Consumers are now more than ever in control of what they consume. They choose who they listen to, what they watch and especially who they trust. Over the past decade there has been a major change in the way in which advertisers reach their audiences. Previously, advertisers would look to mass marketing campaigns such as TV, radio or newspapers, whereas nowadays they are looking at ways in which they can best make use of digital advertising space to find customers, or have customers find them, but, is it the most ethical or honest form of advertising?
Over the past couple of years there has been a mass social change in the way consumers are being marketed to. Gone are the days and effectiveness of traditional mass marketing platforms such as TV, Radio, Newspapers and Billboards, where advertisers would spend thousands to get their advertisement displayed to millions of people. This social change has especially become evident in 2020 with the COVID pandemic pushing consumers onto their devices more for shopping and entertainment. During the pandemic, consumers have reportedly spent 40% more time on scrolling through Instagram, Twitter and TikTok (“What does Australian law say about influencers disclosing brand partnerships? – Fashion Journal”, 2021). Although mass marketing mediums can be effective in getting a message out to a multitude of people, there would still be a large percentage that would not be the advertisers target market, resulting in an expensive exercise ultimately leading to failed conversions. Take it women’s sanitary products for example; advertising for these products via mass marketing mediums such as TV would only be relevant to roughly 50% of viewers watching a particular program. Advertisers would ideally want to advertise to females aged from around 13 to 50 year old’s, but instead their message would be displayed to their non-target audience.
This is where Google Ads and Facebook Ads manager become quite useful tools for advertisers. Google ads allow you to add your advertisements on other websites banners, Google’s Suite of apps (Gmail, Finance etc.) and throughout YouTube videos (pre-roll and mid-roll). Facebook allow for ads to be shown within Facebook itself (newsfeed, pre-roll to a video etc.) and throughout Instagram (stories, posts feed, IGTV and Reels). Both services allow for advertisers to upload a sponsored post (text, images or videos) as a brand and fine tune their target audience. They can narrow their audience down by geographical location, sex, age, relationship status, birthday, religion and even if the users device is connected to Wi-Fi or not! This form of advertising was very useful to advertisers for a number of years although now users of these services have grown to know and ignore advertisements when they see them. “99.53% of impressions on digital advertising fail to inspire consumers to click and take action” (Kastenholz, 2021). 27% of users in 2021 have even gone so far to install an ad blocker on their devices so they see as little advertisements as possible when they’re surfing the web, and that figure is rising compared to only 15.7% of users in 2014 (“Ad blocker usage in U.S. | Statista”, 2021). Advertisers also have to follow the companies advertising rules and their posts are always subject to approval by the platform to ensure that they do not breach their guidelines. These rules prohibit anything from illegal products and services, tobacco related products, adult content, misinformation and more from being advertised within the platforms (“Facebook”, 2021). So with 99.53% of impressions not turning into even a click through, advertising services strict advertising rules and guidelines along with more than a quarter of users using ad blockers, how else can advertisers effectively promote their products or services? The answer is via influencer marketing.
Influencer marketing allows for advertisers to take advantage of an influencer’s social media following and engage with their audience. Influencers can generally be categorised into different categories such as arts, beauty, comedy, fashion, fitness, gaming etc, and can be further categorised by the number of followers they have (nano, micro, macro and mega influencers) (“Different Types of Influencers: Mega, Macro, Micro & Nano | Amire”, 2021). Influencers are especially useful as they generally keep in touch with their following by posting regular updates about their life multiple times throughout each week. This allows for their followers to get to know them better and makes their followers feel as though the influencer is more relatable, unlike traditional celebrities who are usually perceived as someone who is untouchable. This gives consumers a level of trust in the influencer, so as that when they talk about a product or service, their following is more likely to engage with and act on what they have to say.
Typically brands either reach out directly to an influencer or to their management (if the influencer is considered a macro or mega influencer) and make a deal on how they will promote their products. This is called a brand deal or sponsored post. The influencer can be compensated from as little as complementary products to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Pedestrian TV reported in December last year that the #1 TikToker Charli Damelio reportedly made approximately $73,510 per sponsored post (“Here’s Exactly How Much The Top TikTokers Get Paid & Yep, Should Have Kept Up Dance Lessons”, 2021). At the time of writing the article, Damelio had just over 45 million followers on the app, compared to well over 100 million followers today! This shows the unprecedented growth that is occurring with influencers social media followings and the great opportunities for advertisers. However influencers have come in the firing line recently with their deceptive behaviour. Influencers promoting products have been caught out pushing false claims and using misleading language when engaging in brand deals. It is quite typical for influencers to talk about how much the ‘love’ a product and ‘use it daily’ when in reality they have merely been sent that product for the purposes of creating an advertisement. In some countries, social media influencers are required by law to state when they are engaging with a brand and getting paid for an endorsement or when a brand has provided them with complementary products for the purposes of creating an ad. In the US, UK and throughout parts of Europe, influencers and brands can be fined up to $16,000 per sponsored post for failing to clearly disclose that there is some sort of relationship with the brand (Warrington, 2021). In Australia, we don’t have any laws specifically relating to influencers and their posts although out consumer protection laws are broad enough and can be enforced to prevent misleading or deceiving a consumer, although to date, there is yet to be a single recorded case relating to an influencer breaching Australian consumer protection laws (“What does Australian law say about influencers disclosing brand partnerships? – Fashion Journal”, 2021).
Although in most cases, whilst an influencer might not have the intent to mislead a consumer, yet merely only have the intention to create engaging content for a brand, this can very quickly escalate and breach consumer law and deceives the audiences. For example, a gym influencer who works out daily and is in quite good shape is approached by a brand wishing to promote an ab toner. The influencer uses the product and records a sponsored post about how much they ‘love’ using the product and how everyone that wants to look as good as them should go buy one. This exact scenario happened when 19 year old TikToker Noah Beck did exactly that. Beck made a TikTok video with him using the ab toner and doing a dance routine. At the end of the video Beck says “this is the limited edition ab stimulator… you can get an ab work out from anywhere, at anytime… I’ve been wearing it for a few days and absolutely love it… it actually helps to tone and define your abs instantly with no effort.. you can get yours at the link in my bio”. To all of us 18+ year old’s out there, we know that the only way to get in shape is to head to the gym, although Beck has a seemingly young, impressionable audience who would easily fall for this cleaver marketing scam. Ethan Klein (35), another influencer on the app, replied to Beck, calling him out for promoting the product, calling it a total scam (“H3H3’s Ethan Klein slams Noah Beck for promoting “scam” – Dexerto”, 2021). Becks caption also makes zero reference to the partner brand or the fact that the video was an advertisement. Beck reportedly made approximately $30,000 US for the video, and it is unclear how much the partner brand made off selling the product (or how many people actually got abs from using it).
I also know first hand how influencers can overexaggerate how much they rely on a product. In 2019 I personally opened up an online store and became a reseller for a range of products. My marketing strategy was pretty simple, I would send free products out to influencers and they’d make a video of them using them. I strategically wouldn’t give them a proper brief, I’d simply say “make a video using this product and tag us in it”. Around two thirds of influencers would overexaggerate how long they had the product for, most of them would only have had it for a day or two before creating content but claim they had been using it for weeks to months, and use pushy language to try and get their followers to fall in love with the products and ultimately buy them. Influencers know their audiences best.
Social Media Platforms have undeniably become an integral part in our day to day lives and has created a social change giving advertisers new digital advertising real estate within online networks. More work needs to be done however on the laws governing what is right and wrong in relation to how brands are allowed to advertise online to consumers.