Last week a BBC investigation revealed that three of the UK’s top influencers, Lauren Goodger, Mike Hassani and Zara Holland agreed to endorse a non-existent weight loss drink Cyanora, which listed cyanide poison in the ingredients. Although the influencers were told that the drink was still in production they all filmed scripted promos stating “If you want to boost your weight-loss, try Cyanora…Cyanora contains all-natural extracts: calamine, magnesium, lemon balm, red clover, hydrogen cyanide” without trying it first. Hassani even went as far as to comment “that all looks pretty natural”.
This latest influencer probe highlights just how dangerous influencers can be to the public. In the past 12 months there have been countless rulings and instances of celebrities irresponsibly touting cosmetic procedures, diet regimes and beauty products all without full disclosure. Pregnant Ex-on the Beach star Jemma Lucy promoting diet products was one notable example and despite clear guidance on social media endorsements from both the Competition & Markets Authority and the Advertising Standards Authority the problem seems to be growing.
Most worryingly, a recent report from The Times suggested that inexperienced investors are being duped by celebrity influencers into buying into high-risk foreign exchange schemes. This led to the Financial Conduct Authority issuing a warning against one of the schemes involved but perhaps this is just the tip of the iceberg.
And the problem is not exclusive to celebrities. 2019 saw the rise of ‘Insta-Mums’, mothers who share every aspect of their families lives on Instagram and can command huge fees for promoting all kinds of brands. Sophie Hinchliffe, known to her almost 3 million followers as ‘Mrs Hinch’ rose to fame after sharing her cleaning hacks and favourite products. This year she was investigated by the ASA over complaints made about her not clearly labelling her posts as ads – and critics point out that she also promotes the dangerous use of multiple chemicals for instance, spraying fabric softener on sofas which stops it from being fire retardant, and harming the environment by encouraging her followers to stockpile the numerous cleaning products that she promotes. The press recently picked up on her excessive Christmas decorations and mountain of gifts, leading many of her detractors to criticise her for promoting an unrealistic lifestyle, constantly encouraging users to ‘swipe-up’ to buy the #gifted products or eBay purchases that she gains financially from.
Clemmie Hooper, otherwise known as Mother of Daughters, is another Instagram mum who used her family ‘brand’ to gain lucrative endorsements for food, clothing, furniture, and holiday brands, even launching M&S’s Autumn campaign alongside Holly Willoughby. She has recently fallen from grace after being outed as a bully and racist towards other bloggers and has shut down her 600k+ follower Instagram account following a very public outcry at her dishonesty.
Most recent criticism of the Insta-mum phenomenon is now levelled at their promotion of well-being and positive mental health whilst flaunting unachievable lifestyles and excessive material consumption, pushing their followers to get into debt or to feel inadequate about their own lives, bodies, and parenting. Only time will tell if the backlash will turn Influencer marketing on its head. Followers are already calling out influencers for not labelling their advertisement posts correctly, and many are realising that most influencers are really buying likes and are not genuine.
2020 will most likely be the year when brands realise that their reputations are at risk from being damaged by influencers who flout the rules on social media endorsements and bring bad press from their false lifestyles. The public are waking up to the fact that brands have a huge role to play in social responsibility and using influencers to sell costly, fake, and often dangerous lifestyle choices can come at a price.