The more the Influencer world evolves, the better Influencers are becoming at creating content. After all, practice makes perfect and over time, Influencers will know what works for their audiences, what doesn’t and can take a lot of inspiration from other Influencers that are at the top of their game.
I think there is a lot of confusion and ‘winging it’ when it comes to advertising with Influencers. Is it sponsored content, a paid partnership or paid promotion? Or is it just a plain old #Ad?
Personally, I think the line between Influencers promoting brands they love and becoming plain and simple human adverts is becoming a lot thinner.
Influencers realise that they can make a living from being influential and so will post content that they have been paid for. Although they may say that they only promote brands that they would pay for themselves, it does still seem that every second post from an Influencer is an advert or features something they have been #gifted.
Case study #1
Let’s first look at Siobhan O’Hagan (@ohfitness_ie). Siobhan is a fitness Influencer that lives a nomadic lifestyle between Bali, Thailand and wherever else takes her fancy. I follow Siobhan because she leads a lifestyle that I can only hope to have one day with no fixed address and forever chasing the sun. Siobhan makes her money by being an online fitness coach which is absolutely fine, 100%, nothing wrong with that.
However, she also has 114,000 followers and is a brand ambassador for My Protein. To me, it seems that neither her or the ASA (Advertising Standards Agency) know what to do when she wears My Protein gym gear in her Instagram stories or posts. Should she be declaring that she is an ambassador in all of her Instagram stories just because that’s what she’s wearing?
The only clothes she seems to own are gym clothes and 99% of them are from My Protein which makes sense as she’s an ambassador for them. But isn’t it a little excessive to have to add that to every single Instagram story? Someone made a complaint when she wasn’t being completely clear and the ASA have advised her to do this instead. Somehow, I don’t think that should be the case because then it looks like she’s advertising 24/7, which probably won’t appear well to her followers.
Then we have affiliate links. I can understand an affiliate link where the Influencer has a code with SIOBHAN20 or ORLAGH10, but is it ethical to keep pushing affiliate links where the Influencer makes a commission? After a while, doesn’t it appear to be a ‘Give me your money!!’ situation?
I’ve noticed this recently with Siobhan where she has discovered a website that has tons of companies on there with affiliate links that allow the provider to earn a commission. I think it even has the likes of Topshop, Boohoo and ASOS on there. This means anyone, including you and me, can go on, get an affiliate link, send it to a friend and then if that friend purchases from your link, you’ll make a commission. It’s probably only a few pence, but where Siobhan has 114,000 followers, those few pence can all add up and help pay for food, accommodation or anything. I mean, maybe if I had that many followers I would do the same.
But, when I’m flicking through her Instagram story and she’s talking about her food intake for the day and then all of a sudden ‘here are five books that I recommend along with affiliate links for each of them’ then I start to question.
Case study #2
And now let’s look at the beauty industry. This is what actually initiated this blog post. I had seen a video on Instagram posted by Lydia Millen (@lydiaemillen) which was in partnership with Dior. It was amazingly created, edited and looked exactly like an advert that you would see on TV. And that’s where I found the problem. It looked just like an advert you would see on TV. Yes, Influencers are content creators, but what is now the difference between Influencer Marketing and normal Marketing?
Not long ago, Victoria Magrath (@inthefrow) created something similar for Armani Beauty. I thought it was amazing, very well filmed and again, like an advert you would expect to see on TV. Both Lydia and Victoria are the biggest Influencers in the beauty sector but where is the line between advertising and Influencers promoting a product?
Like I said, it is amazing to see Influencers being able to create such amazing content, but does this make me want to go and buy a product because that person has influenced me to or because I’ve seen an advert for it? The two seem to have become intertwined.
I very much miss the blogging world of five years ago when these now ‘Influencers’ would talk and write about products that they loved and recommended and weren’t getting paid to do so. I know it’s amazing that they can now talk about products and brands that they love and also get paid and make a living from doing so, but it seems like they lose the authenticity when they can no longer talk about a brand or product without using #gifted or #advert.
Has Influencer Marketing exploited normal people by turning them into human adverts? Can’t the ASA create a straight-forward manual of what to do and what not to do when it comes to working with brands online and on social media? And can’t they stop cracking down on the Influencers trying their best to be transparent and start penalising the real culprits – the reality TV stars?