Ad Standards' influencer muddle; the ancient Wiggle; and is the Morning Crew coming or going?

Ad Standards is bogged down in the murky world of influencers

Welcome to Unmade, written while you were sleeping, early on Friday morning.

Happy National Flossing Day. I’ve no idea whether that refers to the act of dental maintenance or the Fortnite dance move, but enjoy either way.

It’s been an intriguing week to be watching British politics up close. Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears to be losing his grip on his leadership as his credibility within his own party and the wider country fades. This week, after a car crash public speech in which he lost his place and meandered into anecdotes about visiting Peppa Pig World, one TV interviewer’s first question to him was “Is everything all right?” It feels like the end game. Nothing like Australian politics of course.

Today, a deep dive into the latest judgements from industry watchdog Ad Standards.

Ad Standards: Sidetracked by the Instagram gang

Ad Standards is an organisation with a foot in two worlds. Funded by the marketing industry, it’s self regulation in action.

Do it well enough and self regulation keeps tougher legislation at bay. So the long game for the industry is the balance between being too soft on brands and risking legislation, or going too hard and creating a hostile marketing environment.

Since the departure of long serving CEO Fiona Jolly in 2020, Ad Standards has had a part time boss, under former Australian Communications and Media Authority chairman Richard Bean, in the role of executive director.

Within Ad Standards, the role of its Community Panel is to assess complaints from the public and rule whether they contravene any of the existing advertising codes. Let’s take a look what the panel has been up to recently…

Ad Standards versus the influencers

Somebody doesn’t like Martha Kalifatidis.

Ad Standards has just dealt with complaints about two separate posts on her Instagram account, for two different brands. We’ll come to that in a moment.

First, I must confess I had to look up exactly who Kalifatidis is. I had a vague feeling she was a former Married At First Sight participant, and even had an inkling she had a reputation as a red wine thrower, but that was about it.

She doesn’t appear to be quite important enough to have a Wikipedia entry of her own. But she does have the next best thing: A page on a spammy Wikipedia knockoff. This is a diversion, but a worthwhile one, as an example of what scraping the SEO barrel looks like. Try reading the following paragraphs aloud for maximum impact:

Martha Kalifatidis whose net worth is around $1 million is an Australian makeup artist, model, and TV personality. She belongs to a Greek-Australian ethnicity. Her parents’ names are Rober Taylor and Barbara Taylor.

She is very close to her brother whose name is Blake Taylor. She gained popularity after she performed in a reality show named “Marriage at first sight 2019”. She also believes that looking pretty good is an essential part of life and shows.

After she had a career, she lived separately and continued her profession. She has some hobbies like traveling all around the world and exploring new places.

In fairness, that’s not a bad summary of an influencer career portfolio. And there’s more, gloriously under-researched detail that would give Matt Doran a run for his money:

The estimated net worth of Martha Kalifatidis is around $1 million.

She has a pretty good and sound income from her profession.

Her parents are some of the wealthiest citizens of Sydney. She lived with them until she became stable in her career.

Before plastic surgery, Martha had botched lips. She also wasn’t comfortable with her nose as well as her breasts. So, because of it, she went under plastic surgery.

She also revealed that she had her nose job done when she was at the age of 22 years and she also previously compared her pre-surgery self to the fictional ogre Shrek.

In an interview, she revealed to NW magazine she has had her breasts surgery.
She also told, ‘I feel like my old nose had an ethnic vibe and it was unique and now I just look like everyone else.’

Martha Kalifatidis has reached the age of 33 years. She was born in the 1987 year in Australia.

Her height is 5 feet and 4 inches tall and weighs around 56 kg. Her eye color is dark brown and her hair color is black.

Is Martha On Instagram? Yes, Martha is on Instagram under her ID name @marthaa__k. She has 609K Followers on her Instagram account.

Yes indeed. Martha is on Instagram. She posts a lot of sponsored content.

