Improving transparency through the disclosure of influencer partnerships, and thereby placing consumer interest at the core of campaigns, is the most fundamental step in ensuring the longevity of the influencer marketing industry. We have recently seen much blame being attributed to various parties; creators, brands and governing bodies. All have contributed to the current climate of confusion, and therefore, all must play a role in resurrecting the situation.
Creators vs brands
The most common criticisms around the disclosure of influencer partnerships are directed at the content creators. Up until now, we have seen many creators omit the notorious #ad. However, influencer marketing is built on trust, which comes from full transparency, and this directly translates to the mindset of creators. They are only as influential as their audience allows them to be; if they are not transparent with their audience, or a post does not look organic, then their audience will pick up on it. Consumers are intelligent and can see through influencer partnerships – so why would creators not disclose this information? This could be because a third of brands are hesitant to tell creators to disclose an ad out of fear that engagement rates will be lower, as they believe content will not look as authentic. This is a myth. Content created for brands is often better than the individual’s usual content as the monetary gain allows creators to put increased time and effort into creating their content. Subsequently, ad posts often perform better in the algorithm and are more likely to reach the explore page on Instagram.
Creator or celebrity?
Moreover, many of the so-called ‘influencers’, who recently pledged support to the CMA were, in fact, celebrities. While they have influence, celebrities like Alexa Chung and Ellie Goulding are not social media creators, and we should be careful not to confuse the two. I believe that real issues lie within the use of celebrity placements, as these are many of the individuals failing to disclose the word ‘#ad’. You’d only have to look at the social media profiles of world-class footballers to realise that they do not issue disclaimers on their paid partnerships or even remotely mention the word ‘#ad’.
The guidelines – where do the grey areas lie?
However, much confusion can also be attributed to the governing bodies. Tightened laws have recently come of light in the UK, such as the regulations announced by Competition and Markets Authority. It is known that attitudes towards consumer law vary internationally, particularly in the US where many creators are based, due to the sheer size of the market. However, there are still many issues and loopholes regarding the disclosure of influencer partnerships in the UK. For example, doubts begin to appear around the CMA’s new guidelines, which say that if there is a past relationship with a brand, such as a product being gifted, then the audience must be made aware of this. Relationships within the past year must be disclosed and even if a post or story illustrates content with several brands and businesses in the same image, each relationship must be clearly stated. Content that is labelled with ‘#ad’ will always lead consumers to believe that a creator has been paid for that specific post which, in the ‘#gifted’ sense, is not the case. In many instances, creators are genuinely passionate about the brands that they have forged relationships with, so why should they disclose gifts that they enjoy having after the partnership is over? A relationship may have been formed, but so has a genuine interest in the brand and their motives. Surely we should be striving for this sort of authenticity? To many in the industry, it may feel like right now, influencer marketing is being monitored on a much larger scale than any other form of marketing, but the lack of knowledge and the recent development of this is the momentum behind defining how partnerships are regulated. However, I believe we should take the interest and involvement of the CMA as a positive sign; they’re starting to recognise influencer marketing as a serious industry and with this recognition will come certain scrutiny.
Disclosure of influencer partnerships
My main issue with the controversy surrounding the disclosure of influencer partnerships is that the focus is on those who are doing it wrong. It’s important to acknowledge that we aren’t crediting the individuals who are currently abiding by the rules, particularly in the case of those social media creators who have always known that it is necessary to disclose a paid advertisement. While we must strive to stamp out those who flout the rules and to make sure all legislation is clear and concise, we must also recognise those creators who continue to abide by them, while producing interesting, informative and inspiring creative content.