Influencer marketing and its ethical responsibility toward followers

Recently, influencer endorsement of low-quality and untested skincare products, counterfeit cosmetics, placebo, or even risky cryptocurrency has stirred up frustration in the community. However, this influencer marketing dilemma has already existed for a long time. So what is the role and responsibility of influencers in this story?

Vietnamese influencers endorsed for risky crypto-currencies in May 2021

Vietnam’s Law on Advertising, Article 19, Clause 1 states that: “Advertisement content must be truthful, accurate and clear without causing damage to producers, traders and advertisement receivers.”

Before discussing who will undertake legal responsibility, influencers should be responsible for the advertisement receivers, who are none other than their followers and fans. Through this article, EloQ Communications will look into the ethical aspect of influencer marketing.

The popularity of influencer marketing and its potential risks

In today’s marketing landscape, influencer marketing is favored by numerous brands in Vietnam. From a psychological perspective, the influencer is also a human being in the flesh, so it is easy for them to create empathy when conveying the brand’s story. Hence, sponsored contents from brands are not often labelled as advertising if an nfluencer shares it. Besides, brands can easily target the right audience with a reasonable budget by partnering with influencers based on the fields they and their followers are interested in, such as beauty, finance, medical, technology, parenting, and more. These advantages have increased the demand for influencer marketing activities in recent years. Yet, the more popular something is, the more its negative aspects begin to surface.

Due to the rampantly poor-quality advertising, more and more users are cautious about ‘influencers’ sponsored contents. According to a global survey conducted by a blogging platform called Bloglovin, 61% of women said they would not engage with a sponsored post if they felt too overwhelming. In addition, if influencers are involved in a scandal, it will affect their reputation and the image of the product and the brand they advertise.

Redefining the role: Influencers is not a messenger, but is the one who offers insightful values to the community.

Top-tier celebrities will concern about their reputation and public image, so these celebrities will be selective toward advertising offer or being brand ambassador. However, it’s a different story with digital influencers (those who became famous through social networks) and mid-range influencers. Sometimes the reality is different from what they post online. People’s Artist Tran Ngoc Giau, Chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City Theater Association, shared with Tuoi Tre newspaper: “There was a time when I saw an artist posted about a diabetes placebo on his social media. Since I had the same symptoms, I got in touch to ask how effective that cure is. Surprisingly, he answered that he did not know anything about the product. It turns out he was simply advertising for it without actually testing out the product.” This indicates that many influencers don’t know well about the advertised products.

Recently, many influencers only consider themselves as messengers. Meaning that their role is to share scripted commercial content. In contrast, the responsibility for ensuring the accuracy of the information will belong to agencies or brands. Nevertheless, no matter to whom does the responsibility belong, those who suffer the damage from low-quality products are fans, followers, and people who trust those celebrities. Despite not bearing responsibility for the product’s technical errors, influential people should display responsibility toward fans by testing the actual products before making a sponsored recommendation. There is no denying that social network is an effective tool for influencers to connect with fans. However, if they overflood this medium with commercial content, they could easily lose the ‘followers’ interest, hence, making both audience engagement activities and advertising activities ineffective.

How to conduct effective influencer marketing?

1. Maintaining trust and authenticity

There is neither official binding regulations for Vietnamese influencers, or general codes of conduct to regulate influencers marketing in the Asia region. Still, Vietnamese influencers can refer to many well-known American and European codes of conduct, such as those of the Federal Trade Commission (US) or the Advertising Standards Authority (UK). Most standards explicitly stated that the influencer must:

– Be transparent: to inform viewers of commercial On Youtube, Instagram and Facebook, there are options available to allow influencers to put labels on brand-sponsored videos, articles, and images.
– Assure the truth: influencers should examine and experience the product before introducing it to the audience. Especially with the products such as cosmetics, functional foods, and so on, they should already be verified by the authorities and have a Certificate of Free Sale.
– Do not fabricate: influencers should not create false stories or bogus scientific evidence to increase the persuasiveness of advertised

Both consumers and brands can apply these metrics to decide whether to put their trust in a specific influencer. Trust and authenticity are the foundations of Influencer marketing. If any of these two factors is absent, the influencer will lose their voice and influence on the public. Thus, consumers are willing to press the unfollow button or even boycott if the influencer goes against the inherent values and promote unethical products. Not only influencers, the related brands can also be dragged into an adverse situation.

2. KOLs and brands must have similar core values

An influencer should only engage in advertising contracts with brands and products that adopt similar core values to avoid controversies. And vice versa, brands should only cooperate with influencers that reflect the core values of the brand. Everyone seems to know this, but there is one additional factor that marketers often neglect when choosing an influencer. Besides expertise, popularity, and demographics, brands must examine the ethical values of the influencers to make sure they are on the same page with the brand. This approach will help minimize the risks resulting from brand and influencer mismatch or the ‘ ‘influencer’s personal scandal.

3. Avoid excessive advertising

In addition to building credibility, influencers also need to manage the content ratio on their individual channels effectively. To avoid posting too much commercial on the fanpage and making the audience overwhelmed, influencers should keep the ratio at most one advertisement per four regular posts. The audience follows influencers because they love the high-quality, educational, entertaining, or inspirational content. Influencers and brands need to have a long-term vision when planning the content calendar to avoid losing the audience’s interest due to too many ads interspersed with ‘influencers’ original content.

“When working with influencers on behalf of brands, EloQ Communications always encourages these influencers to get hands-on experience to understand the product and deliver a genuine experience to users. Therefore, instead of preparing scripted content and sending it to influencers, EloQ will work closely with influencers to develop authentic product review and deliver objective point of views to the public. In addition to ensuring the authenticity of the message and showcasing responsibility to the recipient, this approach also helps the advertising messages appear friendlier and trustworthy to the target audience. Thereby, we can support brands to deliver their message effectively and raise their brand awareness in consumers’ minds,” shared Dr. Clāra Ly-Le, Managing Director of EloQ Communications.

EloQ Communications is proud to be a member of the Public Relations and Communications Association Southeast Asia (PRCA SEA), and the Public Relations Network (PRN). As a member, EloQ is committed to the international PR industry’s fairness, honesty, and high standards.

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