Influencer marketing on social networks is ‘booming’.
Budgets allocated on ‘influencer marketing’ both, by leading international brands as well as by small local companies have been increasing by impressive numbers in recent years. It’s interesting that big money has been streamed towards influencer marketing even without a sound knowledge about the effectiveness of this kind of marketing and about the – initially, for sure, underestimated – risks involved by this practice.
Influencer marketing: the B-side.
However, it didn’t take long before protesting, angry customers and companies facing serious backlashes from influencers’ promotional messages draw the attention of watchdogs onto some rather questionable practices performed on Social Media. One of the key principles of commercial communication being that of having to comply with a ‘transparency’ requirement, one of the questions which quickly arose was that of whether influencers’ suggestions/recommendations were sufficiently clear in revealing to the public that a promotional message was diffused and that the influencer’s ‘opinion’ frequently was the result of a ‘relationship’ with the advertised brand. Regulatory Authorities stepped in and provided all kinds of guidelines on how influencer marketing had to be performed to avoid misleading consumers.
Difficult to play it safe.
Unfortunately, aside from a list of general principles, nobody succeeded in providing what the advertising industry (and Social Media) really needed: an internationally valid standard with clear and easy to apply indications on how to high lighten the messages’ commercial intent. Hence, you can never feel completely safe and be sure that your influencer marketing is strictly compliant as to ‘transparency’ requirements. As in many other areas of commercial communication, marketers will be facing case-by-case evaluations from Regulators and Courts, a not exactly exciting perspective.
Some recent cases dealt with by the local Advertising Self-Regulation (IAP = Institute for Self-Regulation in Advertising) offer an idea about how and why influencer marketing run into trouble.
The Italian branch of an international luxury brand had some influencer posts about one of its products (make-up) brought to the Jury’s evaluation and was found in breach of the Advertising Code’s provisions on disclosure of the promotional intent of the questioned posts. Interestingly, defense arguments such as “We did not know”, “We did not ask the blogger to post about the product”, “The influencer acted on his own”, “We did not allocate any financial resources to promoting product XYZ” were considered as irrelevant. According to the Jury, once a promotional intent/capacity is found – and is not immediately perceivable by the public - it is up to the advertiser offering proof about the non-existence of an agreement with the influencer.
Another luxury brand had to face issue with Instagram posts about a cosmetic product. Again, the issue was about ‘transparency’ and ‘insufficient disclosure’. In this case, the Jury felt that the reference to the company account (https://www.instagram.com/XXYYZZ/) and the use of the hashtag# (brand) XXYYZZ (https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/XXYYZZ) did not offer a sufficient indication of the post’s promotional pursuit.
An identical practice got a product (hydrating cream) of another well-known cosmetics band hot with a cease and desist injunction. On the company Instagram account, the product was presented as an efficient remedy against the negative effects of a daily routine and a cosmopolitan life on face skin, while the questioned post showed the influencer and the product under the headline: “Finally, I have found the perfect product for the needs of my skin”, “An indispensable ally for my beauty routine”. The SRO’ Review Board not only found that the transparency/disclosure requirement had not been adequately met, but also added that such requirements imply that the message clearly shows that the content is the result of a commercial agreement (between the brand and the influencer) and can be easily and immediately perceived – i.e. without any interpretative effort – in its promotional intent.
Already in an earlier injunction, issued in relation to Instagram posts for a hair product, the Review Board had made it clear that every single message must be absolutely clear in revealing its commercial intent, being this the only way to allow immediate perception of its promotional pursuit.
The take away from this short summary of recent decisions and injunction of the Italian Advertising Self-Regulation: even big and experienced, active on an international level, do struggle with getting a proper handle on new marketing practices such as influencer marketing.