, like filters, and apps, like Face Tune, aren’t giving shoppers the wrong impression.
"Some will argue that this is no different from the airbrushing that has gone on in the world of media and advertising for decades, but every brand and agency has an interest in maintaining consumer trust in the new medium of influencer marketing.
“If the industry’s actions erode this trust, then over time influencer marketing will become less powerful. Creating and publicising authentic and realistic content for brands is in the interests of both the consumer and the industry.”