That is right -- the murky world of influencer marketing has had a new light shining on it, and it doesn't come out in the best light. Usually the channel is criticised for influencers not making it clear they are advertising a product, but now we have laid bare the problem we all knew was there all along -- fake followers.
Research by Points North Group into Instagram campaigns run in March, featured in Netimperative, paints a very fair picture of a channel that has its ups, but more seriously, truly has some serious downs.
On the plus side, let's start positively -- there are several well-known brands in the top-ten big spenders, and all received a CPM of $3 or less. In fact, the most successful brand, Heinz Ketchup, maintained a CPM as low as $1.78. That works out at around five people reached for every cent spent, doesn't it? Nobody could argue with that for value.
The downside is when it comes to outing those influencers whose reach is boosted by fake followers.
The number one most-duped brand is Ritz-Carlton, according to the research. You may need to take a seat before you read on. A staggering 72% of those reached through its influencer programme were fake. Skin lotions brand Aquaphor was in second place and managed to waste half its budget, while L'Occitane in the third spot manage to waste 39%.
There are some big household names in the top 10, such as Pampers, Magnum Ice Cream and Olay, whose campaigns had fake follower rates of 32%, 20%, and 19%, respectively.
When one thinks of the furore over digital display fraud, recently reported to cut to single-digit percentage levels, it is hard to see these household brands as having been the subject of anything other than daylight robbery.
Fortunately, for those brands concerned, none make the top-ten big spenders in the research, meaning that none spent more than a quarter of a million dollars in the month surveyed.
However, fraud is fraud -- and the question now is binary.
Are influencers, the unwitting recipients of fake followers, perhaps bot accounts that are trying to look normal automatically following them? Or are followers actively taking part in the fraud?
When fake followers can be bought at such low cost, and the rewards are potentially enormous, one does have to wonder.