Mrs Hinch is the Instagram sensation whose “Hinch Army” of fans has grown to over 2.5m in little more than a year. They are drawn to her love of cleaning and affectionately naming the numerous cleaning products she uses, as well as her honesty about anxiety and low self-esteem. The ‘Hinch Effect’ has been unprecedented and the public often scramble to copy her numerous purchases – at one point Zoflora’s manufacturers had to double production to meet demand for her favourite disinfectant, but suspicions have been aroused about her lack of advertising disclosure.
The Advertising Standards Authority recently began investigating her following complaints about her Instagram posts promoting Febreze and Flash. Mrs Hinch was quick to respond with numerous apologies on her stories but was this because she wasn’t aware that she had to disclose her relationship with the brands, or because of the cynics who brand her a fake and part of an elaborate advertising campaign?
Another big influencer story last week involved fashion Instagrammer Marissa Fuchs and her fiancé. Their extravagant engagement was covered in a six day Insta story that took her 198k followers on a scavenger hunt involving numerous freebies such as jewellery, clothing, luggage, VIP hotel rooms and even beauty treatments. It is alleged that the couple planned the whole thing and had sent a pitch to brands beforehand which included metrics on how the stunt would perform online. The result was heavy criticism across social media and a dent in the reputations of the brands involved due to the lack of transparency. One expert summed it up well by saying “Consumers are savvy and can see straight through thinly veiled partnership agreements such as this. The public is increasingly holding brands accountable for their unethical quest for profit.”
The lesson to be learnt with these disasters is that brands and their Influencers who ignore the rules will not get away with it for much longer. In the UK the Competition and Markets Authority who create the rules that protect consumers from unscrupulous marketers, as well as the ASA are paying attention and hitting out at social media posts that don’t own up to the fact that they are really adverts. If more and more brands and influencers continue to flout the rules the industry runs the risk that the Government will create strict rules which will restrict advertisers in the same way as cigarette advertising – total bans. And an increase of research into its negative effects will eventually mean that the government will have to take note and legislate. For instance a recent study by the University of Liverpool has highlighted the bad influence that social media has on childhood obesity. The study found that children who followed Influencers marketing unhealthy snacks ate a significantly higher level of calories and unhealthy snacks specifically compared with children who viewed influencers with non-food products. Interestingly, children who viewed influencers with healthy snacks did not significantly encourage healthy diet.
In a nutshell just follow the CMA’s rules and always disclose where a post is really an ad even when items are gifted. And remember that disclosure isn’t as simple as using #ad as a reference. Although there are prescribed ways of explaining the relationship between an Influencer and the brands that they promote, the CMA recommend reviewing the post from the perspective of the follower. Other tips include;