Influencer Marketing's Downward Ethical Spiral

One of the results of our increasing rejection of advertising is that advertisers are becoming sneakier in presenting advertising that doesn’t look like advertising. One example is native advertising. Another is influencer marketing.

I’m not a big fan of either. I find native advertising mildly irritating. But I have bigger issues with influencer marketing.

Case in point: Taytum and Oakley Fisher. They’re identical twins, two years old, and have 2.4 million followers on Instagram. They are adorable.

They’re also expensive. A single branded photo on their feed goes for sums in the five-figure range. Of course, “they” are only two and have no idea what’s going on. This is all being stage-managed behind the scenes by their parents, Madison and Kyler. 



The Fishers are not an isolated example. According to an article on Fast Company, adorable kids -- especially twins --  are a hot segment in the predicted $5 billion to $10 billion influencer market. Influencer management companies like  God & Beauty are popping up.

In a multibillion-dollar market, there are a lot of opportunities for everyone to make a quick buck. And the bucks get bigger when the “stars” can actually remember their lines.

Here’s a quote from the Fast Company article: “The Fishers say they still don’t get many brand deals yet, because the girls can’t really follow directions. Once they’re old enough to repeat what their parents (and the brands paying them) want, they could be making even more.”

Am I the only one that finds this carrying the whiff of moral repugnance?

If so, you might say, “What’s the harm?” The audience is obviously there. It works. Taytum and Oakley appear to be having fun, according to their identical grins. It’s just Gord being in a pissy mood again.

Perhaps. But I think there’s more going on here than we see on the typical Instagram feed.

One problem is transparency -- or lack of it. Whether you agree with traditional advertising or not, at least it happens in a well-defined and well-lit marketplace. There is transparency into the fundamental exchange: consumer attention for dollars. It is an efficient and time-tested market.  There are metrics in place to measure the effectiveness of this exchange.

But when advertising attempts to present itself as something other than advertising, it slips from a black-and-white transaction to something lurking in the darkness, colored in shades of grey. The whole point of influencer marketing is to make it appear that these people are genuine fans of these products, so much so that they can’t help evangelizing them through their social media feeds.

This -- of course -- is bullshit. Money is paid for each one of these “genuine” tweets or posts. Big money. In some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars. But that all happens out of sight and out of mind. It’s hidden, and that makes it an easy target for abuse.

But there's more than just a transactional transparency problem here. There is also a moral one. By becoming an influencer, you are actually becoming the influenced -- allowing a brand to influence who you are, how you act, what you say and what you believe in. Influencers go in believing that they are in control and the brand is just coming along for the ride.

This is -- again -- bullshit. The minute you go on the payroll, you begin auctioning off your soul to the highest bidder. Amena Khan and Munroe Bergdorf both discovered this. The two influencers were cut from L’Oreal’s influencer roster by actually tweeting what they believed in.

The façade of influencer marketing is the biggest problem I have with it. It claims to be authentic, but it’s actually about as authentic as pro wrestling -- or Mickey Rourke’s face.

Influencer marketing depends on creating an impossibly shiny bubble of your life filled with adorable families, exciting getaways, expensive shoes and the perfect soymilk latte. No real life can be lived under this kind of pressure.

Influencer marketing claims to be inspirational, but it’s actually aspirational at the basest level. It relies on millions of us lusting after a life that is not real -- a life where “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.”

Or -- at least -- all the children are named Taytum or Oakley.

5 comments about "Influencer Marketing's Downward Ethical Spiral".
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  1. Kevin VanGundy from BEACON Senior Newspaper, February 19, 2019 at 3:36 p.m.

    Absolutely. I feel a bit guilty in the pleasure I took in watching the recent documenteries on the Fyre Festival on Netflix and Hulu. The entrie sham event was promoted almost exclusively through influencer marketing. The primary promoter went to prison and deservedly so, but why no penalties for the "influencers" who "vouched" for him?

  2. Jayne De Sesa from Freelance, February 19, 2019 at 4:42 p.m.

    But this is only a natural progression of unbridled capitalism. We inevitably end up measuring human worth in data and dollars, and are fine with shilling souls...aren’t we?

  3. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, February 20, 2019 at 6:15 p.m.

    I agree on the influencers and the ROI. Dollar per dollar more companies are going away from influencers and finding better ways to spend their marketing and advertising dollars. Most are building their own databases and doing so with promotions like sweepstakes and coupons. It's far cheaper to publish a sweep than to hire a influencer.

  4. Vicki Mills from Mills Marketing, February 25, 2019 at 1:26 p.m.

    Don't you remember when it was called "endorsement deal" rather than influencer marketing? I don't see the difference. I'm not a fan of either one.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, March 11, 2019 at 8:02 a.m.

    Training little children to say lines that they don't know what it means is like training a dog, except dogs are cuter. native =advertorial, nothing more, nothing less. Paid advertising is paid advertising. If there is a problem with that, then there is a problem with the message and the people /product behind it.

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