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Health, lies, and content: Is influencer marketing dying?


These are confusing, and at times overwhelming times for brands. Opportunity no longer knocks once, or even twice, but with so many roads into the public conscience it’s easy to spend a fortune in hours trying to figure out which one is right for your audience.
Influencer marketing is a term that has been around for many years, and in many ways only seems to be growing in importance. Tap into the right experts, spokespeople, and trendsetters, and the world of consumers becomes your oyster. The problem being, we’re continuously reading stories that should be subtitled ‘When influencer marketing goes wrong’. Or perhaps something similar, only a little catchier.
The latest of these concerns Australian health and beauty blogger Belle Gibson, and it’s really rather shocking. According to a story in The Metro, she is now facing fines of up to £125,000 (AUS $200,000), whilst her company is looking at a further £650,000 (AUS $1.1million) to pay, as a result of several lies and breaches of trust that have occurred. This includes claims she had cancer and had been cured through a healthy diet, along with promises to make charitable donations that wound up being greatly reduced from what was initially claimed, or, in some cases, never happened at all.
Clearly this is an extreme situation, and by no means should all bloggers, vloggers, or social influencers be tarnished with the same brush as someone who has obviously been deceitful in their actions. Everybody needs to be treated individually, in the same way that a journalist wouldn’t expect to be accused of falsifying stories because, in the past, others in their field have been exposed for doing the same thing.
Nevertheless, the public’s memory is long, and pretty unforgiving. So how many more slights on the good name of influencer marketing can the industry afford before things start to go belly up? Consider our recent words on fake news and the impact this could have on businesses using PR for story placement- the decimation of faith in traditional media. If people don’t trust the platform itself, then brands can’t expect those people to react positively when their products are featured on said platform.
Here in the UK, the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) has issued further guidelines regarding sponsored content, looking to further protect the public from being misled. This follows an initial mass warning, largely aimed at YouTube stars, in which the message was simple- transparency isn’t just ethical, it’s the only way to legally operate in the modern online media world. Add to this Google’s own rules- which called into question whether or not standard (and legal) activities such as receiving products or material for free, for review purposes, should be labelled as ‘sponsored’- and the ground looks increasingly shaky when it comes to influencers as a means of plugging into the consumer audience.
So, does this suggest that influencer marketing is dead in the water, dying, or that the practice is something brands should avoid going forward? Well, in a word, ‘no’. As we’ve already said, the actions of a few should not impact on the majority who do adhere to the regulations of their trade. And the power that influencers have is impossible to question- consumers are increasingly looking to recommendations, rather than ads, to make purchasing choices. What all this does highlight, however, is the need to have savvy marketing professionals who understand how to gauge and audit potential influencers, to ensure- as much as is possible- that brands are not dragged into controversial quagmires through their associations with those exposed for wrongdoing. Again, then, this really comes down to choosing partnerships wisely, and trusting instincts.

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