Influencers aren't damaging brands, but disclosure is a must all the same

The last few weeks have seen a slew of anti-influencer headlines in the UK media - from Elle Darby's disastrous hotel blag, to Malaysian influencer Neelofa's imprudent beauty advice for kids.

There must be a meeting of minds between brand, influencer and audience or influencers will have little impact anyway, argues Ricky Ray Butler
There must be a meeting of minds between brand, influencer and audience or influencers will have little impact anyway, argues Ricky Ray Butler

Now, in the past few days we’ve heard that apparently civilisation itself is being damaged by influencer marketing – cue the eye-roll.

Prizeology’s new research into the public’s understanding of influencer marketing is mostly thought-provoking and measured, with a clear call to action around the need to make audiences aware when influencer content is being subsidised by a brand.

Unfortunately, the response to the research has been over-blown sensationalism, mainly that influencer marketing is damaging brand perception, as well as society at large.

Let’s take the first point.

If influencer marketing was damaging the public’s perception of brands, brands wouldn’t be increasingly investing their marketing budgets in it.

The report doesn’t even make this claim, and rightly so, as it flies in the face of both logic and evidence that states influencer marketing delivers 11 times higher ROI than traditional forms of marketing.

Instead, the report claims that 60 per cent of the public improve their perceptions of a brand when the brand is transparent about its use of product promotions.

Now we’re onto something.

Brands that are seeing revenue uplift as a result of influencer marketing are doing this already. Influencers that command the biggest, stickiest audiences, are doing this already.

Sadly, a small but significant minority of brands still see influencers as an under-the-radar ad channel; alongside them, a small but significant minority of influencers are happy to take their ad dollars in return for paid content that obfuscates its true nature.

This strategy is harmful, in the same way as making false product claims, or any other marketing strategy designed to try and deceive your target audience.

The unregulated wild west of shady product placements is far from the norm within influencer marketing today, but it’s no wonder consumers think influencers damage society if there’s such poor understanding around disclosure.

The public is right to believe that more should be done to enforce disclosure – brands and influencers need to be educated about the huge advantages of transparency in terms of audience understanding, resonance and engagement.

Consumers need a clear understanding of the nature of the content they’re seeing, to judge and respond to it appropriately.

It’s thus in everyone’s interests to disclose any commercial relationship between content producer and brand.

If influencers and brands collaborate to create content that an audience enjoys, it really doesn’t matter that the content is down to a commercial partnership.

Done properly, influencer marketing doesn’t damage society; the research missed a trick by failing to ask consumers whether they preferred branded influencer content (which, by its nature, is opt-in) versus the disruptive world of traditional ads.

Yet unless there’s true consensus between brand, influencer and audience, influencer marketing will ultimately have negligible impact on consumers’ behaviour in the first place.

How about we make that the one bona fide lesson from this latest wave of anti-influencer noise?

Ricky Ray Butler is global chief campaign officer at Branded Entertainment Network

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