Drugi jezik na kojem je dostupan ovaj članak: Bosnian
By: Kamilo Antolović and Mario Fraculj, permanent court experts for advertising and market communication
Branded clothes and expensive handbags. Travel and luxury hotels. Life of a movie star. They are followed, adored, clicked, liked, shared and envied by hundreds of thousands of fans, and each post brings them a few thousand HRK. Of course, we are talking about Croatian circumstances. It’s similar in the world, you just have to add tens of thousands of euros to the figures!
This is how many perceive the work and life of an influencer!
Lately there is probably no more popular buzzword in the media space than influencer. Although the mention of this word brings up a wave of different comments from most people, it’s hard not to notice that being a social network influencer can generally be a very important and lucrative job.
Doubtful reactions and cynical tone often come from older generations who still can’t believe that someone is willing to give money to people who do the same thing that everyone else does – day and night hanging around on the Internet. Younger generations, who grew in the world of internet, spend most of their time on it, and probably follow at least a few of their own influencers.
What is far more important than what individuals think about this is that the importance of influencers has been recognized by numerous brands and companies, who see the future of their promotion and part of marketing in general in this form of communication.
The question is not who fares better – vloggers, with their channels on YouTube, or those who have hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram (experts say that even ten thousand followers doesn’t guarantee great visibility because the posts, for example, on Instagram most often don’t have a long-term value as the published video content). The real question lies with the legal and ethical dilemmas regarding this kind of communication on the Internet.
Namely, influencer marketing, as well as a number of other forms, must be labelled as paid content (in money, commodity or other form). In Croatia (and a number of other markets), this is a poorly developed practice because influencers tend to “covertly” advertise a particular brand, so it is very difficult to determine when the content is actually paid and when it is not.
Do their followers feel deceived because of that?
Fans don’t like seeing posts that are screaming with “ads”. They don’t like excessive praising of a product or hashtags that have the name of a brand in them. Although there is extensive legislation in Croatia (112 laws) and many ethical codes that can be invoked, there is no direct regulation that unambiguously encompasses influencers on various social networks. Therefore, labelling such paid or sponsored content is still not fully legally regulated although the Media Act defines key parameters regarding advertising conditions. Therefore, almost none of the domestic influencers signal when they are paid for something, or when its PR, samples, gifts, publicity, and the like.
And once the consumer’s consciousness says “this is an ad”, there’s no going back. Our proverbial influencer becomes the same as the “pretentious” face from a “TV commercial” for a bank, and the influencer marketing becomes a marginal tool in demand management.
Noting all the issues of this phenomenon, the most developed markets of the world (USA, UK, Australia …) have already regulated this form of communication. Particularly interesting is the recent warning from the US Federal Trade Commission, Protecting America’s Consumers, which warned that Instagram has become the Wild West of masked advertising for talented young people, and especially women, and Australia has put a cap on the amount of investments.
According to David Blažević from the MAOIO Digital Agency: “Instagram has started testing a tag named paid partnership last year, which would mark the content on that social network that was sponsored. Instagram would include this tag on a certain post of an influencer only when the brand confirms that it was their sponsorship.” Apparently, Facebook is also testing similar options, but the question we all have to ask is, who stands to profit the most from this?
If there is no clear separation and labelling of paid content, the law says it is (illicit) covert and fraudulent advertising, but consumer and communication evolution has went its own course. Millennials are more tolerant towards the “covert advertising” by their celebrity figure than, for example, baby boomers.
Regardless of the different habits, behaviour and treatment of such (paid) content (advertising), the law undoubtedly stipulates the following:
- “Ad is any paid publication… done through monetary or other form of reimbursement for the purpose of self-promotion…”.
- “An ad must be clearly labelled, and as such visibly separated from other programmed content”.
- “And ad shall not be such that it can leave an impression with viewers, listeners or readers that it is editorial content of a media.”