And the world of influencers has been something Ad Standards has struggled to get on top of. It’s been something of a wild west, with smaller brands unaware that there are even rules about disclosure of commercial arrangements.

But a problem with the self regulation model is that Ad Standards lacks the power to discipline brands that do not want to be regulated.

The success of Ad Standards - which is funded via industry body the Australian Association of National Advertisers - relies on brands being willing to suspend their campaigns when they are found to breach the rules. And the only weapon to back this up is the willingness of the major traditional media platforms to refuse ads from those consistently in breach.

A problem for Ad Standards is the growth of rogue brands, or influencers, that own their own independent platforms.

Once the smaller brands who pay for these sponsorships work out that Ad Standards can’t really touch them - and the ACCC does not seem to be interested in tackling such behaviour as misleading or deceptive conduct - they can please themselves, even if Ad Standards rules against them.

The two complaints that came in against Kalifatidis were for posts on behalf of leisurewear brand Stax and pilates company Fluidform.

In both cases, the complaint was that Kalifatidis had been insufficiently clear that the post was a commercial arrangement.

The Stax complainant wrote: “It is not fair to vulnerable followers when she doesn’t disclose that she is being paid to promote a product.”

Similarly, the complaint the Fluidform post stated: “Not forthcoming with audience that she is paid to promote Fluidform pilates.”

Although the identity of complainants are kept confidential, the similar reference numbers of the two complaints indicate they came in close together, which suggests they might have been from the same person.

In both posts, Kalifatidis shared discount codes for the brands with her followers, but did not label the posts as ads.

Surely an open-and-shut case? Ad Standards has previously warned: “The relationship must be clear, obvious and upfront to the audience and expressed in a way that is easily understood (e.g. #ad, Advert, Advertising, Branded Content, Paid Partnership, Paid promotion). Less clear labels such as #sp, Spon, gifted, Affiliate, Collab, thanks to… or merely mentioning the brand name may not be sufficient to clearly distinguish the post as advertising.” It even backed that up in a couple of previous rulings.

But since then, the lines have blurred again. After ruling that a Samsung promotion by influencer Nadia Fairfax had breached the rules, Ad Standards then changed its mind.

When Samsung appealed back in September, Ad Standards decided that because Fairfax had at least tagged the brand, it should have been obvious to followers that it was an ad. It said: “The Panel considered that the combination of the themes, visuals and language of the ad and the use of the brand and product name multiple times, did mean that the post was clearly commercial in nature.”

In other words, the public are back to having to work it out for themselves. It would seem that the influencers can go back to using vague phrases like “collaboration” or “partnership”. The influencers much prefer that because it makes them seem a tiny bit more authentic. (Ha, ha.)

So with this appeal a fresh new precedent, Kalifatidis was saved from a slap with the Ad Standards wet lettuce.

Ad Standards cleared both posts. Despite Stax not even responding to the investigation, the watchdog ruled on the post: “The Panel considered that the focus of the video and audio on presenting the product, combined with the direct link to the brand page, information on orders, use of a discount code and tagging of the brand all combined in a way which meant that the commercial nature of the post was clear.”

So being shamelessly promotional can keep an influencer out of trouble, even if they don’t fully own up to their followers about the financial nature of the deal.

And on the Fluidform post, the panel ruled in very similar language: “The focus of the video and audio on presenting the product, combined with the direct link to the brand page, use of a discount code and tagging of the brand all combined in a way which meant that the commercial nature of the post was clear. The Panel considered that the relationship between the advertiser and influencer was apparent.”

It’s worth noting that despite being cleared, Kalifatidis appears to have decided to go for greater transparency anyway. Her more recent posts have started including “paid partnership” and “ad” labels. Now she knows she may not need to do that, we’ll see whether she pulls back again.

Are influencers obliged to specifically declare sponsorships or not? It’s now less clear than it was before.

Emaciated on Instagram

A bigger challenge for Ad Standards though is when the brands getting up to shenanigans on Instagram simply ignore the investigation.

