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'Irresponsible' Klarna ads banned by advertising watchdog

klarna logo on phone image

Four "irresponsible" Instagram posts promoting buy now, pay later service Klarna have been banned by the advertising regulator.

The posts were made by 'influencers', who had been paid by Klarna to promote the service, and appeared on the social media network in April and May 2020. They presented buying beauty or clothing items as ways of "lifting" or "boosting" your mood during the UK lockdown, and featured prominent references to Klarna.

Now, following a complaint by Labour MP Stella Creasy relating to three of the adverts – the fourth was spotted by the regulator during its investigation – the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled that all four must not appear again in their current form. In addition, future ads "must not irresponsibly encourage the use of Klarna's deferred payment service, particularly by linking it with lifting or boosting mood".

'This ruling is a good start – but BNPL must be regulated'

Martin Lewis, founder of MoneySavingExpert.com, said: "Buy now, pay later (BNPL) shouldn't be sold as a lifestyle choice, something cool, or a new high-tech way to pay. It should be seen for what it is – a debt. The ASA is right to rule on the back of Stella Creasy's complaint that 'mood-boosting' advertising for a credit product, often targeted at younger adults, is wholly inappropriate.

"BNPL is designed to encourage increased spending, and can lead to overspending. Get BNPL wrong and missed payments can damage your credit file for the long term, see late payment fees levied and even debt collectors sent to your door. This ASA victory is a good start. Yet it's outrageous that this, the UK's fastest growing credit sector, is exempt from standard credit regulation. That must change. The Financial Conduct Authority should be overseeing product design and marketing. And crucially, consumers need a right to take complaints to the free and independent Financial Ombudsman Service."

See our Buy Now, Pay Later guide for more info on how these products work and what the dangers are.

What did the adverts say?

The adverts were pictures of each influencer with captions that included references to beauty or clothing products "boosting" or "lifting" a person's mood during the UK lockdown:

  • "@klarna.uk helping me get ready for the day ahead in lockdown and lifting my mood!"
    (Posted on Bradley Harper's page @bradders_21)

  • "Thank you @klarna.uk for the simple reminder that getting dressed up can be a total mood booster..."
    (Posted on Claire Menary's page @clairemenary)

  • "@klarna.uk has a huge beauty offering, where you can pay in three across a variety of skincare brands. It means you can splurge on this..."
    (Posted on Aisha Master's page @masteramas)

  • "I've been keeping a beauty/skincare routine thanks to @klarna.uk in lockdown to help lift my mood! @klarna.uk have made it so easy for me to shop and spread my payments across 3 instalments on products I love!"
    (Posted on Yasmin Fatollahy's page @homeatheathfield)

Each advert also featured the hashtag '#KlarnaIt', which the advertising regulator says "explicitly suggested that the use of Klarna's services could assist in lifting one's mood in the lockdown".

The ASA acknowledged that buying non-essential items could have been a source of comfort for some people during the lockdown – but says the linking of this to Klarna's BNPL services during an uncertain and challenging period meant that the ads "irresponsibly encouraged the use of credit".

What does MP Stella Creasy say?

Stella Creasy said: "BNPL companies have rapidly expanded their lending to UK consumers during the pandemic and there's good reason to be concerned. Many are getting into trouble with these loans that are not regulated, meaning information on the risks they present isn't clear and decisions about what is affordable aren't transparent.

"It's vital that the Government don't wait until more people are in trouble to act – we waited too long to act with payday loan companies and the result was millions of people in financial difficulty. Ministers must act now to avoid the same fate."

What does Klarna say?

A Klarna spokesperson said: "During 2020, the single largest marketing investment we made was in KlarnaSense, a campaign to address impulse shopping. In that context, we thought long and hard about the text of the posts which were subsequently investigated by the ASA. It was a genuine attempt to recognise the mood of many of our consumers at the start of the first lockdown. We recognise that, whilst we had the best of intentions, we missed the mark with the four posts the ASA has looked into.

"Whilst we always adhere to all available 'influencer' guidelines and are compliant in terms of partnership signposting, we support more clarity in this space, and we believe some leadership on this is required. We are setting up an 'influencer thought-leader council' consisting of media owners, consumers, wellness charity partner[s] and influencers with the intention of providing better guidance for all brands in this space and in doing so support and engage with the ASA on this topic."