There seems to be a new form of digital marketing dying every week, according to the internet – the latest victim apparently being influencer marketing. It’s not, of course (sorry, spoilers), it’s simply running into the issue that all organic-feeling mediums face when crossing into the mainstream as a legitimate marketing technique – it then has to be regulated.
The worry is that by announcing content as sponsored, or admitting that the only reason content is being created is because a brand paid for it, the content becomes less valuable. This is a legitimate concern when it’s done simply for the sake of having a well-known name attached to it – think Sid Vicious and the uncomfortable butter ad. The mistake though, was how the content was delivered, not the message itself. Influencer marketing is no new thing – it’s been around as long as the concept of cool has. As a wise voice said from the back of a conference recently (sorry, we’ve no idea who it was); “If you’ve ever been to the Sistine Chapel, you’ve seen a great piece of influencer marketing”. It’s just where the lines are drawn in this new medium that’s being questioned.
Like any other form of advertising, it’s context that’s key. Is the message believable? Bootea for example is renowned for its sponsored posts. It not subtle about the fact it’s advertising. In fact, Scott Disick can even leave the copy and paste instructions from his (no doubt exhausted) agency at the start of the Instagram caption, and people don’t really mind, because the audience still believes it as something he’d really use (and admittedly part of the Disick/Kardashian brand revolves around selling themselves). If Alan Sugar started pushing a tea-tox though, we’d all probably have some questions.
Interestingly, it’s increasingly becoming the case that customers are more trusting of posts that do declare themselves as sponsored. Or at least, they’re more distrusting of ones that don’t. We don’t love being sold to, but we’re accepting of the fact that we are for about 90% of the time we’re online, and at least with brands’ ability to target their audience it should be something we’re interested in. What we really dislike is being lied to, or feeling cheated – which is exactly the sentiment when an audience finds out an influencer was being paid but didn’t tell them. Brands avoiding disclosure because they’re assuming that ‘organic’ looking posts will hold more sway, are actually digging their own grave. The main draw of influencers is their authenticity, and paid for content posing as organic is what threatens to destroy that – not the fact they’re making a living from it.