As the world becomes more easily accessible with technological advances, we’re both able and expected to participate in this livestreaming of our most fashionable selves. We’re eternally scrolling, consuming data at a flying rate, and spending on average 135 minutes on social networks a day worldwide. In broadening our horizons from the comfort of our sofa, we’re experiencing the world in a whole new way. This has turned our shopping habits and interaction with brands on its head. Brands are always looking for new ways to reach their audiences. They’ve tried TV, cinema, radio, magazines, and now they’re in our social media feeds. It’s the marketing way: go where your audiences are.
In this consumerist culture, we are far from immune to influencer marketing. Celebrities have been used to promote perfumes, cars (and even Crocs) for decades. However, in this social media age, influencer marketing is breaching unchartered territory and poses new problems for advertising standards. #ad is fast becoming one of Instagram’s most common hashtags, with 5.8 million posts boasting promoted content from influencers on the platform at time of writing (and that’s not including Stories content).
Today’s influencers are constantly encouraging us to Swipe Up or Click Here to get our hands on the latest trends and products that will change our lives. What we need to remember, though, is the sway social influencers have over their audiences.
“Influencers like Kim Kardashian have the opportunity to weaponize their reach against vulnerable, impressionable audiences.”
I’m the first to admit that when I was preparing for my holiday I checked my favourite bloggers’ feeds first for outfit inspiration and shopping ideas. I’m more likely to buy a product because I’ve seen a friend or influencer post about it than because of an advert I’ve seen. Influencer marketing works. In many ways it appears more trustworthy (if we ignore the influencer’s monetary incentive for product placement).
While UK television producers still have to adhere to product placement laws, the same is not the case on social media. Sure, there are rules, and honesty and clarity are both sought after and appreciated by audiences, but the truth is that the influencer’s paycheck has no sway over consumers’ wanting to follow in their footsteps in search of the Next Big Thing.
This “I saw it first” mentality, paired with the idolisation of many of today’s influencers, is a recipe for disaster. Take Kim Kardashian’s now deleted “appetite-stunting” lollipops ad.
Kim, arguably the most successful of the Kardashian clan, is no stranger to product promotion on social media. Her feed is full of #ad posts and her personal empire thrives on her trendsetting ways and collaborations with the biggest brands. Her promotion of these diet-aid lollipops, though, is dangerous. While many scoffed and scolded her for promoting such a product, there were plenty of followers who voiced their eagerness to try them out in the comments.
Whether she likes it or not, there are thousands of women and young girls who look up to Kim as a role model and aspirational figure for their futures and figures. She’s a lucrative business woman who appears to “have it all” and holds no shame in flaunting her successes, nor should she. With such a social standing, however, comes huge responsibility.
Influencers like Kim Kardashian have the opportunity to weaponize their reach against vulnerable, impressionable audiences. Promoting lollipops which suppress hunger sends out the message to her 111 million followers that being hungry is bad. With her cosmetic surgery, personal trainer, gym and chef, Kim has achieved a figure that’s unattainable for the casual social media follower, but implies her shape is maintained by suppressing her appetite. As if disordered eating and body image weren’t problematic enough for young women, she is dangling a potentially catastrophic carrot to an audience who are willing to try anything to be like their idol. Such harmful messages imprint on followers and reshape ways of thinking, including how women view themselves when they consider Kim to be “goals”.
“Kim and her sisters call themselves feminists, but her recent actions would suggest she’s more interested in her bank account than the sisterhood.”
Kim Kardashian certainly didn’t need to promote this appetite-suppressing lollipop. She’s hardly short of cash, what with a net worth of $175 million. Instead of jumping to make a quick buck with potentially harmful products, she could collaborate with more ethical companies and harness her voice and platform to further positive messages of self-love and body confidence. Kim Kardashian is a woman of many talents and interests, funneling lots of time and resource into promoting worthy causes like gun reform. She and her sisters call themselves feminists, but her recent actions would suggest she’s more interested in her bank account than the sisterhood.
Part of the problem with these promotions that appear on our timelines and in our Stories is that they are, thus far, unmonitored. The social platforms predominantly used for such #ads are not built for tracking this kind of content and until it is reported for misusing the platform or breaking the Terms of Agreement, the users and accounts that do skirt the fringes of legitimate advertising territory go largely unchecked.
This is not likely to change anytime soon, if other issues with social media like online abuses are anything to go by, but it’s clear that influencer marketing needs much more stringent moderation. With MFA focusing so hard on banning female sexuality from public view, they are leaving the market wide open to influencers and products that require constant X to minimise potential damage.