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Influencer marketing: advertising in the age of social media

Influencer marketing is a phenomenon that is increasingly present in our daily lives and one that raises a host of concerns. This research focuses on the advertising generated by this marketing technique. We approach the topic with an eye to transparency, asking whether the current regulations governing advertising are equal to the challenges raised by influencer marketing. Our analysis is structured around the principle of advertising identification: that the consumer must be made aware whenever a message or other communication is in fact an advertisement.

Our research began by identifying a range of techniques used in influencer marketing in order to verify their impact on users. The next step was a qualitative field analysis of a population composed up of both adults and children in order to assess how the practice is received by the public. Then in order to elucidate the data collected in the light of this corpus, we proceeded to a study of relevant legislation, standards, social networking policies, doctrine and jurisprudence.

This research revealed that participants are generally more favourable to influencer marketing techniques than to traditional advertising. It also showed the marked impact that these techniques are having on young people. However, the research also found that some of the techniques used in influencer marketing create confusion about their status as advertisements among participants in the study, especially those under the age of 13, since for these young people, advertising is a rather abstract concept.

The advertising identification conventions used in this marketing technique (e.g.,: #ad and #sponsored —#pub and #commandité in French) revealed that in adults, the nuances between the hashtags used online are not very well understood by all. Among children, few recognized the #ad or #pub symbols or their equivalents (especially young French speakers). As for including the label advertisement on a post, some participants disliked this as much as traditional advertising, while others considered it to be a more transparent means. Finally, this research revealed an absence of uniformity between the symbols proposed by Ad Standards and those actually utilized by certain networks,

Even though the laws in force in Canada are applicable to influencer marketing and although certain provisions relating to misleading advertising may, in their current wording, be applicable to various forms of advertising, none of these laws specify the way in which the advertising nature of a message must be disclosed.

Our analysis of practices in other jurisdictions led us to discover some inspiring examples, including the UK’s agreement with Facebook Ireland, which committed itself to implementing technology to identify Instagram posts that are not compliant with regulations. We also cite the example of Germany, which intervened to demand that influencers use the German terms #werbung or #anzeige in full, rather than the #ad sign, to make it easier for consumers to understand.