From Stories to posts: How to spot advertising on Instagram

19 Mar 2019 Becca Cawthorne

From bloggers and ‘Instagram stars’ to celebrities, there are a lot of people on Instagram sharing sponsored posts or product endorsements. In this blog we share our top tips for being a critical thinker when it comes to advertising on Instagram.

Advertisements on Instagram can appear in many different places, from posts in your newsfeed to videos or pictures on Instagram Stories. You can spot these adverts by looking out for the ‘Sponsored’ or ‘ad’ label on the image or video.

However, it can be harder to spot if someone you follow has been paid to promote or endorse a particular product, service or place.

Celebrity promotions on Instagram

On Instagram it’s not unusual to see your favourite celebrity talking about their new makeup, clothes or holiday, but how do you know if they’ve been paid for these posts? We’ve looked at some easy ways to spot advertisements on Instagram.

Our top tips:

Look out for hashtags

Although this isn’t always the case, one of the easiest ways to spot sponsorship is through the hashtags used on the post. Many celebrities will use the hashtags #spon, #sp or #ad to show that they have been paid to promote a product as well as the more obvious #Sponsored or #Promotion.

There has also recently been a rise in celebrities using other, more subtle hashtags when they post about a products, these include:

  • #gifted: to show they have been sent a product for free.
  • #invited: when they are attending somewhere for free or have been paid to attend, this could include restaurants or hotels.
  • #aff or #affiliated: this is when a celebrity has been paid to work with a brand in creating a new product.
  • #spon or #sp: these are abbreviations of ‘sponsored’ and are used when someone has been paid to post about a product.

Look at how the picture is taken

Always think about what is in the picture: is a product the main focus of a picture or is it simply coincidental? Think about why a celebrity would have posted a picture of an item and if the style of photo is in keeping with the content that they usually post.

A lot of celebrities are sponsored to promote particular clothing items or brands, these photos are usually solely about this item, either a close up of it, or a full length image tagging the company.

Check carefully right to the bottom

On mobile Instagram, only the first three lines of text are usually shown. By clicking ‘read more’ at the bottom of a post you can check if the celerity has posted an indication that they have been sponsored further down in the post.

Use critical thinking skills

Who? Who posted the image? Are they reliable and what other content do they usually post? Are they coming from a particular perspective?  Think about what they gain from posting this image.

What?  What did they say about the image? Could the image have been edited or show a limited perspective?

Why?  Why did they post it? How did they want you to feel, or what did they want you to do?

How? How is the post written? If a celebrity thanks a brand for a product, then this is usually an initial sign that the celebrity has been paid to promote the product.

Advice for parents and carers

Have an open and honest conversation

Talk to your children about who they follow and what they like to look at on Instagram. Try our conversation starters to start a discussion with your children about what they like to do online.

Discuss adverts

More generally, talk to your children about advertising on Instagram and on other social media sites they use. Discuss why someone might promote a particular product and make them aware that promoted content exists.

Critical thinking resources for schools

The Childnet Trust Me resource is great for starting to think about critical thinking online.

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