Anyone familiar with the spectacular failings of Fyre Festival will know all too well about the power of the influencer. Not one, but two brand spanking new documentaries about the super party that never happened hit our screens this month – via Neflix and Hulu – with both doing their bit to shine the spotlight on the role and responsibilities of the modern-day influencer.
For those not familiar, Fyre Festival was supposed to be the festival to end all festivals. Taking place in the Bahamas, the organisers splashed vast amounts of cash on a launch campaign that revolved around a group of the world’s most influential supermodels living it up in paradise while sharing the most decadent of promotional pictures and videos on their social media channels to their millions of followers.
You, too, could experience the same Caribbean cocktail of hedonism and excess at Fyre Festival were you willing to part with your cash.
Unfortunately, the reality turned out to be rather different, with guests having to sleep in rain-drenched tents rather than the luxury villas they had been promised while having to make do with cheese sandwiches for dinner. The sold-out 2017 festival was swiftly cancelled and the organiser is now in prison for fraud.
If further proof were needed that online endorsements from influencers can help brands boost sales, there it was. But with Kendall Jenner reportedly paid $250,000 for a single Instagram post announcing the launch of Fyre Festival tickets, calls have grown louder for regulations to be tightened around the use of influencers promoting brands and services.
The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have since August been investigating celebrities who promote products on social media, amid concerns they are misleading consumers by not making it clear when they have been paid to do so. And this week it was announced by the CMA that 16 social media stars, including Rita Ora, Ellie Goulding and Alexa Chung, have all agreed going forward to state clearly if they have been paid or have received any gifts or loans of products that they endorse.
According to the CMA, when influencers are paid or rewarded to promote a product on social media, consumer protection law requires them to disclose that they have been paid or incentivised to endorse a brand – or they risk giving a misleading impression that a post represents their personal view about a product or service, therefore leading to the possibility of prosecution.
A number of other celebrities and influencers as well as 70 advertising and PR agencies also received warning letters from the CMA, who hope that the 16-strong list of celebrities, also including vlogger Zoella, model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and actress Michelle Keegan, will lead by example in their transparency of promoted posts and that the rest of the industry will follow suit.
In the past, a number of influencers have simply used the hashtag ‘#ad’ to attempt to make clear they have been paid to post about a product – but the CMA say that no longer suffices. In the CMA’s ‘Social Media Endorsements: Guide For Influencers’ they explain that influencers must state when they have been paid, given or loaned things, be clear about their relationship with a brand or business and not to be misleading about whether they have used the product.
Practices the CMA reference as not going far enough to comply with the legal requirements include:
– tagging a brand or business without additional disclosure
– using discount codes in a post without additional disclosure
– using ambiguous language without additional disclosure in a post (for example ‘thank you’; ‘made possible by’; ‘in collaboration with’; or ‘thanks to…’)
– unclear use of hashtags, for example: using #sp; #spon; #client; #collab; etc.
– adding #ad directly after the name of the brand
– when the disclosure (for example #ad, #advert) is not prominent product placement
– disclosing the commercial affiliation only on an influencer’s front, home or profile page
In 2017, the US’s Federal Trade Commission similarly warned influencers that they must be clear about when a post has been paid for – but as time has told us, not everyone was paying attention.
The CMA will hope that this proves not to be the case in the UK.
Brands and agencies themselves will be silly not to pay attention to the guidelines. For all of its catastrophic faults, Fyre Festival did prove one thing: in this day and age, the power of the influencer is like no other.