Initially, one of the driving forces behind blogging’s immense success was the fact that anyone with access to the Internet could solicit the opinions of real people who offered a diverse range of insights into hundreds of interests, hobbies, and industries. You didn’t have to be a professional in order to have a valid opinion or for this opinion to be heard – in fact, amateurs and self-styled experts formed the nucleus of the blogging movement.
By 2006, blogs had become a cottage industry, with fashion blogging emerging from the movement as one of its most successful categories. By 2008, fashion blogging had become so lucrative that bloggers like Tavi Gevinson were partnering with brands like Rodarte for campaigns. In addition to making hundreds of thousands of dollars in paid advertisements, they were also reaping both physical and monetary rewards for sponsored posts by the boatload.
Every day, millions of people visit blogs in droves, hunting for reviews, anecdotes, opinions, raves, and rants. With their conversational tones and open comment sections, blogs have become sprawling communities – satellite networks that form off of a single personality, as is the case with major fashion bloggers like Chiara Ferragni, Susie Bubble, and Leandra Medine.
By showcasing their convincing style aptitude, developing humorous or intelligent “voices”, and being the first in the know, high-profile bloggers have obvious benefits to offer their readers. However, since blogging has become an acceptable career path (and a lucrative one at that), the biggest benefits are now being reaped by brands and the bloggers’ respective bank accounts.
Brands are shelling out more than $255 million a month on influencer marketing via Instagram alone.
In recent years, Snapchat, Instagram, and to a lesser extent Twitter and Facebook have become extensions of blogging’s personalized platform and incorporated into the universe of an influencer’s online presence. Now that traditional blogs have become a backdrop to this wider network of social-media platforms, influencers like Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid are also subject to the same kind of interest from brands. For that reason, whether they are elite bloggers or emerging supermodels, a new generation of social media-savvy opportunists has learned how to turn a simple post into an enormous paycheck. In fact, Jenner and Hadid earn roughly $250,000 per sponsored post, which can include anything from sneakers to weight-loss tea. According to Captiv8, a company that partners brands with influencers, brands are shelling out more than $255 million a month on influencer marketing via Instagram alone.
However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), an agency of the US government that oversees trade practices and protects consumer interests, is beginning to crack down on sponsored posts that are not clearly labeled as such. A deputy of the FTC’s Ad Practices division, Michael Ostheimer, relayed the agency’s concerns to Bloomberg, stating, “We’ve been interested in deceptive endorsements for decades and this is a new way in which they are appearing. We believe consumers put stock in endorsements and we want to make sure they are not being deceived.”
While deception is a strong accusation – and one that influencers guilty of not properly labeling their sponsored posts would probably balk at – there is a legitimate reason why influencers should divulge their sponsorships. When a community visits, follows, and engages with an influencer, they do so out of a perceived commonality.
The problem with sponsored posts is that they’re deceptive and misleading if the influencer fails to reveal their true nature.
For example, women flock to Khloé Kardashian’s Instagram and Snapchat accounts for workout tutorials, instructional guides, helpful beauty tips, and up-close-and-personal product experiences. While there is clear, applicable value in what Kardashian shares, she also gains loyalty based on her personality and celebrity status. In combination, the reality star offers a potent, intriguing lifestyle to her followers, who trust that what she tells them is her own opinion. If Kardashian were to disguise an endorsement, it would serve as a betrayal to her legions of fans.
It is interesting to note that, in instances where influencers have failed to properly disclose the nature of their sponsored posts, the FTC is finding fault with the brands as opposed to the influencers. For example, when Aimee Song of Song of Style became a brand ambassador and digital influencer for Laura Mercier for a reported payout of $500,000, it was the beauty brand that was busted when Song’s Laura Mercier-oriented content lacked any indication that it was a paid advertisement. Song’s posts were purely motivated by contractual obligation, rather than uncensored opinion, and therefore violated the FTC’s standards. The problem with sponsored posts is that they’re deceptive and misleading if the influencer fails to reveal their true nature.
Fortunately, while the crackdown continues to hit brands and influencers around the world, the problem is an easy one to resolve. FTC guidelines are not difficult to follow and simply ask that sponsored posts be marked clearly with a hashtag that indicates their nature, such as #Ad or #SponsoredPost. Posts that are inadequately or unclearly marked will be penalized by fines. For a more detailed look at proper sponsorship disclosure, The Fashion Law has an excellent guide on the subject.