Australian entrepreneur calls out tea brand with claims it photoshopped products into her Instagram images

An business founder and Instagram influencer has called out a brand on social media after she alleged it had photoshopped its products into her photos for publicity.

Mamamia reports Pia Muehlenbeck, an Instagram celebrity with 1.7 million followers and the founder of clothing business Slinkii Athletic claimed that healthy tea brand SkinnyMint TeaTox was inserting their products into her images to share on its own Instagram account.

Muehlenbeck took to Twitter to call out the brand, deviating from her usual stomping ground of Instagram to minimise the publicity SkinnyMint would receive, she said.

“I want to call them out on my Instagram stories but don’t want to give them the publicity,” she tweeted.

“Unfortunately, they would probably actually get more sales if I made this IP theft more public.”

Read more: Instagram influencer Essena O’Neill exposes self-promoting tricks: Why businesses should be wary of paid endorsements backfiring

Speaking to Mamamia, Muehlenbeck said this sort of behaviour isn’t unusual in influencer circles, and labelled the practice as “shady”.

“I do make an income from taking photos and endorsing products via social media so this sort of business is just a little shady,” Muehlenbeck told Mamamia.

“But way more concerning is the effect this can have on my audience. For example, I’m regularly re-posted on pages that sell Waist Trainers. I never have used one, and to be honest from my (small amount of) research, they don’t particularly look healthy.”

SkinnyMint said in a statement to Mamamia it was inspired by another brand on Instagram that photoshops their products into influencer’s photos, Sugar Bear Hair.

“We are sorry, we didn’t properly think through the consequences. We were inspired by Sugar bear hair who is photoshopping images and getting a lot of positive feedback. Obviously it didn’t work for us due to the images we used and the content owner not approving it,” the brand said.

“They use a lot of photoshopped images to create some interesting content. So were tried this too. The image was on our page for a few weeks and we saw Pia’s comment and deleted the image.”

The images have since been taken down.

New advertising guidelines for influencers

Businesses on social media to be careful about how they replicate and share promoted content, with new ad guidelines introduced this year.

Recently, the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA) updated its code of ethics to include guidelines for social media influencers who promote products on their channels.

The change states, “advertising or marketing communication must be clearly distinguishable as such to the relevant audience”.

For influencers on Instagram and Facebook, the AANA suggests including ways to make it clear to audiences the post has been sponsored by a brand and is an advertisement.

“Advertising or marketing communication should not be disguised as, for example independent market research, user-generated content, private blogs or independent review,” the AANA said.

Hashtags, such as #ad, are an acceptable way to indicate sponsored posts, says the AANA.

At the time, advertising experts expressed their concerns over the effectiveness of the code, given the rapid turnaround of influencer campaigns.

“While the new ruling encourages businesses/brands to be more transparent about their advertising and use of influencers, the reality is that without an enforceable agency that has a real and quantifiable ability to deliver a ‘smack’ to those who choose not to comply – other than some bad PR around a ruling, no real or meaningful punishment can be expected,” advertising expert Nicole Matejic told SmartCompany.

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