“People want something that looks real”: the credibility of influencer marketing

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has launched a dedicated webpage to expose influencers and brands who are repeatedly failing to disclose paid advertising on Instagram. How do brands keep authenticity at the heart of their market strategy?

The sun-drenched beaches gleam brightly as the skin of social media influencers stretch out on the sand, facing the camera with filtered smiles and toned bodies as they pose next to a diet pill they claim helped them transform their body.  

From the likes of Reality TV star Molly-Mae Hague to famous body coach Joe Wicks, there is an influx of influencers using their social media platforms to promote products they have been paid to advertise for a brand’s marketing campaign. They make claims about how detox teas, dietary supplements and exercise equipment helped them achieve their ideal body shape, yet often fail to disclose that it is a paid advertisement.  

The influencer marketing industry is set to increase to approximately $16.4 billion this year, according to a report by the Influencer Marketing Hub.  Jennifer Adetoro, an influencer marketing specialist for Digital Voices, believes that in today’s highly competitive social media industry, authenticity should be an integral part of a brand’s marketing strategy.

Brands are starting to use less well-known influencers in their marketing campaigns (Credit: Gustavo Fring on Pexel).

“The Gen Z generation are so consciously aware of when they are being targeted or if anything is fake and they are not afraid to call out brands, which is very different from previous generations,” said Jennifer, who thinks it is vital for brands and the influencers they work with to always be transparent with their consumers because social media users are becoming more aware of misleading advertising. “Brands can no longer put things out that seem really fake or that are very done up and artificial. Brand values are more important to this new generation and that’s personally why I think authenticity is really important.”

Any advertising on social media must follow the guidelines set forth by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in order to protect consumers, which state that advertised posts must be clearly signposted and labelled. But many influencers choose to ignore these rules.

People want authenticity, they want something real

Jennifer Adetoro, influencer marketing specialist

The ASA received 55% more concerns about social media influencers in 2020 than the previous year, increasing from 1,979 to 3,144 different complaints. The lack of advertising disclosure on Instagram was the subject of almost two thirds of those complaints, but in June 2021, the ASA created a webpage to publicly shame influencers who broke the rules.

Although these regulations were put in place to maintain transparency between brands and their consumers, Jennifer asserts that many influencers are not concerned with depicting reality to their followers. She said, “People want authenticity, they want something real…but some influencers just don’t care. It’s a new industry so they’re still trying to figure things out but it’s really bad if you don’t disclose that it’s an ad especially when it comes to dietary or medical products.”

Brands such as Bootea, FitTea and Flat Tummy Co., as well as fitness influencers connected to their products, have come under fire in the past for not only making claims that lack scientific evidence, but also for not taking proper precautions when endorsing a product.  

Nearly two thirds of 2,000 British participants admitted that they never see success from diet and fitness trends that promise a quick weight loss transformation, and nearly half of the participants think that using influencers to promote weight-loss products is false advertising, according to a study by the gym David Lloyd Clubs.

The number of likes and followers an influencer has is often a higher priority for a brand than whether the principles they uphold and the content they create are compatible with their goals and image, according to Jennifer. “Brands often get caught up on these numbers and they think they want this person, but they might not actually align with your brand so it might not be a good fit,” she said.

Jennifer acknowledges, however, that more brands are starting to pay attention to the influencer’s content rather than the number of likes they receive. She said, “I think having a higher engagement rate is one factor that does play into it, but I think we’re moving away from just having a high following.”

Influencers build their entire careers online, and marketers are keen to use them as brand advocates (Credit: Georgia de Lotz, Unsplash).

50% of users indicate greater interest in a brand after viewing their adverts online, and 90% of Instagram users follow businesses, making it an effective platform for influencer marketing methods, according to a survey by Instagram.

Building trust is essential because consumers are becoming more sceptical of brands and their marketing strategies. As influencer marketing expands, Jennifer argues that brands can enhance their authenticity by collaborating with influencers who have a modest but devoted following and possess expertise in their niche.

“What a lot of brands miss out on is working with these new emerging creators who really have this strong audience and for them to have faith in them to do the role, it can be the best alignment,” said Jennifer, asserting that consumers are dissatisfied with the lack of creativity from brand’s marketing campaigns. “However, some brands just want your typical influencers and I’m sure as consumers, people are bored of that.”

