The rise of brand-bashing influencers

While authenticity seems to be the winning ticket for the success of influencer marketing, recently it has become clearer that this space is filled with trust issues.
5 October 2018

The dark-side of influencer marketing. Source: Shutterstock

In recent years, we have seen an explosion in the use of influencer marketing by brands across of a variety of industries.

Businesses are leveraging the power of social media stars – those with a large following – to promote their products or services through paid content.

And this marketing technique is truly showing its worth. According to statistics, influencer marketing delivers 11 times higher ROI than traditional forms of digital marketing. And of those marketers who have already used the technique, 94 percent believe it to be effective.

The success of influencer marketing can be largely attributed to today’s consumer craving authenticity. In a world overwhelmed by media and advertisements, content generated by social influencers provides consumers with a way to identify products and services that resonate with their unique lifestyles.

Simply put, consumers trust other people more than they trust brands. In fact, in Nielsen’s Global Trust in Advertising report, 82 percent of those in the U.S. trust recommendations from people they know and 66 percent trust recommendations from opinions posted by consumers online.

Consumers trust the opinions of influencers over brands. Source: Shutterstock

These methods of recommendation are trusted more than any kind of advertising ran by a brand on TV or other similar outlets.

While authenticity seems to be the winning ticket for influencer marketings success, recently it has become more clear that this space is filled with trust issues.

Fraudulent followers, misguided endorsements (need I mention those notorious Kardashian-promoted diet lollipops?),  and even the rise of computer-generated influencers are just a few examples of cases where influencers have been found to be not so authentic with their followers.

On top of this, it has recently been discovered how some influencers are even being paid to give bad reviews of certain brands and products.

This is a problem that has been found to be rife in the beauty industry. Some influencers have accused the cosmetics industry as participating in “mobster-like behavior.”

In an Instagram post, makeup artist Kevin James Bennett exposed the ugly truth about the beauty industry, accusing some brands of offering influencers money in return of them giving a negative review of a competitor’s product.

View this post on Instagram

I'd like to thank @marlenastell for having the courage to publish a YouTube video exposing what's going on behind the scenes in the cosmetic industry. I've attempted to shed light on the mobster-like behavior of top-level beauty influencers and their management… and I've been accused of jealousy, called a liar and hater. FACT: A brand I consulted with asked me to inquire about working with a top-level beauty influencer. The influencer's management offered me these options: 1) $25K – product mention in a multi-branded product review. 2) $50K-$60K – dedicated product review (price determined by length of video). 3) $75K-$85K – dedicated negative review of a competitor's product (price determined by length of video). 4) A minimum 10% affiliate link or code to use on IG and YT. Yes, option #3 is legit – payment to damage the competition's business. I told you it was mob-like behavior. The demands and threats of "influencers" and their management have GOT TO STOP. The lack of disclosure by top-level influencers is FRAUD and it's time for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to step in, start charging fines and shut this bullsh*t down. To the followers/subs who STILL refuse to believe their idols are thugs – pull your head out of your favorite beauty influencer's ass and SEE what's actually going on in this industry. #beautyinfluencers #fraud #FTC #makeup #makeupeducation

A post shared by Kevin James Bennett (@kjbennettbeauty) on

He recounted a time when an unnamed brand he once consulted with, asked him to inquire about teaming up with a top beauty influencer. According to his Instagram post, the influencer’s management offered the following options:

  1. US$25K – product mention in a multi-branded product review.
  2. US$50K-$60K – dedicated product review (price determined by length of video).
  3. US$75K-$85K – dedicated negative review of a competitor’s product (price determined by length of video).
  4. A minimum 10 percent affiliate link or code to use on IG and YT.

Bennett describes how these brands are offering influencers “payment to damage the competition’s business” and how “the lack of disclosure by top-level influencers is fraud.”

As a result, Bennett – and many others in the industry – are demanding the Federal Trade Commision to step in to address this problem.

The FTC has already implemented endorsement guides for marketers and influencers to ensure they are compliant when endorsing products on social media. It includes requiring influencers to clarify all brand endorsements to their followers, being completely transparent over what they’re being paid to promote. And they seem to be really cracking down on these guidelines.

They have been sending warning letters to influencers who have failed to properly disclose paid promotional posts and have even named and shamed certain social media influencers and brands.

But while these guidelines are requiring influencers to state whether they are being paid to promote something, the lines remain blurry when it comes to being paid to give negative reviews of competitors products.

Stories such as this bring into question the true authenticity of influencer marketing. What made the technique so successful to begin with – real people sharing their authentic lives with their followers – is being tainted by companies showering influencers with money in return of brand-bashing reviews.

This growing lack of authenticity is really beginning to impact consumers opinions of influencers. One study reported how 52 percent of millennials said that they trust social media influencers less these days.

It is important to note of course, that this problem just lies with a small segment of influencers. Many are very compliant to the rules and strive to be as authentic as possible with their followers.

But it’s clear to see the true moral of the story: Don’t believe everything you see on social media.