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Travel ‘influencers’ may lose their glow under new scrutiny

February 18, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

Australia’s biggest travel agency chain is among companies that no longer use social media ‘influencers’ in their marketing mix, seeing no value in doing so.

The appeal of minor celebrities and social media stars as brand promoters is in question as doubts grow about their reliability.

Content and publications manager at Flight Centre, Cassandra Laffey, confirmed on Thursday that Flight Centre did not use influencers. She pointed out that so-called influencers who might promote Flight Centre one week were just as likely to promote a rival group the next week.

There were better ways to communicate, she said.

In Britain, the UK advertising watchdog has just cautioned “between 200 and 300” social media influencers for breaking the rules.

In Australia, outrageously inflated claims about influencer “reach” are still being made  – and companies that specialise in the social media and influencer field are among the first to admit it.

Natalie Giddings, managing director of The Remarkables Group, an Australia-based independent influencer marketing team that “helps advertisers unlock the benefits of social media”, told marketing magazine B&T last year that some claims about the “reach” of influencers confused potential reach with reality.

“Why are we still constantly seeing and hearing these outrageous claims?” Giddings asked, citing a campaign for an Australian-only based brand that reported having reached 87 million people.

“That is three times the total population of Australia and utterly impossible,” Giddings said.

In Britain as in Australia, most posts by minor celebrities involve Instagram. Typically, celebrities and influencers have, or claim, thousands or millions of followers who watch their channels to see where they go on holiday, what they wear, which products they use, the books they read, which drinks they consume and so on. Dieting, food, fashion and cosmetics are the main obsessions but travel comes into it.

In Australia, as in the UK, advertisers and influencers must ensure consumers know that content is sponsored.

Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) chief Guy Parker recently told The Drum marketing site: “People shouldn’t have to play the detective to work out if they’re being advertised to. That means the status of a tweet, blog, vlog, Instagram post or story should be clear.”

Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched an investigation last year into concerns that social media stars are not properly declaring when they have been paid, or otherwise rewarded, to endorse goods or services. A number have been named and shamed.

The CMA says online endorsements from celebrities and influencers can help brands reach target audiences and boost sales. Where influencers are paid or rewarded to promote, review or talk about a product in their social media feeds, consumer protection law requires that this must be made clear.

If they do not label their posts properly, fans or followers may be led to believe that an endorsement represents the star’s own view, rather than a paid-for promotion.

They are then more likely to place trust in that product, as they think it has been recommended by someone they admire. They might not do so, however, if it was made clear that the brands featured have paid, or in some other way rewarded, the celebrity in return for endorsement.

George Lusty, the CMA’s Senior Director for Consumer Protection, said:

  • Social media stars can have a big influence on what their followers do and buy.
  • If people see clothes, cosmetics, a car, or a holiday being plugged by someone they admire, they might be swayed into buying it.
  • So, it’s really important they are clearly told whether a celebrity is promoting a product because they have bought it themselves, or because they have been paid or thanked in some way by the brand.

IN AUSTRALIA, social media “influencers” have to clearly label their sponsored content, according to a code by the Australian Association of National Advertisers (AANA), which covers all social media platforms, and any kind of social media user.

The AANA is self-regulating, however, and following its rules is voluntary – so it’s not much of a deterrent. In that respect it’s a bit like the Advertising Standards Bureau, another Australian authority which lacks the power to impose penalties.

In January 2015 Australia Post came under fire after being caught out by consumers over its use of social media influencers, when it emerged it was paying Instagrammers without disclosing that their endorsements were being paid for.

Technically, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) can bring an action over breach of Australian Consumer Law (ACL) over such matters. That’s super heavy. Breaching the ACL carries a maximum fine of AUD 220,000 per post for an influencer, and AUD 1.1 million for a brand.

Here’s a statement from the ACCC that provides some guidance:

“There is nothing illegal about paying someone to do an endorsement, but is a third party aware of the commercial relationship? What we ultimately say to businesses and bloggers is that you are on good safe ground if you disclose commercial relationships. When you’re not then you start running into this grey area that could potentially lead you to a messy end.” Michael Schaper, ACCC Deputy Chair, January 2014

Written by Peter Needham

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