On the next episode of Keeping up with the Kardasians: Kim, Khloe and the gang get in trouble with the Federal Trade Commission!
Just kidding. Well, not quite.
The consumer advocacy nonprofit Truth in Advertising (TINA) recently took the iconic family to task, reporting over two dozen companies (from hair vitamins to detox tea to fancy jewelry) that have been featured by various Kardashians and Jenners on Instagram, without a single mention of being sponsored advertising. TINA then threatened to report the Kardashians to the FTC if they didn’t change their act.
After getting in hot water with the government before (more specifically, the FDA, when Kim posted about a morning sickness drug), could all the Kardashians have really been blissfully unaware about needing to clarify what’s an ad, and what’s their real life? Or were they perhaps trying to harness their power as influencers too covertly, and nearly got burned? We may never know, but we should still talk about it.
The Catch-22 of Influencer Marketing
One of the strange paradoxes of gaining fame as an online influencer is that your promotions can be incredibly effective when your audience doesn’t know they’re ads. For a great example, look to the current reigning queen of Instagram: Selena Gomez. A few months ago, Gomez posted a selfie drinking Coca Cola with her own song lyrics printed on the bottle. The photo’s popularity took off like wildfire, garnering over 4 million likes in two weeks. But here’s the rub: Gomez never explained that it was an #ad.
When announcing her recent partnership deal with the brand back in April, Gomez explained to Billboard, “I try to be as authentic as possible with everything I do, so nothing is forced.” And strangely, by supposedly taking such pains to come across as authentic and un-forced, her post overlooks the fact that it is, authentically, an advertisement for Coke.
Another potential argument to make here? That if a product is Instagrammed (or Tweeted, Snapped, Facebooked, etc.) it’s already apparent that the post is an advertisement. But that’s simply not the case, in an era where sponsored products and experiences can be woven seamlessly into someone’s life, especially if that person is high profile (another Kardashian example: a seemingly innocuous Instagram photo of Kim in the Hamptons that is actually an #ad for the clothing line Revolve). More than ever, social media is making it difficult to separate truth from marketing. And that’s exactly why content creators need to explicitly differentiate between the two.
What to Do Instead
Kim Kardashian already seems to be repenting for her marketing missteps, now writing #ad in front of her posts that feature sponsored content. But that hashtag isn’t the only way for influencers to weave a corporate collaboration into their content. At Delucchi Plus, our work with client Sassoon Salons incorporates content from influencers in the fashion and beauty space, in ways that simultaneously feel open and spontaneous. Below are a couple examples.
In this post, Chicago-based Insta-bohemian heartofchic comes across as glamorous and approachable — while explaining her connection with Sassoon in a fun, friendly style.
Another approach, proven here by San Francisco-based influencer thoughtfulmisfit, takes an in-the-moment shot (or in this case, selfie) that promotes the brand while proving that the spokesperson uses (and loves) the services herself. Thoughtfulmisfit even takes the cross-promotion a step further here, throwing in a shout-out for her own Snapchat account.
Take note, Kardashians: Transparency in influencer marketing doesn’t have to be difficult. As our clients prove, having an influencer explain why a brand is great (and how they’re connected to it) doesn’t detract from how your audience reacts to it. Just like the positive response to organic, conversational advertising in podcasts, a promotion that feels easy, open and honest can create great results.