- “Sponsored content must be clearly labelled as such at publishing, either with the name of the sponsor or their insignia.”
- “Free advertising must be especially labelled” … “responsibility for advertised messages lies solely with the advertiser.”
- “Covert advertising will be considered any journalistic form (text, image…) which is paid in any form, but is not clearly labelled as advertising”.
- In accordance with the text of the law, and the spirit of advertising as a discipline, there is no doubt that any paid content (in money, goods, services and similar) is advertising, and must be separated and particularly labelled as advertising – paid content (regardless of the content of the message). Otherwise, it is considered covert advertising, ie illicit action, that is in the responsibility of the advertiser.
- Transmission of messages, which by its definition is not advertising (the law states sponsorship and free advertising as such*) but some other form of communication, and which is not labelled as such, is not considered covert advertising but covert market communication.
- A message that is not labelled as advert, and is paid as such in any manner, without due procedure (ie. without receipt), in terms of the law, tax regulations and by definition is advertising, hence such advertising could be considered more as fraudulent and less covert.
*“Free advertising”, regardless of its legal formulation (perhaps the law maker meant publicity?) illustrates the “legal void” in a string of laws (authors remark: free advertising doesn’t exist by definition, same as dry water, so it’s not quite clear why something that is not possible and doesn’t exist is being banned?)
Overall, the biggest controversy and problem of the influencer of marketing is not in the tax or legislative, but ethical aspect; are consumers being misled with such form of communication and does it unethically affect their behaviour?
Therefore, many developed countries have regulated this form of advertising, for which the Croatian legislation provides the basis for the adoption of self-regulatory acts (rules) of the participants themselves, ie the advertising industry. In support of these ethical standards (good practices) we can also observe the following themes:
- Paid content label (ad) should be placed immediately and separately at the beginning, with special text in the content, so consumers (followers) could immediately know what it’s about (paid content),
- Wherever possible (in all forms, image, text, video…) editorial and paid content should be separated, and where this is not possible (ie. brand integration in the content) it should be visibly and comprehensibly communicated that it’s a sponsored piece,
- Properly ensure that an average consumer (follower) cam immediately differentiate which part of the content is paid, and which is not,
- Placing shortened, or too many hashtags such as #sp (sponsored product) and thank you messages: “thanks to the brand” is not enough, because followers are not explained that this is paid content, and it can mislead the user.
- Photographs, drawings, thumbnails and similar materials used by influencers (including other forms of digital communications), which contain products or brand logos, need clear explanations that they are paid content.
- Neither influencers, nor advertisers, agencies and media, should use the techniques nor content that mislead or could mislead followers or users.
- Overall influencer marketing, as well as related forms of market communications – marketing (ie. native, guerrilla, ambush…) should be created and implemented with great care for social responsibility of the industry as a whole.
- Influencers, creators, advertisers and other stakeholders in market communications on the digital market should encourage adoption of trade level, self-regulatory ethical standards and best practices, before the law makes improperly, and prohibitively regulate this form of communication.
Some data about the leading influencers in Croatia and the world (fashion-beauty)*
Jelena Perić (1.1 million followers on Instagram and 192 thousand subscribers on YouTube)
Amadea Muse (1,1 million followers on Instagram and 14 thousand subscribers on YouTube)
Ella Dvornik (360 thousand followers on Instagram and 43 thousand subscribers on YouTube)
Lorin Nukić (66 thousand followers on Instagram and 42 thousand subscribers on YouTube)
Lele Pons (31 million followers on Instagram and 13 million subscribers on YouTube)
Huda Kattan (30 million followers on Instagram and 2,8 million subscribers on YouTube)
Chiara Ferragni (15,7 million followers on Instagram and 130 thousand subscribers on YouTube)
Nikkie de Jager (7,2 million followers on Instagram and 6,6 million subscribers on YouTube)
*sources: authors’ archive; Instagram, YouTube and Forbes (state as of December 1, 2018.)