There were a couple of examples in recent days.

The Australian clothing label With Jean triggered a complaint about one of its Instagram stories:

“The model in the image is clearly emaciated, her ribs are sticking out, she looks like she is likely suffering from anorexia and this advertisement by using her figure to promote their clothes is glamorizing eating disorders and dangerously thin female bodies.”

When Ad Standards started to investigate, With Jean did not reply to the watchdog.

Ad Standards has since ruled that the ad does indeed breach its rules around presenting unrealistic body images. It said: “The Panel considered that the washed-out colours of the advertisement combined with the woman’s inactive pose and sad facial expression created the impression of someone who is unhappy and lacking energy. The Panel noted that apathy and exhaustion can be linked to malnutrition, and the woman’s pose and facial expression added to the overall impression that the advertisement is portraying an unhealthy body type.”

And then guess what happened? Nothing.

The post is still up.

With Jean never replied.

I’ve no idea whether Ad Standards has approached Instagram - owned by Facebook’s parent company Meta - to ask it to take down the post. But given recent testimony in the US that the company knows exactly how damaging this sort of post is to teen self esteem, I’m not surprised to see that it is still live.

Nightplan - carpet monsters

And then there’s the tacky. Nightplan is another Instagram brand that simply ignores Ad Standards investigations.

The brand’s business model relies on delivering potential customers to nighttime venues in Australia. It’s building the brand by celebrating sex and drugs and rock’n’roll. In the case of Nightplan, which was reposting audience “confessions” to its Stories function, the sex was degrading and the drugs illegal.

The watchdog took a look after a complaint that it was reposting abusive content. The stories shared are too depressingly sordid to recount here, but feel free to read them in the complaint.

Nightplan did not reply to Ad Standards when it started its investigation.

Suffice to say, you’ll get a sense from just one line from the lengthy ruling: “The Panel considered that a reference to a person ejaculating on strangers’ carpets is highly sexualized and inappropriate for publication .”

After the ruling that it was in breach of the advertising rules, Nightplan issued a brief reply: “We do not post Monday confessions or Stitch-up Wednesdays anymore.” And that was that.

Dr Spin

Dr Spin writes:

The 300-year-old Wiggle

Blue Wiggle Anthony Field sure looks good for his age, if this Daily Mail article is to be believed.

Dr Spin would never dream of fact checking Daily Mail Australia, so it must be true. They even repeated it twice.

Radio signals

Dr Spin is detecting more not-so subtle signals that the presenters on 2Day FM’s struggling Morning Crew are preparing for an end of year checkout.

This week’s developments included a four minute segment in which co-host Erin Molan confirmed that she had been discussing an opportunity to run for the Liberal party in the next federal election. As she listed the various reasons why it would not be practical for her just now: parenting commitments, money, her Channel Nine role, it took her a full three minutes to remember to add that she loved her job.

Meanwhile the Melbourne-based Hughes, who never did move to Sydney as the network had said he would, has suddenly been busy on Facebook this week, telling his audience about a newly rekindled love of performing standup comedy.

It rather reminds Dr Spin of Harley Breen’s sudden decision to exit the timeslot back in 2017 to get back onto the comedy road.

And if Dr Spin was more of a conspiracy theorist, he’d also read something into the Morning Crew presenters listed on the show’s Apple podcast app listing, with an apparent reunion of Hughesy and Kate Langbroek.

Given how hopeless Apple’s podcast app is though, Dr Spin is inclined to blame that one on his phone.

As always, we welcome your thoughts to or via the comment button.

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Time to let you go about your day. Unmade will be back tomorrow with a podcast episode. It will be the next chapter from my narration of the audio edition of my book Media Unmade. This week it’s Throuple Trouble on Team Australia, exploring how the ABC took an early lead in digital before losing its way, and the broken promise Tony Abbott made about Aunty’s funding.

Enjoy your Friday.


Tim Burrowes

Proprietor - Unmade