Perspective - The unfiltered truth: Navigating the wild west of influencer marketing

By Alison Ray | 22 November 2023
Alison Ray, general manager at Town Square.

The AdNews end of year Perspectives, looking back at 2023 and forward to next year.

I’m a big consumer of trash. And no, I’m not talking about my soon to be ex. I’m talking about trash TV.

Give me a real housewife, on a boat, fighting with a local merchant, battling through border security and losing a diamond earring in the infinity pool before failing a random breath test. You have 4 wives? Heck, yes!

I want to know that Christine and Mary had that fight over canning tomatoes for winter. You want to explain to your fundamentalist family you are marrying a guy from Turkey you’ve met on the internet? Yes, I want to see your mother storm out of the Olive Garden you decided was the right place for this family meeting.

I’ve always found it fascinating that a smart woman (yes, it's 2023 we are owning it), would want something so mind-numbingly dumb in her life. Why do I watch behaviours I’d never contemplate and actively teach my children are not polite? Get engrossed in story lines about canning food when I don’t even like to cook. Then go online and read the Tatler forums I’m not proud of that part.

I think part of it is the glorious pointlessness of it all – in a hectic, full, wonderful life, a regular dose of pure escapism has its place. You like yoga or running, I like Mormons with 19 kids. Don’t yuk my yum.

My consumption of all that is trash extends online into the shady territory of the influencer. The beautiful, the fit, the average, the super thin, the body positive. I follow them all. Some I love. Some I love to hate.

But it’s here that my professional interest is piqued at the same time. Because as someone who’s been doing this a long time, I know the rules – the privacy principles, claim substantiations, terms and conditions, permits etc. In fact, it’s one of the areas I think I’m an expert (yes, I’m clearly overbearingly confident).

However, the realm of the influencer seems to be a veritable wild west.

Of course, as professional content creators, influencers are bound by the same laws that apply to us in any content. No driving without a seatbelt. No excessive drinking. And under the AANA Code of Ethics, no advertising content passing off as personal recommendation.

Influencers must disclose when content is advertising and not unsolicited endorsement. In any format. But the rules are grey. They need to declare #sponsored or #advertising, but at what size font?

The advertising professional in me would say that making it large enough for an average person to read is a good rule of thumb. But the content consumer me is still shocked at how many times its written in script font, white on a light background.

Whose responsibility is it to police the influencer?

The agency and client who engage them surely hold a level of responsibility. But saying that if I engaged Channel 7 and they weren’t aware of their legal responsibility within the industry they operate in, I’d be pretty shocked.

There is no influencer accreditation, no mandatories for entry (other than follower numbers) and no real framework for making sure they comply to laws.

Many an influencer has touted a beauty product only to declare a month later that they “love and always use” another brand. Now, would the first brand be pissed? I would be.

Would they have written a non-compete and exclusion period into the contract? More than likely. But what recourse do they have when the industry is largely unregulated and unmanaged? Of course they could sue. But there is no benefit in having a fee reimbursed by an influencer if they follow up with a negative post that will do way more damage.

Have I been influenced? Have I! I have heatless curlers, the slick hair stick, a silk pillow and socks with my dog’s face on them. I spent a particularly stressful period earlier this year trying to source Prime for my 10 year old, whose life wasn’t worth living without Logan Paul’s new drink. I love influencers like I love TV polygamy.

But as we head into 2024, I think influencer marketing is an area the industry needs to take another look at and make sure we have the right framework and protections in place.

As a marketer, I love the reach, connection and engagement with an audience. As a brand custodian, I would worry about the grey area I’d be entering into.

Alison Ray, general manager at Town Square.

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