I hate to be the one to burst the bubble, but it must be said: influencer marketing is not authentic.
Brands and marketers alike continue to bow down (see: throw money) at the altar of influencer marketing and its so-called “authentic” approach, but is it honestly fooling anyone? While there is a definite need for brands to be looking for alternative ways to build positive sentiment and reach consumers in meaningful ways, staged and paid placement doesn’t build trust. It can often do the opposite.
Really, influencer marketing has just become the new product placement, staging influencers (from micro-influencers to big-name celebrities) in a scene of them endorsing a brand, product, or service in a way that is meant to be authentic.
The trouble is that, while influencer marketing may have been authentic and more human in its beginnings, that is no longer the case. Here are two simple reasons why:
1. The content is increasingly staged and manicured.
Even when influencers align themselves with a brand’s values and genuinely enjoy using its products, they are still getting paid to endorse a brand (and usually according to strict brand content creation guidelines).
Because of this, influencer content rarely feels natural to consumers’ feeds; it tends to feel more disruptive than anything. At the end of the day, it is highly manicured content created for the sole purpose of highlighting brand products, services, etc. It’s staged, and it looks that way. Does this look real and naturalistic to anyone?
The featured brand in question may be consistent with who the influencer is (and the influencer may even truly like it), but the increasingly staged element of it all quickly reduces any sense of humanity. The artificiality creates a disconnect, not doing brands or consumers in search of authenticity any favors.
2. “#Ad” and “#Sponsored” wash away any remaining sense of authenticity.
Even micro-influencers (that last bastion of authenticity in influencer marketing) are now being stripped of their authenticity. These small-scale influencers with smaller but more engaged audiences used to be the driving force behind authenticity in influencer marketing, but then the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stepped in.
The FTC now requires that influencers let their audience know that a brand is compensating them for their post, requiring sponsored posts to be tagged as ads. Otherwise, there can be heavy fines for the brand and the influencer now, too. These FTC fines came into greater focus in 2016 when brands, agencies, and influencers started receiving hefty penalties for non-disclosure.
Looking at a post and seeing #Ad or #Sponsored immediately tells the audience that the influencer has been paid to do it, planting a seed of doubt and skepticism as to their true brand affinity (whether or not they do in fact like the brand).
These FTC guidelines are also forcing brands to be increasingly vigilant, hands-on, and micro-managerial when it comes to influencer marketing, as to avoid any penalties. This only further pushes influencer marketing into the outer realms of authenticity, slowly stripping influencers of their unique voice and agency.
Navigating the Deceptive Nature of Influencer Marketing
People may now be looking more to people they know and trust when seeking new products or brands to follow beyond just A-list celebrities, pro-athletes, and the like, but it’s difficult to trust someone when you know that what they’re posting on social media is fueled by a payment.
Despite the fact that influencer marketing is often pitched as “authentic,” there really is nothing authentic about it. It may actually end up seeming more deceiving to audiences than traditional endorsement because it’s meant to look real and candid when, in fact, it’s fake and staged.