Digital experiences remain in a constant state of flux; rarely do industry tactics remain unchanged for long in the digital realm. Even Instagram, once a dark horse now turned social giant that may soon eclipse Facebook, must make topical changes in regard to recent sanctions by the Federal Trade Commission and its crackdown on improper endorsement disclosures between businesses and their paid partnerships a la influencer marketing; the newfangled digital trend that aims to bolster brand loyalty and drive sales. Before the FTC’s grand send off of 90 letters warning social media stars and celebrities to tread lightly, businesses were able to capitalize on the purposeful omission of disclosures allowing them to sidestep growing public aversion to irrelevant online ads.
As reported in a study by Kantar Millward Brown on US internet users, “71% of respondents said that ads are more intrusive now than they were three years ago. A similar number indicated they’re seeing more ads overall, and even more agreed that ads are now appearing in more places.”
When done correctly, the influencer trend can live up to its hype. According to Nielsen Catalina, influencer marketing is 11x more effective than traditional advertising at driving in-store sales. As of now and for the foreseeable future, greater transparency within Instagram ads is unavoidable. The policy shouldn’t be viewed as a roadblock for messaging in the channel, but rather an additional best practice to be added onto a campaign build checklist before the ROI cash in later on.
For a better grasp on how brands can maneuver current Instagram restrictions and continue to leverage influencer marketing, we’ve pieced together a reference guide for marketers below.
Toe the (Guide)lines
With the FTC bringing shady dealings to light last July and making good on their warning in 2018, current players and new brands cornering the influencer market now have to navigate how to remain compliant to FTC guidelines and transparent to the community without undermining engaging content. Predicated on a “common sense” premise, the endorsement guidelines make a strong case for more conspicuous advertising -- citing that endorsements made by influencers must be honest and legally abiding, making no claim that couldn’t be corroborated by the product’s marketer. In order to prevent legal backlash or financial penalties from the FTC, marketers should commit the following to memory:
Disclose every piece of paid influencer content. Even if an active campaign consists of multiple posts and it seems redundant to do so, in reality it’s proper form. Routine execution keeps unwanted letters from the FTC from winding up in your mailbox, like the letter Lord & Taylor received for its paisley dress disaster.
Under no circumstance use #sp or #partner. Aside from being nondescript, both fall short of compliant communication. Consider the 10 million or so #sp posts floating around Instagram as examples of exactly what not to do. Also worth noting, “Thanks, [Brand]” is in the same boat as the other two culprits.
Use #sponsored and #ad sparingly. While these hashtags are allowed, they lack the subtlety necessary to minimize any resentment consumers may harbor towards ads they see as intrusive. As a last resort, these hashtags can work as announcements of commercial relationships. However, frequent usage toes the line as “spammy” and, worse, may discourage consumers from pursuing further action after they see an influencer product review or brand account takeover in their timelines.
As we move further into the digital age, the frequency of paid media ads will inevitably increase. Remaining compliant to the FTC is non-negotiable, sacrificing the quality of your creative though, is not. So how do you find the balance in effectively avoiding penalties without creatives toppling over from poorly placed hashtags?
Be Transparent, Not Tone-Deaf
After finding the right influencer for your brand, it’s essential to understand exactly what is at stake. It is here that the complexities of influencer marketing have to be acknowledged. The power exchange between influencers and brands is reciprocal: in exchange for early access to coveted information likely to build industry recognition and increase follower counts, influencers act as brand ambassadors and utilize salesmanship tactics that are underpinned by their own credibility. All of this to say, properly disclosing an endorsement but failing to do so delicately has negative implications for all with a serious interest in the success of an influencer campaign. In order to give your influencer campaign its best shot, business can utilize a relevant roll-out from Instagram:
Branded Content -- This tool allows more creative flexibility and clearly conveys commercial relationships between influencers and brand partners in the header of a tagged post, reading as: “paid partnership with [brand partner].” Specialized features of this tool grant brands executive power to opt-out of tagged posts, require future approvals and gain insight to reach and engagement metrics for posts and stories.
In that vein, placing #[Brand]Partner in the ad copy or sponsoring paid media via handles of influencers works as well if a low-key approach is more of an on-brand move.
Anheuser-Busch (AB InBev) saw significant lift in ad recall with its Lime-A-Rita influencer campaign that featured sunny short loop video ads focused on raising brand awareness and purchasing intent within young women aged 21-34. Lime-A-Rita showcased transparency by post promotion through the accounts of 3 hand selected influencers; an authentic gesture that didn’t overstep legal boundaries and clocked in at a reach of over 8.5 million viewers.
Where Compliance is a Must, Content is King
Given the recent federal scrutiny and class action lawsuits brought against Facebook, the social landscape is still very much so being mapped out, legal pitfalls and all. For brands unfamiliar with the terrain, an established digital agency like UNION, equipped with social media expertise, can help brands navigate safely. And ultimately if self-preservation is top of mind for brands, then observance of developing laws and regulations will continue to be a priority for businesses, granted that equal consideration is devoted to branded content without creative compromise.
Influencer marketing has to adapt as well in order to produce its brow-raising numbers moving forward. Innovate outside of the box with available channel tools and consistently carry out proper disclosure protocol, so that this revamped social advertising can forge a new path free of AdBlock and clickbait titles.
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