Micro-influencers, who only have a few hundred to a thousand followers, are more likely to persuade their consumers to buy products because they have a stronger personal connection with them and higher engagement rates, according to a recent study.

Rather than collaborating with traditional celebrities or high-profile influencers, journalist Rachel Hosie suggests in an Insiders article, that more brands are beginning to see the benefits of working with micro- or nano- influencers because they can make the experience more personable.

“Times have changed, and we need to make social media more representative of that otherwise it doesn’t make sense and it’s very unrealistic

Jennifer adetoro, influencer marketing specialist

Consumers are more likely to trust influencers with modest followings to be open and honest about their brand partnership, according to Jennifer Adetero. “When you see someone that is familiar or you have previously watched their content before, you’re more likely to click on that piece of content, that branded ad than if it was just a product or an item associated with a brand,” she said.

Influencer marketing is more relevant than traditional marketing, according to Jennifer Adetero, who believes consumers are more interested in social media influencers because they engage with them and promote a brand’s products in their own unique way. “To allow the influencer to tell the story from their own perspective, it makes it more authentic and genuine, and I think that matters more,” she said. ““Being able to see a story brought to life is way more engaging than reading it on text. We want something that really captures our attention.”

Audiences are drawn to influencer marketing because of its relatability and therefore, it is critical for brands to make diversity a priority. Jennifer asserts that brands should stop alienating different groups in order to put authenticity at the heart of their marketing campaign. “Times have changed, and we need to make social media more representative of that otherwise it doesn’t make sense and it’s very unrealistic,” she said.

“I know it’s still a new industry, but at the same time, the fact that it is a new industry should be more of a reason for it to be more representative and when I go online, I see such a diverse amount of creators and it’s shown that they are a massive hit because they are authentic, they are themselves and ordinary people,” said Jennifer, recommending that brands stop limiting their marketing campaigns by working with traditional, well-known influencers and instead, collaborate with individuals who care about the content they are producing.  

Products promoted by micro-influencers convey a greater sense of authenticity because they maintain intimate relationships with their followers, according to Campbell and Farrell (Credit: Olya Kobruseva, Pexel).

When influencer brand campaigns show more diversity, diverse followers feel more associated with the brand and are therefore more likely to try the products that influencers recommend, according to a Forbes article. Jennifer said, “Within every community and every sort of sector, there is worth and value in those consumers and I think brands do a huge disservice to themselves when they alienate all these different groups. It is changing – slowly but surely.”

A brand’s audience is diverse, so it is important to ensure that the people drawn to the brand are represented in its marketing strategy. According to a 2019 Google report, 70% of surveyed Black and LGBTQ consumers were more likely to interact with brands that reflected different identities in their advertising.

“It shows more care when your Instagram or social media feeds just try and be corporate with different body sizes and different ethnicities.

Jennifer adetoro, influencer marketing specialist

“There’s no standard right now, which makes things complicated because you have some creators who are white, who might get paid higher than a black creator or a creator from the LGBTQ+ community because there’s not a standard,” said Jennifer, who believes more can be done to stop discrimination in the influencer industry.

Consumers want to be able to see themselves portrayed in marketing campaigns, and so brands should make sure to create content that reflects what the real world looks like, according to Jennifer Adetero. “I think some of the challenges are that some brands are really stubborn,” she said, advising brands to interact more with people from different backgrounds. “Take a step back, listen and try to reach out to people from these different communities, listen to what they have to say, and try and hire more people from different backgrounds within your company.”

“You don’t have to have a knee jerk response to everything, you can take the time to do a really well thought out campaign,” said Jennifer. She believes that a brand adds more value when it plans its marketing strategy while promoting diversity and inclusion rather than rushing to keep up with all the current trends. “It shows more care when your Instagram or social media feeds just try and be corporate with different body sizes and different ethnicities. It just goes the extra mile.”

To build authenticity into their influencer marketing campaign, Jennifer argues that brands must build long term partnerships with the influencers they are collaborating with. Jennifer said, “it shows consumers that you actually care about the people you’re working with. And it makes the influencer feel more valuable and respected.”

“It must be authentic and must be real,” said Jennifer, who thinks it is more genuine for brands to give influencers artistic input when promoting their products. “Creative freedom, it’s just so important for influencers to be able to do the content that they’re already doing.”